Monday, November 8, 2010

GIRLS ON THE ROAD (1972)

GIRLS ON THE ROAD (1972)
Director: Thomas J. Schmidt
Scorpion Releasing
Fanfare Films distributed a number of noteworthy exploitation pictures throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, including SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES; THE GAY DECEIVERS and RUN, ANGEL, RUN! GIRLS ON THE ROAD however is not one of them. Working off a script by WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS scribes David M. Kaufman and Michel Levesque, producer Joe Solomon’s tapped Thomas J. Schmidt, whom he had previously worked with on EVEL KNIEVEL as an assistant director, to helm this sandy beached thriller which sadly sinks under the weight of its own mediocrity.
Karen (Dianne Hull) and Debbie (Kathleen Cody) didn’t get into much trouble in high school. Debbie’s mom forbade her from playing with boys for fear they might accidentally touch one of her breasts and Karen was simply too goodie goodie for any scene that didn't involve a textbook. So when the opportunity to break free from their parents' authority and take a post graduation summer holiday to Dunes Beach presented itself, both girls jump at the chance. Making a pact to let their hair down for once, Karen and Debbie hit the road, and a couple of curbs, bound for the California coast, unaware that a killer has been strangling women to death and leaving their bodies on the beach mere miles from Debbie’s parents' beach house. With no obvious clue as to the killer’s identity, anyone and everyone is a suspect, including Will (Michael Ontkean, Sheriff Harry S. Truman on "Twin Peaks"), a hitchhiking Vietnam vet prone to hallucinogenic flashbacks, all of which appear to have been shot through a Tupperware container filled with uncongealed Jell-O.
Don't let the opening credits fool you. The all too brief presence of Uschi Digard and her big ol' boobs might trick you into the false expectation that GIRLS is a wild, sex filled exploitation movie. I know it got my hopes up. On the contrary, GIRLS is a nutty, often trying cinematic oddity without the benefit of an ending. Don't let the title fool you either. This isn't a road movie. The girls in question are only on the road for about 20 minutes before parking their ride and embarking on a journey that is neither life changing nor particularly interesting.
GIRLS' original trailer labels the picture with a PG rating, which makes sense given its lack of blood and nudity, or any other entertaining element, but the material plays out as if it were originally intended to be more shocking and thus warrant an R rating. The picture starts off rather cutesy with Karen and Debbie flashing middle-aged men, picking up hippie hitchers and inadvertently throwing a bra at a motorcycle cop on their way to the beach. Such light hearted hi-jinks quickly dissipate however once Will is introduced. One fourth of the feature is comprised of Will's flashbacks, each of which is clearly present as a nauseating nudge to the viewer that Will could be the killer. He’s prone to violence ( that’s stuntman/actor Charles Picerni getting his ass kicked by Ontkean in the pool hall), carries a gun in his backpack and suffers from nightmares. Clearly he’s the killer. But then what about the hippy commune, the Institute, so conveniently located behind Debbie’s family beach house? Its leader, played by “The Waltons” Ralph Waite, is getting awfully close to underage Karen and then there’s "The Maker" (John McMurtry), a creepy fellow who likes to paint people's faces and wants everyone to watch while he makes his fantasies a reality, a red flag if I ever heard one. Overall the film feels rushed and thrown together and ends so abruptly that it would lead one to wonder whether or not the production ran out of money and couldn’t afford to shoot the last two pages of the script or if said pages were even written in the first place.
Advertising materials for GIRLS ON THE ROAD look and feel as poorly executed as the film itself, as evident in the film’s original one sheet which has been recycled for this releases cover art. Rather than highlight its two young and beautiful leads, the poster shows Dianne and Kathleen’s disembodied heads, surround by a hippy prayer circle, with each girl making the most unattractive “derp" face the advertising department could scrounge up. The invaluable blog Temple of Schlock did a write up on GIRLS just last month and pointed out another glaring case of advertising negligence, as one ad mat clearly shows the girls being chanced by a hatchet wielding John McMurtry.
Originally released on VHS via Unicorn Video and then later by Anchor Bay alongside WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS in Volume Two of their "Golden Age of Leather" tin case collection, Scorpion brings GIRLS ON THE ROAD to DVD with a brand new anamorphic (1.78:1) widescreen transfer taken from the original negatives. The print used for this release carries the film's original title, HOT SUMMER WEEK and comes off serviceable enough with only minor bits of debris on display and an expected but not unwelcome sheen of grain. The Mono English speaking audio fares equally as well with little to write home or complain about.
Extras include an eight and half minute interview with writer David M. Kaufman who is cordial in speaking about the film but make no allegations to it being worth anything other than a curiosity of its time. David recalls avoiding producer Solomon who was apparently “famous for his rages” and tries to recollect the film's intended original ending but can only remember that there was suppose to be a lot more blood. “Remembering Thomas Schmidt: An Interview with Tom’s Friend, David Walsh” is a 10 minute sit-down with the prolific cinematographer that allows him to recall his friend fondly and their time together in the industry. David makes it pretty clear that he took the gig because of his friendship with Tom and that his friend did the best he could given the circumstances. GIRLS would prove to be Thomas's only directorial outing as he passed away two years after its release. The film's alternate GIRLS ON THE ROAD title, taken from a video source and the original trailer are also present alongside trailers for POINT OF TERROR, THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (yeah!), NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT (with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) and CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND (Jason McElreath)

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