VCI kicks off its “Spring Break Film Festival” with a trip to SUMMER SCHOOL full of make-out vans, pick-up trucks, a lot of pot, and a little T&A.
The new girl Anita (Shelly Horner) at Cleveland High immediately catches the eye of stud Steve (John Laughlin, FOOTLOOSE) and thus incurs the wrath of his bitchy girlfriend Donna (Verkina Flower, TERROR ON TOUR). Anita makes friends with Jill (Phoebe Schmidt) and her pick-up truck-driving gang, and her flirtation with Steve brings the cool van-driving boys together with the independent girls for some fun and frolic without actually putting their sexist attitudes aside (Steve tells Anita that independent girls are “lezzies”). When Donna sees Steve and Anita kissing, she sets Steve up with the police to be busted for dealing cocaine when he goes out to score some weed. Donna blames Anita for snitching to the cops, and the boys chase her and Jill down and attempt to rape them. Jill and her gang challenge Steve and his gang to a “Drag-off” in retaliation. When Anita learns what a “Drag-off” is and what happens to the losers, she tries to stop them before someone dies.
Not to be confused with the X-rated 1979 Stu Sewall film, Bethel Buckalew’s SUMMER SCHOOL doesn’t seem quite sure of what it wants to be. The original title was MAG WHEELS, and there are plenty of driving and racing scenes as well as a trucks vs. vans climax, yet it strangely doesn’t feel like a car film; possibly because the “kids” (including a nerdy pledge who looks at least a decade older than the other cast members) spend an almost equal amount of time frolicking on the beach like extras on GIDGET. The SUMMER SCHOOL video retitling makes even less sense since the kids are only seen in school once, and there is nothing to suggest that the film isn’t taking place during the regular school year. Sure, they’re cutting class to go to the beach or the skate park, but there’s none of the usual “sentenced to summer school” or “not graduating unless you attend summer school” type set-ups used in other teen films with the titular setting.
The various titles – it was released in France as THE WHEELS OF LOVE and Germany as LOVE BETWEEN FOUR WHEELS – however, are not the major part of what is wrong with this film. In just about any other teen T&A film, the chauvinist Steve character would be the bully who gives the underdog hero a hard time and gets his comeuppance in the end. Similarly, the spineless Anita would be the girl who gets raped (when Jill calls Steve a bastard for almost raping Anita, Anita replies “He’s not that bad”). Steve is seemingly the hero, and Anita even gets a theme song that sounds patterned after Mac Davis’ “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” (mind you, she does look good with in a wet shirt). A more interesting couple relegated to a the periphery are Jill and Steve’s buddy Brent (Frederick Schmidt), who “has no hang-ups” and doesn’t offend Jill by inviting her into his van to explain the advantages of vans over trucks as an overture to seduction (the van’s break goes out and rolls back and forth between two slopes while they’re doing it). The love story is hardly “Romeo and Juliet” and the kids are too vanilla to have a SAVAGE STREETS-type gang war, but all that’s left are a few bare breasts and a lot of boredom.
Laughlin – whose mainstream Hollywood career was sadly relegated to the direct-to-video market after a lead in Ken Russell’s controversial and ballsy CRIMES OF PASSION – and Flower would also appear in Chuck Vincent’s stab at R-rated sex comedy SUMMER CAMP; and they – along with Schmidt – turn in the best (if not exactly great) performances. Horner is fetching but a dismal actress; it’s just as well she doesn’t stand up for herself in the fight scenes with Flower considering her two stilted arguments with executive producer Irwin Schaeffer who also plays her character’s father (and may be even worse as an actor). Buckalew and producer Peter Perry got their start in the late 1960s with Box Office International softcore titles like THE NOTORIOUS CLEOPATRA and MANTIS IN LACE and would both call it quits shortly after MAG WHEELS when most of their colleagues had moved on to hardcore pornography (although Perry did produce and direct the hardcore A WOMAN’S DREAM in 1980). Cinematographer William Hines had just shot Michael De Gaetano’s HAUNTED the previous year but would go on to a more prolific career as a camera operator on shows like T.J. HOOKER, CHEERS, T A-TEAM, and MacGUYVER among others. Hines’ photography is probably the slickest aspect of the film. His gaffer was Nicholas Joseph Von Sternberg, who had already worked as a DP on DOLEMITE and a handful of films before this and would shoot David Schmoeller’s TOURIST TRAP the following year (assistant editor/script supervisor Carol Oblath would work as an editor for that film’s producer Charles Band during his later Full Moon period).
VCI’s barebones, single-layer disc – part of their “Spring Break Film Festival” line – features a fullscreen, interlaced transfer. It’s not a new transfer, but it sports attractive colors and reasonable detail. There are no extras apart from start-up trailers for HOMEWORK and GETTING IT ON, both of which are also part of the “Spring Break Film Festival” series. SUMMER SCHOOL was previously available from VCI in the 2-disc GRINDHOUSE DRIVE-IN set with FARMER’S OTHER DAUGHTER, LIKE IT IS (aka PSYCHEDELIC FEVER), and UP YOURS; however, this single disc is nicely priced at $9.99 ($7.99 direct from VCI) compared to the $29.99 of the 2-disc set. (Eric Cotenas)
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