Directors: Irvin Berwick and Earl Barton
BCI Eclipse

To cash in on the release of the Tarantino-Rodriguez homage film GRINDHOUSE, it seems like everyone is trying to unleash something with the word “grindhouse” in the title. The fact that GRINDHOUSE was one of the year’s most disappointing box office bombs hasn’t stopped discs like BCI Eclipse’s “Welcome to the Grindhouse” series from flooding the market. I previously reviewed BLACK CANDLES/EVIL EYE and THE TEACHER/PICK-UP for this site, and since those two discs, BCI has released or will be releasing a wealth of other discs under the “Welcome to the Grindhouse” banner. Of these double-feature discs, the very best and most welcome addition to any exploitation fan’s DVD shelf is MALIBU HIGH/TRIP WITH THE TEACHER! These are two of the most entertaining and memorable titles in the Crown-International library (both highly-requested by fans), filled with outrageous violence, eye-popping nudity and sexuality, and the kind of cheap thrills and anything-goes attitude that continue to entertain and enthrall viewers bored with the mainstream.

An animated main menu highlighting sounds of busy traffic and shots of theater marquees provides a “Start the Grindhouse Experience” option to view both films in a double-feature format. Select this option to view the popular “Coming Attractions” and “Feature Presentation” logos, which book-end previews for other Crown-International releases, currently available or presumably forthcoming on DVD, Hikmet Avedis’ THE STEPMOTHER and THE TEACHER (both with the SWV watermark). Then sit back and prepare for one of the most jarring exploitation films of the 1970s. Advertised as a teen sex comedy, using a poster spotlighting a bubbly brunette who isn’t even in the film, MALIBU HIGH is one of the most misleading titles in exploitation history…and also one of the most consistently surprising films you’re likely to ever see. Meet Kim, a perpetually pissed-off high schooler from the wrong side of the tracks, introduced as she smokes and curses at her mother at the breakfast table. With her grades dropping, her boyfriend trading her in for a more popular girl-next-door type, and still coming to terms with her father’s suicide, Kim looks like the perfect candidate for an ABC after school special! Just when she couldn’t get any lower, she realizes the easy way to make it to the top. Hell-bent on graduating with top grades and elevating her high school social status at the same time, Kim takes on two projects at once: sleeping with all of her teachers and blackmailing them into giving her straight A’s, and enlisting her regular drug dealer Tony to pimp her out in the back of his van to earn cash. Her double life of hallway seductress and backseat hooker soon leads her to a new, better-paying pimp, and eventually accidentally kills one of her clients when he gets rough with her. This one murder is simply the tip of the iceberg, as Kim’s obvious relish at the exhilaration of taking a life earns her several assignments as a hired killer!! That’s right, our teenage hooker becomes a hitgirl, and once she starts, she just can’t stop, leading to a nudity-induced heart attack (obviously inspired by Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”), a crime of passion, and a crazed final chase sequence that caps off this bizarre adventure perfectly!

Lurking underneath the scummy surface of MALIBU HIGH is a surprising social commentary on the American class system. Because she’s a working-class girl without the squeaky-clean looks and disposable income of her well-to-do classmates, Kim has to take drastic measures to ensure her survival in the “rat race”. Above all else, Kim just wants to fit in; she wants to graduate high school with good grades, she wants to have the material wealth and status of her peers, and all of this surely ties in to her obsession with ex-boyfriend Ken and his new bitchy rich girl gal pal Annette. In spite of all her immoral behavior Kim is still kind of a folk hero, so don’t feel guilty for cheering on Kim as she chases her competition on the beach, intent on bloodshed! All this isn’t to say that MALIBU HIGH is some kind of neglected masterpiece, because it isn’t. The script jumps all over the place, the photography is dark and amateurish, and the dialogue provides plenty of belly laughs. Witness a ridiculous scene where Kim is admonished for giving Annette the finger as if she busted the girl’s knee caps, or the laugh-out-loud sequence of Kim blaming her mother for her father’s suicide because he “couldn’t get it up anymore”! Just when the film seems plainly obvious in its direction, writers John Buckley and Tom Singer throw the audience a number of curveballs. They must have had a ball writing this flick! Actually, the fact that the people involved with the film seem to have been all middle-aged men from the good old days of Hollywood (except for boy wonder producer Lawrence D. Foldes, who reportedly had very little to do with the film) must have had an impact on how much frequent nudity, hateful profanity, and warped plot twists figure into the mix. In their attempt to turn a profit at the drive-in, they threw in everything but the kitchen sink! Thankfully this motley stew is such a wild ride that all its shortcomings simply become part of this singular viewing experience.

