Saturday, March 26, 2011

MALIBU HIGH

(1979; d: Irv Birwick)
The pain, the degradation, they always come back… that old familiar gnawing in the gut that comes with the knowledge that something awful is being delivered by a comrade from the city. And with this torrential physical anxiety comes the regret of the call, the desire to cancel, the agony of the wait…the frayed nerves, the self-loathing. Those last few hours of work, heaven help us, each minute dragging slower than the last. And don’t forget about your heart rate and nausea once it reaches your hands, and then on the drive home. And to that, add on the impossible window of time in which to indulge before your significant other comes strolling through the front door, anxious to look you in the eyes and tell you about her day… MALIBU HIGH cannot be worth all that anguish, can it?

Remember that time we went to the dance and left early because Kevin and his little rich bitch showed up, then we ran into Tony the pimp and scored some overpriced pot and went back to Lucy’s place and you hatched out your plan to turn your failing grades into straight A’s by screwing all of your teachers? And remember how well you caught on, so much so that you began selling your ass out of the back of Tony’s van to seemingly endless lines of construction workers? Remember?
Though perhaps more spiritually expedient to recall the happy times, now and then we flash back to those most bitter memories and wallow in them, momentarily against our will, drawn back into the pain and humiliation until we flinch, the proximity of old wounds afresh becoming unbearable. I remember it all began the morning after Kim (Jill Lansing) was dumped by Kevin…

Maybe it’s the incessant nagging from the scowling buzzard (Phyllis Benson) who cooks her breakfast, maybe it’s waking up feeling more alone than she’s felt since Daddy hung himself or maybe it’s just the dread of school, the ultimate drag, a place Kim--who’d long since forsaken any notion of studying or graduating--has come to perceive as some kind of purgatory. Whatever it is, gosh almighty, she looks hit. A slow riser myself, I can certainly relate, but damn
As our fledgling heroine brushes her hair and smokes a cigarette topless in front of the bedroom mirror, traces of buried sadness, compulsive hostility and unbridled self-righteousness flash before our wearied gaze. Kim, it seems, doesn’t have much going for her and she knows it, but in her vast, irrational contempt and indignation lies the vigor and composure of a gal who simply doesn’t give a shit anymore. Whether at school or play, she’s hell-bent on sullying everything in her path with a foul disposition.
During a particularly dismal yet thankfully brief sojourn at the breakfast table, Kim’s mother scolds her for smoking while eating oatmeal, and again for ignoring her friend Lucy (Katie Johnson), who honks her horn relentlessly from the driveway. “Hurry up, I’ll be getting complaints from the neighbors.” “You worry about those assholes?!” For the record, Jill Lansing digs in with gusto (in her one and only shot at immortality), accounting for herself convincingly enough in a role that--for better or worse--she seems born to play. Her inexperience proves far less a factor than the awkward, often silly dialogue she’s forced to read (on a production that feels hastened and crude in nearly every respect).
Pulling into the school’s parking lot, Kim and Lucy gawk at Kevin (Stuart Taylor) and his delectable new squeeze, Annette (prissy, nubile Tammy Taylor), a fine little number whose father is one of the wealthiest men in town. With feathers most assuredly ruffled, we next find Kim in history class.
Mr. Donaldson (John Grant) stumps the preoccupied ingénue in mid-trance… “Kim, can you tell us?” The answer, unequivocally, is no. We learn soon enough that you’ll pry precious few tidbits of consequence from her pert, tobacco-stained lips. Holding her briefly after class, Mr. Donaldson warns her of imminent failure, which she coolly, casually brushes aside (accompanied by the first of several bizarre musical flourishes involving what sounds like the station identification ditty from the old SCTV show).
Returning home from school in a huff following a rather demoralizing run-in with Kevin , Kim takes notable exception with a curt remark from mom regarding her dead father, as well as ma’s frumpy appearance. “No wonder he couldn’t stand it here. You could’ve looked decent once in awhile…instead of worrying about dirt…and dust…and greasy build-up! Maybe you wouldn‘t have driven Daddy away… and maybe Daddy wouldn’t have had to kill himself because he couldn’t get it up anymore!”
Following much prodding from her pal Lucy (a hopelessly dreary, loveless perpetual moper of low social standing), Kim reluctantly agrees to go to the big high school dance, which seems to reside in a Mexican restaurant impishly masquerading itself off as something called “Larry’s Disco”. Sizing up the rather grim proceedings, Kim and Lucy sit awhile, sullenly stare at Kevin and Annette some, then make their way into the parking lot where a chance rendezvous with an illustrious small-time pot dealer and pimp named Tony sets Kim on a new course.

