Dave and Dennis Review: TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

Posted: October 7, 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 novelsThe Ghosts of Mertland and The American Way 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 (80,000-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. Dennis chose this week’s review challenge: TRIP WITH THE TEACHER.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by David Bain

One out of five stars

Ick.

That’s how I felt, watching the second half of this film.

ZalmanIt’s about some teenage girls in the seventies who are on a field trip when their bus breaks down. They encounter a trio of bikers, one good, one bad, one less bad, all of them stupid. The bad bikers, brothers and ex-cons,  aren’t going back to prison, man, but the girls have seen them behaving badly, so what’s a psycho to do but lock the girls up in a cabin and intimidate, harass, rape and murder them as they put up, meh, some resistance here and there when they’re not too busy being a sixth-grade boy’s idea of attractive high school girls – that last bit is as much a part of the ick factor as the rape and murder.

The thing actually starts out kind of promising, as far as B movies go. Zalman King (who went on to direct all sorts of sexy schlock like Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid) stars as Al, the badder of the two bad biker bros, and he’s genuinely creepy, wearing thuggish, vaguely sci-fi wrap-around shades for the first third of the flick – imagine Bono with an even uglier mug, a giant(er) schnoz and black Robert Plant curls. King’s effectively loathsome, snickering to himself, acting all disaffected and, oh yeah, killing a good ol’ boy mechanic who didn’t like the bikers’ looks.

This last happens unbeknownst to the other bikers – but we, the audience say, “Ah-hah! This Al guy’s a crrrrazy stone killer!”

Adds suspense and whatnot.

Boo, hiss, bad Al!

So, fine, we’ve got our innocent damsels on the bus, talking about boys and school, and we’ve got some menacing types inevitably closing in on them, with a good biker thrown into the mix to potentially save them.

A perfect set-up for fun and tension.

So how could this turn out to be almost unwatchable?

Yes, it’s a B movie from the ‘70s, so you expect bad acting, stupid dialogue, dumb plot twists, second rate music and an obviously stoned cameraman. That’s part of what we came for. All that’s forgiven before the fact.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is the girls, on a couple levels.

The first is their acting. They’re wooden, all of them. They deliver their lines as if programmed, as if there’s a teleprompter just off screen and they’ve never read the script.

But the main problem is the way the females are presented. No wonder their acting is wooden – the script and the filmmakers expect them to be nothing whatsoever but their age and their gender.

Watching ‘70s exploitation in our era, you can’t help but wonder what Tarantino would do with the same material. (I’m serious – just try to watch a forty year-old cheap movie without QT popping into your head. Can’t be done, I tells ya!)

So WWQTD? Well, for one thing, he’d give the girls something to work with – they’d each have a distinct personality. Oh, there’s something approaching a miniscule afterthought of effort in this direction – one’s a slut, one’s quiet, the older one’s a teacher and reads some stuff out loud from a pamphlet about where they’re going and reminds them how lucky they are for the experience, yadda, yadda.

But I’m sure there were other girls than these and I remember absolutely nothing about them.

So then, Al gets mean(er) once he has the girls in captivity. There are degredations galore. There are escape attempts resulting in merciless death, which the camera watches for way to long, just as there are rapes the camera doesn’t shy away from soon enough.

One could argue realism. Hell, it probably would go down something like this except for the women of wood and the moronic, predictable dues ex machina ending.

I’m not that squeamish when it comes to film. Nothing wrong with realistically portraying victimhood. Sometimes it sucks being a human and sometimes it sucks having a brain and blood and flesh and nerve endings. And every now and then a suspense or horror movie reminds us of this in a way we can’t deny or look away from. There are good movies which make anyone civilized cringe – a recent trip to the dentist reminded me of Marathon Man, for instance, and its legendary dental torture scene. I’ll vociferously defend that scene to any and all detractors.

But Trip with the Teacher was tough to watch because, first of all, Zalman King is no Laurence Olivier, but mostly because, while I did care that a woman was being humiliated, killed or raped, I wasn’t allowed to care about an actual person with achievements, aspirations, a life behind and possibly ahead of her.

And the teacher and surviving girls seem tearfully happy at the end of it all, hugging in the sunshine, apparently forgetting there are less of them now than when they set foot on the bus, wistfully wiping away the humiliations, the molestations, etc., along with a tear or two.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is that the movie unintentionally sees its female cast the same way its antagonists do –weak, depersonalized, just waiting to be victims.

Anything else in the film – the motorcycle chases, the girls’ out-of-the-blue rescue … sigh, you’ve seen it before. Not particularly worth tuning in. The first twenty minutes or whatever are worth a look at King in those amazing shades, but after that Trip with the Teacher ’s nothing but trash and ickuninspired trash and not a good kind of ick.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by C. Dennis Moore

Three out of five stars

There are so many things about Earl Barton’s 1975 masterpiece TRIP WITH THE TEACHER that utterly confound me, that I don’t even know where to start.  Maybe with the plot.

Miss Tenny, a teacher, I’m assuming, has brought along four teenage girls, presumably four of her high school students, on a field trip to the middle of the desert to study Navajo ruins and whatnot.  They’ve rented a short bus with a goofy driver, Marvin, and are going to be gone for a couple of days. I know it was 1975, but the notion that just one teacher is in charge–even if it is only four students–with this slimy bus driver who is obviously a predator, out in the middle of nowhere, on a very small bus, for days at a time . . . I don’t think so.  That’s one permission slip that’s not getting signed.