In this no-budget garish wonder, none of the performances register, save one... Where are you, Jill Lansing?? This lovely ingénue really works wonders with the complex role of ‘Kim’. An attractive brunette with prominent tan lines and the fashion sense, Lansing seems to be channeling Divine’s ‘Dawn Davenport’, gleefully shocking her mother by smoking and cursing at the breakfast table, dressing like a streetwalker for school, and popping Annette in the nose when she makes the unwise move of calling her a “slut”! She really handles her dialogue beautifully, with a cold, hard edge to her line delivery, and her explanation of her new high-paying job to her mother (“I do relief work!”) is priceless. Lansing never made another movie, unfortunately, but it’s not hard to imagine her in bitchy villainess supporting roles on “Charlie’s Angels” and “Welcome Back Kotter”. The only recognizable cast members are studly muscleman Alex Mann, of countless New York sexploitation and adult films, who migrated to California in the late 1970s and appears here as Tony, the drug dealing pimp, and Garth Pillsbury, the cuckolded husband of Russ Meyer’s VIXEN! and billed here as Garth Howard, as Lance, Kim’s classier pimp. Take note of the use of “The People’s Court” theme (a popular library music track known as “The Heist” by Alan Tew, also used in adult films like THE SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE and PUNK ROCK) during the finale. Note: If MALIBU HIGH looks like the tackiest movie of the 1970s exploitation genre, check out director Irv Berwick’s earlier excursion into psychotic excess, HITCH-HIKE TO HELL!

After the feature, an Intermission logo features the SWV watermark (again!) before Keep Our Theaters Clean and Prevues of Coming Attractions announcements clears the way for VIRGIN WITCH (available through Image) and WEEKEND WITH THE BABYSITTER trailers, and once again, the Feature Presentation announcement. Now, if MALIBU HIGH wasn’t eye-opening enough, get ready for TRIP WITH THE TEACHER! Clearly influenced by the success of similar hostage-rape films like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, it isn’t nearly as disturbing or violent as that film, though it does have a certain tawdriness that helps it stand out among the multitude of drive-in films of the period. On a desert camping trip in a rickety old school bus, a group of girls (flirtatious Bobbie, virginal Pam, studious Tina, cheery Julie) and their prim and proper guide Miss Tenny find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere when the vehicle breaks down. Lucky for them, a trio of bikers happens upon the scene and offer their assistance. Only their motives aren’t exactly honest, as they drag the bus and the girls away from the highway and to secluded woodlands, where they promptly murder the bus driver and hold the quintet of women hostage in an abandoned house, forcing them to submit to their sexual desires. Nice guy Jay tries to stop the shenanigans of psychotic Al and his accomplice brother Pete, but gets knocked out and tied up for his trouble. As the hours pass and the situation gets tenser, Miss Tenny and the girls start to realize that their captors’ plan is to ensure they don’t leave the house alive!

It’s no LAST HOUSE, but TRIP WITH THE TEACHER remains one of the quintessential 1970s drive-in films. With degenerate bikers, vicious rape, queasy violence, plentiful nudity, stock music, ludicrous dialogue, cheap but effective photography, and cost-cutting production values, it’s no wonder this film retains a cult following today! Like MALIBU HIGH, this film was made by middle-aged filmmakers. The strongest asset in TEACHER’s production is surely the go-for-broke performance by future erotica director Zalman King. King would appear in another cult classic, BLUE SUNSHINE, a year after this was shot, a performance that looks positively subtle compared to his scenery-chewing antics here! He leaves his co-stars in the dust as he builds from quiet brooding to life-threatening menace over the course of the film. It’s the high point of camp, and the sign of an actor desperately trying to be taken seriously. It’s no wonder he moved behind the camera for the majority of the remainder of his career. Of the female leads, much credit must be given to Brenda Fogarty, the redheaded actress who makes a great impression as the bold teacher who sacrifices her body for the safety of her charges. None of the four girls could be called actresses, but are suitably endearing and terrified during their ordeal. Special mention should go to Cathy Worthington, the spotlighted blonde heroine with a killer smile, and Dina Ousley as the promiscuous girl using her sexuality as a distraction. You should recognize the piece of library music used throughout the film from DEADLY WEAPONS! In fact, music supervisor Igo Kantor picked out some choice needle drops for the soundtrack, as he did for a number of films throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the cues are from Stu Phillips’ original soundtrack to THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL!, which were also used (uncredited) in Jess Franco’s VENUS IN FURS. A catfight sparked by two girls’ sexual histories (“You’re just a horny little bitch!”), the unexpected and brutal murder of one of the girls, uncomfortable nudity and sex scenes, several suspenseful escape attempts, a lame motorcycle chase, and a cheesy ending leading up to quite enjoyable end credits are just some of the surprises in store for those brave enough to take this TRIP.

MALIBU HIGH, presented in anamorphic widescreen at 1.78:1, generally looks pretty good, considering the technical quality of the film’s production was so shoddy. Colors like yellow and green are rendered well, but the color palette is generally drab and quite dark. All in all, a satisfying transfer. The credits don’t even finish rolling, however, before the movie cuts off, which is kind of irritating. TRIP WITH THE TEACHER is also presented in the anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and of the two films, looks worse. Like MALIBU, some colors look bold and beautiful, but the movie still looks too dark in some spots (thanks to cheap production values), and there’s a fair amount of print debris, discoloration, audio pops, and jumps. It’s a shame that BCI has apparently abandoned all plans for supplements on their future discs. The input of anyone involved with both films (writer/associate producer Tom Singer on MALIBU, cinematographer Erwin Jay Barer or Zalman King on TRIP) would have been a nice bonus, as these features both scream for explanations and back-story from the people who made them. Alas, it’s a small miracle that both films are finally on DVD at all, so room for complaints is virtually non-existent! (Casey Scott)