Kim- "You got any stuff?"  Tony- "Is Raquel Welch stacked?"
“Hey, when you gonna start workin’ for me?” Those words, though hastily rebuked at first, nonetheless strike a resonate chord with Kim. And how could they not? Of all the characters in MALIBU HIGH, easily the most memorable (and dynamic…and sleazy) was Tony, effortlessly breathed to life by the ineffable, astoundingly unsavory Al Mannino. From the very first moment he graced the screen, I was simply in awe of the man’s ability to convey menace and filth -- and just by the way he chewed his gum! And his slithery delivery was the very essence of smut personified. Each and every time he’d pop up on screen, I’d become disheartened to find myself alone in cheering his arrival. I mean, whenever I even think of the guy I begin to hear that “Calypso Breakdown” number from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.


Back at Lucy’s place, Kim seems to be heavily mulling over something, albeit through a haze of bourbon and pot. Or maybe she’s just blocking out Lucy, whose aimless ramblings about a flat-chested acquaintance threaten to suck the life out of the room. As the stale humdrum progressively portends a fade to total darkness, Kim experiences an epiphany of phantasmagoric proportion, then lays it on us… “Starting tomorrow there’s gonna be some big changes… right now I’m flunking outta half my classes, right? No more. I’m gonna get the highest grades in class and studying isn’t gonna have anything to do with it. And I got no money, right? I’m gonna have money… and I’m gonna get ‘imbursed’ the nicest fucking way I know.”
The next morning those “big changes” come to light as she’s ripe with newfangled ambition, as manifest by her provocative attire. Her flimsy, ill-fitting and downright hideous choice of miniskirt (a noxious shade of baby blue) draws plenty of ire and incredulity from mom, who alas has no leverage in the matter. Amidst a wave of catcalls and puzzled looks, the new Kim Bentley has arrived, peddling her tawdry wares in the crudest terms she can muster.
Once again she’s asked to stay after class by her history teacher, though this time for her rather galling apparel. “Would you mind closing the door?” “Shall I lock it?” After shilling out a few choice words about how disruptive her appearance is, he‘s caught off guard by her candor. “I was hoping I would turn you on a little, Mr. Donaldson.” Though he adamantly rejects her advances, his resolve is short-lived. “Think about it, huh? I’ll be there. High Point. Alone.”

Strutting through the school’s parking lot like an alley cat on the prowl, Kim catches Kevin’s attention, which in turn catches Annette’s… “Come on, Kevin, let’s go. Can’t you get your eyes off of that slut?!” “That’s right, Kevin, You’d better hurry up. Before she takes away your allowance.” The resulting brew-ha would forever go down as the “The Battle of the Blathering Bombshells”, ending abruptly with Kim dropping the much daintier Annette with a well deserved (if not exactly well placed) cheap-shot.

I mention “not exactly well placed” for good reason. The contentious nature of “the punch”--still a hot-button issue so many bad hair days later--would serve to echo and re-echo the infamous “phantom punch” Muhammad Ali used to fell former champion Sonny Liston in their much debated 1965 heavyweight title rematch. For the record (in my humble opinion, at least), Ali crisply landed that right. Kim, however, isn’t fooling anyone.

Somewhere, a stunned Norman Mailer spits his scotch.
And so it’s off to High Point, a sunny, scenic hideaway renowned as much for it’s heavy-breathing coterie as it is for it’s breathtaking flotsam. The next two and one-half minutes just might be the most rigorous stretch of the movie, with Kim and Mr. Donaldson groping and pawing (and foot-mingling) their way into what might be conservatively appraised as the most poignant case for abstinence these delicate peepers have ever willingly bore witness to.

