Girls on the Road (1973)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-09-05 20:05

Written by: Larry Bischof (writer), Gloria Goldsmith (screenplay anad story), David M. Kauffman, and Michael Levesque
Directed by: Thomas Schmidt
Starring: Dianne Hull, Michael Ontkean, and Kathleen Cody

Reviewed by: Brett G.

ĒGod, IĎm 17 and I havenít even been felt up yet!Ē

If there was ever a contradictory time in history, it was the late 60s and early 70s. On the one hand, the youth and hippie movements preached free love and quality; on the other, the horrors of the Vietnam War and the various political assassinations of the era introduced a nihilistic and jaded perspective. These two warring world views would often cross cinematic paths and clash with violent results. Horror often provided a natural breeding ground for the conflict, which had one of its bloodiest battles in a quaint Last House on the Left. Schlock producer Joe Solomon saw an obvious market in the growing youth counterculture, and he produced a string of low budget cult films that featured everything from killer bikers to evil sorcerers. Girls on the Road (also known as Hot Summer Week) is an especially cheesy cinematic mash-up of teenage road/party movies and exploitation films that only exists to put a couple of nubile, innocent young girls in a precarious situation.

Karen and Debbie are fresh out of high school and sexually curious. They set off on a vacation that they hope will allow them to fulfill their budding sexual desires; instead, when they pick up a mentally unbalanced Vietnam vet, Will, theyíre led down a bizarre path that leads to a local hippie commune. To make matters worse, thereís also been a serial killer stalking the beaches of Big Sur, and all of his targets have been young girls. They thought that were going to find love (or at least get laid!), but Debbie and Karen instead find themselves in a fight for their lives when the mysterious killer begins to target them.

Despite its almost clichť ďgirls in perilĒ set-up, Girls on the Road is barely a horror movie, at least in terms of content. That said, itís difficult to really say what this one is. It starts out as a teen comedy romp, then descends into full-on (and dull) melodrama. The last fifteen minutes attempts to refocus the film with a couple of murders and a stalk and slash sequence that reminds us about that unseen serial killer thatís been roaming around the beach the entire movie. The film apparently began life as a simplistic tale about two girls encountering a rapist, but an abundance of writers eventually over-cooked this one into something too unfocused and meandering. The end result is actually quite a half-baked affair that isnít very good--if the banal dialogue and woeful acting donít get you, the cheesy pop/lounge tunes and droning LSD-inspired flashbacks will send you into fits of unintentional laughter.

Indeed, itís tough to take this one seriously in the least, despite the fact that pretty much any and all marketing materials would lead you to believe this to be a horror film of some sort. While the film does feature its fair share of madmen and violence, it features too little of this to be effective. In fact, I would say the film is probably at its best during the opening ten minutes when the girls set out on their vacation. Here, they rid themselves of their oppressive bras and randomly flash strangers that drive by. Itís obviously juvenile, but the girlsí oblivious teen comedy antics are juxtaposed with their ignorance of the serial killer thatís stalking the beach theyíre about to visit. Itís a classic horror set-up, and had it delivered on it, this could have been a decent cult knock-off of Cravenís film.

Instead, weíre treated to an unbelievably dull middle act that manages to fail on just about every level. You might perk up when you see the goofy antics of the hippies, but itís only good for a chuckle at best. The serial killer angle is dropped pretty much completely, though the film does throw a few red herrings in there to keep your mind on it. The budding romance between Will and Karen is painful to watch, but at least itís not as creepy as seeing Ralph Waite hit on the 17 year old Debbie. It sounds like greasy stuff, but really, itís tame and boring stuff, which is especially surprising coming from Solomon. Even Michael Ontkean (of Slap Shot fame) canít salvage anything, as his half-hearted delivery seems to indicate that even he knows how terrible the dialogue is.

The violence is similarly tame, with many of the murders happening off screen. Even the last segment that reveals the killer and his carnage isnít very notable, which isnít a surprise considering the filmís PG rating (though it would no doubt carry a PG-13 today). Girls on the Road probably didnít warrant being unearthed, but that hasnít stopped Scorpion Releasing from treating the film to a decent DVD release. The anamorphic transfer is fairly pristine, though the elements look a bit worn; the mono soundtrack is also solid, which unfortunately means the filmís cheesy, repetitive theme song is loud and clear. Thereís also a few special features, including an interview with writer Kauffman, a retrospective on Thomas Scmidt, an alternate title card, and the filmís original trailer, which of course plays up the filmís horror elements. Donít be fooled though--the only thing thatís horrific about this one is the quality. Even at a scant 79 minutes long, this one is a chore to spend time with. Tell it to hit the road instead. Trash it!

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