1979 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MALIBU HIGH AND THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS

Gas Pump Girls (directed by Joel Bender) is a slice of 70s drive-in T&A. Not aspiring to be anything else, it revels in its Americana kookiness. June (Kirsten Baker) takes over a gas station from her uncle (Huntz Hall from the Bowery Boys) after he has a heart attack. She trains her tight tanktop, short-short-wearing girlfriends to pump gas (“Stick it in, squeeze it, and let it peter out”), which naturally leads them to take on a big bad oil company. Musical numbers and topless scenes are thrown in just for the hell of it, and why not? There’s a punk gang, too; the film is almost a hybrid of the Ramones doing a Grease soundtrack on a “Happy Days” set with a bit of Rockythrown in. Yes, it’s that cool. It was influential and Bender does wonders with virtually no budget, making this quintessential 1970s trash.

H.O.T.S (directed by Gerald Seth Sindell) is another uddersploitation offshoot of Animal House. It can be summed up as politically incorrect campus topless football. Given that its inspiration isn’t very good to begin with, H.O.T.S. doesn’t set it sights very high, and is all the better for it.

Linda Blair’s cleavage, Linda Blair’s legs, lots of hair, lots of polyester, lots of spandex, and lots of skating add up to a late 70s campfest in Roller Boogie (directed by Mark Lester). It’s embarrassing in the best way.

Bad men kidnap a busload of pretty, all-American cheerleader boobs in The Great American Girl Robbery (directed by Jeff Werner). Ra-ra.

Malibu High (directed by Irvin Berwick) is what 70s drive-in cinema was all about—sex, drugs, and amorality. Hallelujah! Kim (Jill Lansing, in her only film role) is flunking school, just got dumped by her boyfriend for a rich bitch, hates her bathrobe-wearing mama, and her daddy killed himself. What’s a girl to do? First, bed all the teachers. Now, Kim has a 4.0 GPA, but she wants nice things, too, dammit. With her new miniskirt, Kim figures she might as well get paid for what all those stupid girls do for free. Meet Kim, the hooker who’ll rock your van into the gates of paradise. Alas, poor Kim also likes the wacky tobaccy, and we know what that demon will do—turn you into a gun-toting hitman with a pop-gun. Lansing plays her sociopath without an ounce of sympathy and even less talent, with thespian skills so tawdry that it’s easy to see why she became a minor cult goddess. Even worse is the writing, which seems penned by a clueless tenth grader, and the score by a tone deaf composer. It’s mind-boggling enough to be a trash masterpiece that can rank with the likes of Larry Buchanan.

In the future, future generations may see fit to an erect a future Mount Rushmore homage to the likes of Ed Wood, Al Adamson, Doris Wishman, and Larry Buchanan in the future. And why wouldn’t they, with gems like Buchanan’s Mistress of the Apes? See Susan (Jenny Neumann) fill a pair of white daisy dukes. See Susan teach a missing link how to deep throat a banana. See Susan scratch her armpit and beat her boobs. See Susan become goddess of the jungle. Among the injustices of the world is the academy’s total failure to nominate “Ape Woman” as Best Original Song.  Oh, e, oh, oh, e, oh.

Weasels Rip My Flesh is not a long-lost  Frank Zappa movie. Rather, it’s a Nathan Schiff opus that’s among the most uproariously incompetent movies ever made. (Keep in mind that Schiff was a 16-year-old teenager with a Super-8 camera and a $400 budget).  A NASA probe from Venus crashes in Long Island, emits radiation, and creates a giant paper machete weasel. The acting is mortifying, the audio is often indecipherable, the editing and writing are mind-numbing, and the cheap camerawork is shaky,  but Schiff managed to make a cult film for the ages. God bless him.

Nightwing (directed by Arthur Hiller, of all people) features devil bats going after Native Americans. It has about six “we gotta make an important statement here” subplots too many that have nothing to do with bloodsucking bats. Hiller and writer Martin Cruz Smith should have taken a lesson from Bela—whip up a batch of bat-attracting aftershave, slap it on the tender part of the neck, and “Gooooooooodbye, doomed victim.”

Prophecy (directed by John Frankenheimer, of all people) is another example of a director who has no feel for the horror genre. Like Nightwing (they were released within a week of each other), it’s guilty of trying to trying to cram eco-platitudes into schlock mateiral (even if it is allegedly inspired by fact). Godzilla did it better.

