Dave & Dennis Review “Pick-Up” (1975)

Posted: September 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (70,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, Dennis picked the 1975 film PICKUP.

PICKUP DESERVES TO BE PICKED UP, AT LEAST FOR A LOOK-SEE

By David Bain

Four out of five stars

Be forewarned: This 1975 film has an “astrological advisor” listed in the opening credits.

We also get Tarot cards, Greek gods, drugs, trippy flashbacks, evil clowns, corrupt priests, swamp-wandering politicians, dangerous rednecks, dream sequences, whiskey-drenched cigar-chomping bosses, baby raccoons and ubiquitous female flesh.

But it’s not as weird as it might sound.

Wait. What the heck am I saying?

Hell, yes, it is. It’s every bit as weird as it sounds and then some.

Basically Pick-up is the story of two hippie chicks – freewheeling Carol and dour New Agey Maureen – who are hanging out in a meadow one day when they get picked up by groovy, studly, shaggy-haired Chuck, who’s delivering a mobile home to southern Florida.

Morose, misanthropic Maureen, who obviously tries to be cosmically aligned with everything to which one can be cosmically aligned, immediately senses a Taurus in their midst and predicts trouble but goes along because, hey, no movie if they didn’t.

Soon, cruising down the sunny highway, Carol and Chuck are sucking down a doob and swapping spit while Maureen pouts and stews in the back of the bus, confirming via Tarot that this is gonna be one bad trip, man.

Ever youthfully exuberant, Carol does a crazy impromptu half-dressed dashboard dance for a passing pickup full of hootin’, hollerin’ hillbillies, causing Chuck to grin and Maureen to continue to not care, as she’s far too busy brooding on the sturm und drang of the universe.

The plot then provides a hurricane out of nowhere and Chuck promptly gets them lost in the Everglades because, well, there would be no movie if he managed to just deliver the mobile home on time.

Chuck reports to his sweaty stereotyped cracker of a boss that he’s lost, man, can’t do nothing about it, then we get on with the real business of the movie.

Any kind of linear story is henceforth thrown out the window.

Sex and visions become the order of the day.

Instead of bothering to deal with the situation at hand and try to get back to civilization, Chuck and Carol go literally prancing through the swamp, playing with a baby raccoon (guess they never heard of rabies) before communing with nature in several imaginative positions – some of them on scratchy-looking tree limbs, no less.

Meanwhile, as if we hadn’t already figured this out, we learn that Maureen has issues, man.

Apollo – yes, the ancient Greek god – sends a messenger to the middle of the Everglades to give Maureen a sword. This somehow causes her to strip and writhe around nude on a gleaming white paper mache altar which appears out of nowhere.

Later she’s hanging out back in the mobile home, reading up on ancient gods, when an obnoxious, glad-handing, straw boater-wearing politician wanders in and delivers a sham of a campaign pitch, then leaves. Apparently he’s lost in the Everglades too. Weird.

But wait! We’re far from done with Maureen’s surreal side-trips!

We also learn that a priest abused her when she was a young church organist, causing her to turn to the occult for spiritual sustenance.

Plus, WTF?, there’s a sinister clown that apparently has something to do with something or other from Maureen’s childhood running around in the swamp with a huge clump of brightly colored helium balloons, first charming, then scaring her.

But wait! Maureen’s not the only one having psychedelic visions!

We find out Carol, who still plays with dolls, had a more or less positive after-school sexual encounter when she was apparently pretty young – and found she liked it. Thus, nympho.

And we find out Chuck’s mother was a bitch, so – thank you, Mom – these days Chuck doesn’t groove on authority figures harshing his mellow, man.

Somehow this all ends up with Chuck – apparently done with Carol for the moment – and Maureen experiencing a prolonged sexual healing session in the moonlight on the magically re-appearing Apollo altar. This scene simply has to be seen to be believed. Chuck, now in a shiny white toga, appears more studly than ever, and, as nature takes its slow, sinuous, soft, wet course, all of Maureen’s fears and hang-ups – in the form of the priest, the clown and the politician –try to find their old grips on her psyche, cavorting around the altar, lunging at her, trying to interruptus her coital bliss. But, the Chuck-sex being just that dang good, these old boogiemen slowly slip away into the night, apparently never to be seen again. It’s a thoroughly odd but surprisingly well-choreographed scene. It still comes off, of course, as mostly soft-core exploitation – because, well, boobies and putting the grind into grindhouse – but it’s also a sort of crazily successful ballet illustrating Maureen’s libidinous liberation.

But wait! All is not sudden sexual splendiferousness, because, meanwhile, back at the campfire, Carol has a run-in with the rowdy backwoods boys from the pickup that passed them back on the highway. I’ll avoid spoilers by simply saying it goes rather shockingly bad for her.

But wait! Hey, that potential bummer of an ending doesn’t matter either, man, because the real ending is a few steps short of the ol’ Wizard of Oz “It was all a dream” ploy!