Then there’s Jay Andrews, motorcycle enthusiast, who comes upon two other biker boys along the side of the road.  One of them, Pete, has a flat tire while Pete’s brother, Al, lounges on the ground by the side of the road to catch some zzzz’s.  Jay’s got a hot patch kit and a hand pump and he helps out his fellow aficionados, then offers to ride with them into town where Pete can get his tire fixed properly.  When Al wakes up before they take off his first comment is, “What’s he still doing here?”

That would be my cue.  See ya, Pete, good luck with your handful there.  But Jay’s a bit of a dim bulb, and is WAY too happy to be out on the road eating dust and bugs.

The bikers eventually run into the school bus and follow it to a gas station where the bikers flirt with the high school girls before the bus takes off again.  Meanwhile back at the station, Al kills the service station attendant who smarted off to him.  Jay and Pete don’t know what Al’s done, and the three hop back on their hogs (does a Kawasaki dirt bike qualify as a hog?), and hit the open road again.

Down the road, the bus has broken down.  Could be a clogged fuel line or a bad fuel pump.  Marvin the bus driver can’t fix it, but when the bikers arrive on the scene, maybe one of them can.  Pete offers to take a look while Al tries to make time with Bobbie, the slut of the group.  Pete admits he can’t fix the bus and Miss Tenny asks if they’ll call someone to come help them out once the guys get to the nearest town.  And this is where the movie really stops even trying to make sense.  Instead of just saying “Sure,” Pete tells her “It’s okay with me, if it’s okay with him.”  Him being Al.  Why exactly does he need to check with his brother, who is obviously a sociopath, before agreeing to help five women stranded in the middle of nowhere?  And why not just ask Jay, who’s clearly a decent guy.  Better yet, why did Jay not just offer to go for help himself?

So Al says sure, I’ll get you some help.  If you let me take Bobbie into the hills on the my bike and give her what for.  Um . . . probably not, dude.  Then Jay gets the bright idea to tie some ropes to their bikes and tow the bus.  How would that even work?  I mean, if you saw the bikes these guys were riding, there’s no way.  And then, instead of towing it to town, they tow it to an abandoned shack even further in the middle of nowhere.

Marvin tries to stand up for the girls, but he gets a broken neck for his troubles, and again, at this point, Jay could have gotten away.  He even says to one of the girls, “If one of us can get away, they’ll run.”  Dude, you’ve got a motorcycle.  You’re like the prime candidate for running.  WTF?

So instead of getting on his bike and going for help, Jay winds up in the shack with the rest of the girls, sitting against the wall while the brothers sit and drink bourbon.  And again, the plot makes no sense.  They’re in this run down cabin with broken boards and loose pipes laying all around.  It’s six to two and all the brothers have is Al’s little pocket knife.  They couldn’t gang up and overpower these dudes?

Anyway, Miss Tenny is raped, Jay escapes and is run over a cliff by Pete, one of the girls escapes, and is killed by Al while the other three girls and Miss Tenny sit idly by under the watchful and drunken gaze of Pete until Al returns hours later.  Al then rapes Bobbie and everyone falls asleep.

The next morning rescue comes, the brothers are killed, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Except Miss Tenny and Bobbie who will spend the rest of their lives in therapy, not to mention a couple of hefty lawsuits I’d say from some very angry parents.  Despite her smiles and hugs with the girls at the end of the movie, I have a feeling Miss Tenny’s teaching career is over.

Yeah, I think writer/director Earl Barton didn’t bother to think about that part of the continuing story when he ended on that note.  Maybe that’s why TRIP WITH THE TEACHER was the only movie he wrote and directed?

Taking obvious cues from Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which was released two years earlier, Barton’s created a pretty unforgiving villain in Al, easily the equal of Craven’s Krug in terms of sheer insane evil.  Zalman King (of ZALMAN KING’S RED SHOE DIARIES) eats it up as the sociopathic Al, to the point I had a hard time watching just because there is a point at which the top has been gone so far over you just can’t stomach anymore.  In normal circumstances I understand giving yourself over to the character is a plus, but when that character has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, well, it’s tough to watch.  And not in a good way.

The rest of the cast is pretty much just there to say their lines and go back home, no one else really has much to do in the face of Al’s commanding presence.

The quality of the movie is pretty poor.  The colors are washed out and the sound is nearly incomprehensible at times.  I certainly hope I didn’t miss any important plot points in the muddle. The movie is 89 minutes, and for the first 60 it feels much longer.  The last 20 minutes speed by like nothing, though, and then the credits take up the change, but for the first hour I was checking the time constantly.  The pace was sluggish as hell and I feared it would be one of those movies where nothing happens and we’re just supposed to assume the tension and feel something for these characters.  Well, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters when they could clearly save themselves if they stopped being such victims and learn to count!

The plot is a well-used one, even well-done in the right circumstances.  I’m thinking now of the 1986 tv movie “Fortress” starring Rachel Ward about the field trip teacher and her students who are kidnapped and how they fight back.  It’s a great movie; I only saw it when it first came on TV, but I’ve never forgotten it.  So this theme CAN be done right,  TRIP WITH THE TEACHER just doesn’t happen to be one of those cases.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.

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