Caligula (co-directed by Tinto Brass and  Bob Guccionoe) is hardcore Roman exploitation that actually played in mainstream theaters. It’s infamous for having used big name actors (Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’ Toole, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren) and incorporating pornographic scenes later. It has a reputation as one of the most vile films ever made. It earns it, but the BBC series, starring Derek Jacobi and John Hurt, is vastly superior.

When Walter Hill’s The Warriors, about gangs in New York, hit theaters, numerous riots broke out and, despite calls to ban the film, it became a cult sensation. As usual with Hill, it’s stylishly brutal and intentionally cartoonish. Hill’s reedit for the Blu-ray edition enhances its comic book aesthetic literally, which sent the film’s offended fanboys into a foaming-at-the mouth, unified rage.  Pay the rabid dullards no heed. Hill’s director’s cut improves on the original considerably. Dig it.

The Roger Moore Bond movies get a lot of flack, and some of it is quite deserving. Much of the criticism is aimed at the excessive gadgetry and Moore’s overtly tongue-in-cheek approach. However, Bond’s toys were already well-established, beginning with the Sean Connery starring Thunderball. One surprising point that is often missed in assessment of Moore’s 007 years is that they are firmly rooted in 1970s sensibilities, particularly in exploitation cinema. Live and Let Die was blatantly informed by blaxploitation, had an interracial relationship, and threw in voodooism for good measure. Man with The Golden Gun utilized Hammer horror icon Christopher Lee, gave him an evil dwarf assistant, and jumped on the 1970s caricatures of good ol’ boy rednecks (Sheriff Pepper). With a couple of exceptions, the Moore Bonds also loved woefully obvious humor and dabbled in sexploitation. Moonraker is one of countless late 70s Star Wars clones, but does it as an epic, chrome-plated Ken Adam cartoon. Critic  Vincent Camby went so far as to proclaim it the best Bond after Goldfinger, although he was in the minority.  Richard Kiel returns as Jaws, a villain who could have been culled from the Addams Family or the AIP/Hammer horror factories. He even gets a love interest, making him seem more like Lurch than ever. Killer dobermans, kung-fu assassins, and Story Of O sexploitation star Corrine Clery add to a smorgasbord of the decade’s favorite trends. Of course, Moore doesn’t wrinkle his suit much, but he understandably refuses to take it seriously.

Tourist Trap (directed by David Schmoeller) is one of the genuine cinematic oddities from an odd decade. Chuck Connors (“The Rifleman”) gives a maniacal performance (who ever could have guessed?) as the owner of a roadside mannequin museum. Only, these dummies are a bit too animated for the college dummies who fatally find their predicament too absurd to be scared. Line up for the slaughter. It was unwisely promoted as a slasher film, but it’s far too original and unsettlingly surreal, with its horror birthed from its queerness. It well could have been an influence on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981). Pino Donaggio’s score punches the quirkiness home from the opening credits on. It’s hampered by its budget and unquestionably uneven, but its a criminally underrated Charles Band production that should be essential viewing for this crowd.

The Butterfly Murders is the impressive directorial debut of Hong Kong New Wave cult legend Tsui Hark. It’s a kitchen sink-styled opus that jumps off the diving board of multiple filmmakers and schools. The theme of killer butterflies probably scared off skeptical 1979 audiences, causing it to be a box office failure. Of course it’s symbolic; the director’s esteemed artistry was eventually discovered and this became a cult spectacle, as has the bulk of his work. Almost flawlessly photographed by Chin-Yu Fan and choreographed by its star, Shu Tong Wong, it features an enigmatic performance by Michelle Yim as the Green Shadow, ally to the Tien Clan. The fight scenes are stylishly staged and might be compared to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). There are shrewd homages to Rod Serling’s writing in Planet of the Apes (1968), utilizing Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic Apes score to a ravishing sea of slaughtering butterflies (also a nod to  Hitchcock’s The Birds). Warring factions converge on a castle in the breathless Poe-inspired finale. In hindsight, it’s cult standing was inevitable, which is something we have said repeatedly of films from this decade tailor-made for idiosyncratic cinema.

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About Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is fine arts painter, filmmaker, and has a masters degree in theology. He currently lives in Portland, oregon with his wife: Aja Rossman-Gray.
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