(Don’t worry, that isn’t much of a spoiler. You won’t care that I told you, and the film does it in a way that’s more or less in keeping with what’s come before.)

Have no doubt: The Pick-Up is a cheaply made affair – oftentimes laughably so. I could see some giving it just two or three stars simply on that merit alone.

We certainly don’t, for instance, get good acting.

We don’t get a good soundtrack either – you gotta get past some really bad elevator music to like this flick.

Nor do we get anything approaching special effects – for example, in their flashback scenes, the actresses look like … well, like twenty-something year-old women in pigtails and little girl dresses.

And we don’t really get any kind of straight-up story, but rather a touchy-feely – dare we say grope-y – exploratory psych session. If you ain’t into allegory, Pick-Up ain’t gonna be your thing, man.

But I’m giving The Pick-Up four stars despite these flaws because, in the end, there is indeed some art and purpose to all the trippy symbolism. The dots connect. And while the sex and ‘70s kitsch is amusing, we get actual character studies and actual attempts at style and staging. In the end, Pick-Up’s a surprisingly ambitious (especially for its obviously rock-bottom budget), surprisingly experimental mash-up of grindhouse and art house.  It gets four stars from me because, sure, I’d spend another 90 minutes of my life watching it again, and I’d probably enjoy the additional angles I’m sure I’d find.

PICK-UP

3.5 out of 5 stars

by C. Dennis Moore

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that, back in the 70s, people had money to burn. I’m gonna go further out on that limb and say that writer John Winter and director Bernard Hirschenson also had, in addition to money to burn, too much time on their hands.

I’ve seen a lot of bad movies. I’ve seen movies with bad stories, I’ve seen movies with bad acting, movies made with a camcorder and $20, I’ve seen great movies with terrible endings. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie where I spent the entire 77 minutes waiting for some kind of point to emerge.  Even if the story is bad, in the end you can say what the story was.  PICK-UP, however, I’m not so sure.

Chuck (Alan Long) is driving through Florida, on his way to deliver a mobile home to a company in Tallahassee when he picks up two girls, Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood).  Before reaching their destination, they’re detoured off the highway because of a hurricane coming through the area and Chuck gets lost in the everglades, then the bus gets stuck in the mud.

So Chuck and Carol spend the rest of the afternoon swinging naked on a swing in the middle of the swamp or spinning around naked on the bus while Maureen keeps having some weird acid trips where she remembers a priest raping her, then this weird Senator shows up asking for Maureen’s vote, and later she sees a weird demonic clown running through the grass outside.

Chuck kills a boar with a bow and arrow that happened to be on the bus, they spit it and start the cooking, but as soon as Chuck tells the story of how his mother smothered him, they decide to get back on the bus, leaving the uneaten boar over the fire, I guess.  Carol goes to sleep with a stuffed animal and Chuck says to Maureen let’s go take a walk.  They get it on in the middle of the woods while Maureen is hallucinating they’re on some alter to Apollo.

There’s your movie.  Nope, I still don’t know what the whole plot was because in the end everyone still seems just as messed up as they were before, so there’s no big character development.  And they never got the bus unstuck from the mud and delivered to Tallahassee, so there was no grand task completed.  The movie, literally, is about these three tripping and having sex in the swamps after they get stuck, that’s it.

So it’s no wonder to me that neither the writer nor the director, nor ANY of the three main actors, made another movie after this one.  I’m all for DIY art, but surely one of the first things you would have worked out when plotting your movie was “Okay, but what’s it ABOUT?”

It’s about these three people whose bus gets stuck in the mud.

Okay, but then what?

Then they just kinda hang out.

And then what?  They’re rescued?  The masked killer shows up?  They find a hidden treasure?  They stay there forever and establish their own society?

Nope, none of those.  They wake up the next morning, still the same old people they were, still stuck in the mud.

Oh.  Ok.

It’s not necessarily a badly-made movie, Hirschenson has a decent eye.  I would watch another movie he directed as long as the opening shot wasn’t another man unbuttoning his pants (this movie opens with Chuck about to urinate on the side of the bus, instead of just using the bathroom ON the bus).  His creepy scenes are definitely creepy–that clown has Tim Curry’s Pennywise beat for “disturbing” by a mile!–and he makes his scenes engaging.  I enjoyed the experience of watching this movie, even when it was a scene I didn’t particularly want to see (watching naked 70s people frolic, not for me).  Winter’s script wasn’t terrible, the dialogue fit the era and seemed natural enough.  Even the actors weren’t bad.  Sure, they had the whole “it was the 70s” working against them, making them just slightly unappealing, but overall everyone did a decent job.

There just wasn’t a point to any of it.  And I can’t get past that.  PICK-UP wasn’t a bad movie, I just couldn’t find that one missing piece that gave it meaning.  Did I like it?  Meh, it was alright.  Would I watch it again?  No, I’ve think I’ve experienced everything this movie had to offer, thanks.

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