Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gas Pump Girls (1979)

Directed by Joel Bender
Starring Kirsten Baker, Linda Lawrence, Huntz Hall, Joe E Ross
Rated R
Shop for this poster!

It's graduation day at Home Town High. Mid-ceremony, in fact. The senior girls rise to sing some pep-rally standard when suddenly...Swoosh! Their robes rip right off, revealing their relentlessly perky and poky double-whammies underneath. You may wonder why none of them are wearing bras - or, indeed, anything - under their graduation robes, but you will certainly not complain. Surprisingly, the girls are not particularly shocked or embarrassed by this sinister prank, and they actually try to finish their song before they get the hook.

So, who was behind this mischievous caper? Why, it's the Vultures, a trio of wise-cracking greaser clods. The US was still in the grips of Grease-mania when Gas Pump Girls was produced, and our lovable villains were clearly patterned after the T-Birds. Adding to the retro flavor is the American Graffitti-esque narration by still-kicking oldies DJ Cousin Brucie, who offers up color commentary on the action between a nearly non-stop battering of late period disco. The disco fucks up the 50's vibe, but it does, at least, offer ample opportunity for jiggly dance sequences.

Anyway, on to our story. Former Bowery Boy Huntz Hall (then 60, but looking at least ten years older), is Uncle Joe. He runs a gas station that's getting clobbered by the full-service chain across the street.

Run by the ironically named Mr. Friendly (Dave Shelley) and backed by evil conglomerate Pyramid Petroleum, the scumbags across the way are choking Uncle Joe's tiny filling station to death. When Joe falls ill, his niece June (Kirsten Baker, one of the topless graduates) decides to take it over. And when she decides this, Gas Pump Girls quite suddenly becomes a musical, as she sits at the empty gas station and belts out a Kermit the Frog-gy sunshine pop song called "I'm Lonely."
So, that was weird.

June gathers up her booby-flashing friends April (Sandy Johnson), Betty (Linda Lawrence), Jan (Rikki Marin), and Jane (Leslie King) and they give the run-down old place a make-over. And they all wear uniforms: cut-off short-shorts and halter tops. It's pretty majestic.

As you might expect, Joe's Gas becomes an instant favorite with the men in the neighborhood. The girls dance, flirt, and pump gas as pornographically as possible. The Vultures join on as tow-truck drivers and Mr. Friendly seethes. Nothing happens for a good hour, but boners are constantly popped, so it hardly matters. The evil Mr. Friendly can stand no more, so first he sends out two blundering old mobsters (Joe E Ross and Mike Mazurki) to terrorize the kids, and then he sabotages their gas delivery. Even with half-naked girls bouncing around, a gasless gas station can't do much business, and it looks like Uncle Joe's will have to close down forever.

"Are we just going to sit around and let this happen?" June asks the gang.
Her dopey boyfriend Roger shrugs. "I guess."
Roger always was a quitter.

Eventually, our motley crew rallies, concocting the usual 1970's solution to any given problem: put on elaborate costumes and lie. In this case, they dress up like sheiks and harem girls to barge in on the president of Pyramid Petroleum. Once they get in there, June tells him their terrible true tale, leaving him in tears. In perhaps the most unrealistic plot twist of all time, the president of an oil company develops a conscience, and does the right thing. Uncle Joe gets his station back, Mr. Friendly suffers the indignities of the working man, and the kids go back to poppin' wheelies and showing their tits.

Although Gas Pump Girls is never particularly funny, it is consistently entertaining. Featherlight and good naturedly goofy, it mashes up a kitchen sink's worth of unrelated ideas - 50's style bikers, 70's disco, aging slapstick comedians, Playboy-centerfolds-as-actors, and an out-of-nowhere musical interlude - into a meaty, fragrant stew of 70's drive-in weirdness. The girls are consistently gorgeous and frequently topless, and the film wears it's big, fuzzy heart on its sleeve. It's been a consistent cult favorite since its initial release. Girls in hotpants never go out of style.

Director Joel Bender has never been one for genre consistency. He's worked on everything from children's TV (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) to cheeseball vampire romps (Midnight Kiss, 1993). He does, however, have a seriously twisted side: not only did he write urban survival splatterfest Tenement (1985), one of the most violent films ever made, he also directed Karla, the controversial, harrowing, and deeply depressing 2006 biopic about Canadian murderess Karla Homolka. Treacly junk like Gas Pump Girls must have driven him nuts.

The cast of Gas Pump Girls has fared better than many 70's T&A vets. Half of them also appeared in the immortal H.O.T.S. (also 1979), a masterpiece of drive-in sleaze cinema. All three of the Vultures had long and lucrative careers in television. While none of the gas pumping girls are still acting, they all did their share of notable genre work.

Rikki Marin married Cheech and appeared in most of the Cheech and Chong films.

Leslie King was one of the wild cheerleaders in Cheerleaders Wild Weekend (1979).

Sandy Johnson appeared in Surfer Girls (1978), Halloween (1978), H.O.T.S. (1979), and Playboy magazine.

Linda Lawrence starred in Al Adamson's screwy Kung Fu/blaxploitation mash-up Death Dimension (1978).

Kirsten Baker was in the amazing Teen Lust (1979) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981).

All five deserve a table at the next fan convention, right between Deborah Van Valkenburgh and Bobbie Bresee.

The old dudes (Joe E Ross, Huntz Hall, Dave Shelley, Mike Mazurki) are all dead. But what the hell, nobody lives forever. And they had better runs then most.

Availability: Gas Pump Girls is available on a bare-bones, semi-legit DVD from Jef, and on beat-up VHS ex-rentals. It also plays on late night cable pretty frequently, so, uh... check your local listings.
Buy Gas Pump Girls at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre


  1. I just saw this one at hulu. I liked it

  2. You can buy this at twisted anger dot net...

  3. Correction: it's now..


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