Later that night, Kim once again meets Tony in the parking lot of “Larry’s Disco” to discuss business. Ever the headstrong, she aggressively pushes the case for a 60/40 split in her favor, an argument we can’t help but advocate until Tony unleashes a swift backhand to settle the matter. Dazed and shaken, Kim’s meek demand for “no more rough stuff” belies the demeanor of the caged tigress for which we’ve grown accustomed. Tony doesn’t know it yet, but he’s just made his biggest mistake since purchasing those curtains for the van.
Before they can seal the deal, though, he demands to sample the merchandise, setting up (for my money) the most engrossing 30 seconds that MALIBU HIGH has to offer. “Well look honey, I gotta know what yer action’s like--if it’s no good, I can’t sell a bad piece of ass.” Reluctantly, begrudgingly, she begins removing her clothing (as does he), taking a page from ma’s book and scowling all the while. For his part, Tony laps it up in style, meeting her scorn with all the quiet complacency of a well-seated card shark. What I guess I mean to say is this is as close to a Mexican standoff as I’ve ever witnessed preceding sex.
Kim’s first day on the job is not without it’s hi-jinks (and lowlifes). Setting up shop in a vacant lot, Tony gets them lined up quickly, proving a certain proclivity for promotion. Her first customer, an affable enough sort, tells her he prefers it “the Greek way”, which I can only surmise has something to do with a fraternity ritual -- alas, I’ve no experience in these matters.
Soon enough Kim’s making the grades and the cash, but is there trouble in paradise? While doing some sorely needed soul searching on the beach, she’s accosted by a much more refined and gentlemanly pimp named Lance (Garth Howard, the pipe-smoking hubby from VIXEN!), who offers her better pay and a more sophisticated clientele. Though at first she declines, it inspires her to demand more money from Tony, with predictable results.
As things progressed, I began to notice a considerable shift in my attitude towards the protagonist. Despite innumerable limitations, Kim proves with a little can-do spirit and an unhealthy dose of grubby panache that just about anything is possible--no matter how preposterous or depraved.
I’ll just wrap it up by saying there is much more in the way of sleaze-ball antics as Kim shacks up with Lance--who turns her onto cocaine and, inexplicably, into a hit woman. I am not making this up. After killing the first john he sets her up with, he senses she’s just the psychopath he’s been looking for and bumps her up to full-time killer, giving her a series of assignments beginning with Tony.
Oh! We’re also treated to a wonderfully unnecessary scene featuring Annette in (and out) of a nifty little black bikini, getting down to business with Kevin on a polar bear rug in what amounts to the only truly erotic scene of the flick. And did I mention the theme song for “The People’s Court”(!) makes a much welcome cameo (and is used in it’s entirety) during the riveting final chase sequence?


MALIBU HIGH is one of those movies in which you half expect (or hope) an errant boom mike to jerk into the frame, bashing it’s obnoxious chain-smoking would-be starlet flush between the eyes as she proudly delivers one of her snappier lines in earnest. I can hear the naysayers bellowing already. You don’t really expect us to watch this, do you wise guy? Well, doubt if you will, because there aren’t that many seats on the bus anyways.
Sure it may look like, sound like, even smell like porn, but as luck would have it, no unsightly pubic hair or skin eruptions turn up to dispirit the plot. And hell, while there’s still the inevitable anguish and regret to consider, if you’ve a strong enough constitution it’s just a small price to pay for the kind of indelible kicks that only MALIBU HIGH can provide.

7 comments:

  1. A most excellent take on a most excellent motion picture.

    Utilizing a wide array of words (including "newfangled" and "prissy"), and, not to mention, a truckload of moxie, you've somehow managed to capture the complex essence of this seedy masterwork.

    The shot of Kim Bentley standing naked over that wheezy old man as he slowly died on that putrid-looking carpet is probably one of the most striking images in film history. I loved the way her pale breasts seemed to be mocking him as he croaked.

    If I were to compile a list of the greatest movie performances of all-time (you know, if the criteria were actors who only ever did one movie), Jill Lansing's stunning turn as Kim in Malibu High would definitely be in the top ten.

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  2. Thanks so much, Yum! Having put this blog on hiatus for far too long, it took a rare, singular breed of awesome to reignite my passions -- and MALIBU HIGH was just that kind of smut.

    That scene, with Kim’s pasty breasts hovering scornfully over the decrepit principal, would serve to foretell a steady deterioration of our American public school system as well as the often ignored crusade against the aged that seems to preoccupy so many youngsters today.

    Jill’s wonderfully natural performance is truly something to behold. The exceptionally bold manner in which she flaunts her tan-lines while smoking was quite inspiring and I think it’s tragic she wasn’t able to flaunt them in other pictures.

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  3. Fantastic review Jerry, as always! You have such a way with words that sucks you right into the movie, as if you are standing there as it unfolds...I've never seen Malibu High, but now feel I must get my hands on it...Kim reminded me of a bad girl version of Molly from the 80s flick Angel...and Tony's character, tho ooooozing of sleezeballiness (is there even such a word?? ;) makes me want to see more of him - one of those guilty pleasure type characters ;) thank you again for such an awesome review...you are a master story teller...I look forward to your next review!

