Thursday, December 25, 2008

Malibu High (1979)

Directed by Irvin Berwick
Starring Jill Lansing, Tammy Taylor, Garth Howard
Rated R
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"So, how do you want it?"
"The French way, if you don't mind."
"Sure, why not? Beats the Greek way."

It seems impossible that this film was made in 1979. It looks more like some grubby, bottom-shelf obscurity fished out of a dumpster in the late 60's. It's like a cautionary classroom scare film mixed with puerile softcore scuzz. It is awesome and the exact opposite of awesome all at once, a jaw-dropping tour de force from the wild-hearted visionary behind the world's first graphic decapitation-by-demon (Monster of Piedras Blancas, 1959) and the infamous, puke-on-your-shoes 70's exploitation howler Hitch Hike to Hell (1977). Irvin Berwick, that magnificent bastard, knew sleaze. And this, make no mistake, is pure, uncut, super-sleaze.

Kim (Jill Lansing) is an obnoxious teenage brat, the kind of angry, desperate high school zero that curses at her own mother while smoking (and eating) at the breakfast table. Her boyfriend dumped her because he thinks she's too stupid to hang out with. She's flunking out of school, and her teachers hate her so much that they don't even care. After a long day of hissing and spitting like a pit viper at everyone in earshot, Kim comes home and lays into mom some more. Things escalate quickly:

"Don't joke about daddy!" She yells. "No wonder he couldn't stay here. You could've looked decent once in awhile, instead of worrying about dirt, and dust, and greasy build-ups! Maybe you wouldn't have driven daddy away. And maybe he wouldn't have killed himself because he couldn't get it up anymore!"

Mom is, of course, mortified. And so am I, a little.

Kim goes to a groovy dance club with her blonde pal Lucy (Katie Johnson), but all she does is chain-smoke and glower at any dude who tries to dance with her. She drags Lucy out of there and demands they go back to Lucy's house so they can bust into her dad's liquor cabinet and get loaded on his top-shelf hooch. But just then, that greasy lowlife Tony (Alex Mann) pulls up in his white van. After once again failing to convince Kim to join his stable of teenage whores, Tony lures her into his pussy wagon to make a weed deal. Seems very fishy, but at this point you hate Kim so much you sorta half-hope Tony chops her into little bits and feeds her to some strays.

Doesn't happen. At least not yet. Kim ends up back at Lucy's, sucking on a bong and ranting about how she's got a plan to pass her classes, get money, and get revenge on her ex-boyfriend Kevin. And then she passes out and dreams about discovering her dad's hanging corpse. She wakes up with a start and glares at Lucy.
"Just you watch," she growls. "Tomorrow's gonna be a whole new scene."

Before we even get to said scene, before Kim devolves into an even less agreeable monster, let us commend Jill Lansing for this legendary performance. Under Kim's hard eyes and spittle, you can almost see the pretty young actress underneath. Although she is cursed with a Dorothy Hamill-ish flip hairdo here, Lansing is still a knockout, a steel-jawed Brooke Shields with sparkly eyes and teacup tits. It's a shame that this is her sole cinematic performance, because she could've easily been a drive-in cult icon. As it is, her brooding, war-on-everybody turn as Kim is second only to Robbie Lee's Lace in the seminal girl-gang flick Switchblade Sisters (1975) for pure, teeth-gritting venom.

Kim shows up at school the next day dressed like a low-budget street-walker and wastes no time in making a deal with one of her teachers. This is how she spends the rest of the day:

She pops Kevin's new girlfriend Annette (adorable, pocket-sized Tammy Taylor) in the face, bloodying her nose.
She meets her teacher, Mr. Donaldson, at "High Point", and fucks him in the dirt.
She meets up with Uncle Tony and makes a 60/40 deal with him. He slaps her in the face and then samples his new merchandise on a filthy mattress in the back of his van.

By the next day, she's servicing so many dudes inside Tony's van that there's a line around the block. And then she drives to school in a brand new white convertible. Ever since she plunged into the exciting world of teenager hooker-dom, everything's going Kim's way. It's not long before Lance (Garth Howard), a more handsome and refined pimp, gobbles her up for his stable, prompting Kim to give ol' Uncle Tony a call.
"Hey, Tony? Get fucked."

Things start to go awry soon after, as they often do. One of Kim's tricks freaks her out with handcuffs and whips, so she stabs him to death with an ice pick. She comes back to Lance's swank pad with a furrowed brow, but he assures her there's always a "fink" to take the rap for unfortunate situations like this. And then he gives her some cocaine. And then he gives her a gun, and tells her to kill Tony.
"Look baby, you're gonna dig this action," Lance tells her. "You've got the constitution for it."

And she does. Assassination becomes Kim's favorite pastime. She particularly relishes murdering the school principal. Lured to Kim's house to expose her teacher-fucking ways to her mother, the old bastard drops dead of a heart attack when Kim strips down to her bloomers and shows him her floppies. She stands over his trembling body triumphantly, while library cues from some old mad scientist serial plays on the soundtrack. I half-expected her to piss on his skull.

Ah, but all murder sprees must come to an end, and after one particularly messy - and personal - hit, Kim finds herself running out of time. Will she escape the clutches of law? Will she ever get back with that fuckin' idiot Kevin? Will Lance ever shave his back? And will Annette strip out of that bikini?
Mostly no, but maybe yes.

While it's true that Malibu High is not exactly what it seems - the title and theatrical poster both suggest a cheeky 70's teen sexploitation romp, not a bloody psychodrama about a rampaging rage-whore - it still scores high on both the T&A and comedy angle. The empty-eyed non-acting of the secondary players is a howl, as are the bare-bones sets and the slapdash score, a seemingly random mish-mash of library cues, including the ever-popular Peoples Court theme, and an oft-repeated, swooshing synth stab also used as PBS's promo music throughout the 70's. As to the celebrity skin, Lansing is tits-out in half a dozen scenes, and there's a brief but quite satisfying flash of tiny Tammy Taylor's angel cakes, right before relentless stud Kevin lays her down on a bearskin rug (!) and makes sweet 70's love to her. So, no complaints there. Cheap, dirty, and relentlessly sleazy, Malibu High is a classic slice of overwrought drive-in trash that delivers the Bad Fun in heaping fistfuls.

Availability: Malibu High is currently available on DVD from BCI/Eclipse, on their highly recommended Drive-in Cult Classics set. For pennies, practically.
Buy Malibu High at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre


  1. In the early to mid 80's, my favorite local Kansas City independent station had acquired many gems from the Crown International library & would play crudely edited versions of them late at night.

    Though this is where I first caught "The Van", "Van Nuys Boulevard", "The Pom Pom Girls" & many more, the one I most couldn't-pick-my-jaw-back-up-off-of-the-floor-for had to be "Malibu High". You nailed Jill Lansing's performance exactly right (I nearly did a spit take at "I half-expected her to piss on his skull") and I can find no viable reason why the comparison to Robbie Lee escaped me 'til now. Outstanding.

  2. Thanks, Jason.
    You've got to figure that performance is based on contempt for SOMEBODY. Maybe the director killed her dog or fucked her mom.


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