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  4. The wife got me two of the "Drive In Classics" dvd sets for XXXmas. Volume 1 contains "Malibu High" in all of its gritty transfer glory. Over holiday break I busted into these sets beginning with "Malibu High". In a word: GREASY, like a dirty pork sandwich slathered in tangy mayonnaise-jar BBQ sauce that you can only get at off-the-beaten-path roadside feeding lots. The folks of "Malibu High" would fit right in at one of these joints, tearing into chunks of greasy pork, fingers glazed in sauce and blood like so many "Hee Haw" Lady Macbeths, a cigarette dangling out of the corners of their mouths all the while.
    There's probably a whole lot of Jill Lansing (wherever she is) that went into Kim Bentley. You can't help but cheer her on in her complete refutation of all that is Suburbia, and calling bullshit on the American Dream. When the viewer travels back in time to 1979 California, you can't help but have an earnest desire for the coolly amoral but oh-so-human Kim to screw and shoot her way from high school to the highest echelons of power, just before that old buzzard Reagan swoops down and fucks it up for everybody.
    I totally agree with you that a particularly greasy highlight of this film is by far Tony the Pimp. "50 Cent", "Jay-Z" and the whole pack of multimillion, Cristal-swigging manufactured prettyboys got nuthin' on this guy. There are swarthy doppelgangers of Tony the Pimp hustling from Ciudad Juarez to Sao Paulo to Bucharest this very moment, none of whom would be ashamed to crack open some Colt.45 tallboys or take a crack at his own sister to see if the goods are all that, and make a buck or two. GREASY.
    The particularly jarring soundtrack kept my head spinning throughout this movie. The standardized Gerald Ford muzak commonly associated with the era is replaced with random network chime-ins for nuclear test patterns and game show snippets. Unexpected use of the theme from "The People's Court" made me choke on my pint of beer, and afterwards ruminate on the sad fact that Doug Louellen didn't get laid in this movie. Seeing him interviewing the construction workers outside of Tony the Pimp's "Luv Machin" would not have been out of kilter in "Malibu High".
    The one-sheet for this film is as deceptive as any 21st century news network: a stand-in for Jill Lansing is coquettishly draped across the foreground, while a troupe of "MAD Magazine" caricatures ogle her in a background of palm trees. The body double's smile belies the fact that "Malibu High" ain't at all about fun, sun, and tanlines. Leave that to the kids over at Bayside and Sweet Valley. The world of "Malibu High" is the kind of place that Robert Blake would hang out in the parking lot and try to score on chicks at least twenty years his junior. And no one would complain in this particularly greasy Ventura dive.

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  5. @Eva - Awww, thank you Eva! You are too sweet! And she does have a bit in common with ANGEL, except you don't really care what happens to her and she somehow ends up going on a killing spree. :)

    @Branden(sorry, dude - It feels weird as shit referring to you as pariah.file)- Karen bought me that same set for my birthday a couple years back.

    "...like so many "Hee Haw" Lady Macbeths" - You fucking rock!

    Yes, Tony the Pimp (not to be confused with Tony the Pimp from DEMONS, as portrayed by the implacable Bobby Rhodes) is the real McCoy, alright. I mean, can you imagine that guy operating in the straight world? Al Mannino, chiropractor. Okay, well that one actually kinda makes sense. Real name is Alex Mann. Oh shit! I just looked him upon the IMDB -- he's been in a coupla Doris Wishman flicks... he also was served hard time at Riker's Island! As recently as 2008, he starred as "wealthy client" in THE TRANSGRESSIONS OF TINA, which appears to have been shot on video. This just might call for an Alex Mann (oh fuck that -- AL MANNINO!) retrospective.

    Oh, and I agree the soundtrack is MALIBU HIGH's real stroke of genius. Rather than go for music befitting the scene, they went all gonzo on us, knowing full well we'd still be talking about it 31 years later.

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  6. "Mr. Donaldson (John Grant) stumps the preoccupied ingénue in mid-trance… “Kim, can you tell us?” The answer, unequivocally, is no. We learn soon enough that you’ll pry precious few tidbits of consequence from her pert, tobacco-stained lips" --Bro, you've worked a miracle.

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  7. Very much appreciated, Erich!

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