Starring Maureen McCormick, Cameron Mitchell, Cameron Mitchell Jr.
Naughty Stewardesses to Deathsport. He also shot and/or directed literally hundreds of porn and softcore flicks between 1970 and 2005, and even acted in a handful films for Al Adamson and Roger Corman early in his career. His shooting style is immediately recognizable for its you-are-there acrobatics - if a tire kicks up dust in a Graver-shot film, you may find yourself wiping the dirt off your shoes. A sadly unsung trash-film hero, Graver's camera made cheap look awesome on many occasions, and his aesthetic defined the look of drive-in flicks for decades.
While Texas Lightning is, technically, an 80's film, it's a deadringer for the kind of 70's rednecksploitation trash that Graver was shooting nearly constantly during the Burt-Reynolds-is-God era of film-making - low-budget grinders like Smokey and the Hotwire Gang (1979), Grand Theft Auto (1977), and Moonshine County Express (1977) It was also produced while Graver was balls-deep into his porn career, and considering the relatively mainstream cast of Texas Lightning, he must have been living a very clandestine double-life.
Lightning's nominal story involves one Buddy Owen (Cameron Mitchell, Jr) a sensitive teenage kid growing up in rural Texas, surrounding by his macho, shotgun-wielding father (Cameron Mitchell, naturally) and dad's loutish redneck best buds, Frank (Meatloaf doppleganger Peter Jason) and toothless wonder Leonard (frequent Graver porn buffoon JL Clark). Deciding that they need to make a man out of the tender young boy, the three scuzzkateers hijack Buddy for a weekend hunting trip.
By the way, inexplicably, this bubbly blonde beauty is Meatloaf-guy's girlfriend. Only in Texas!
In between bouts of squirrel and jack-rabbit shooting (for real, from the looks of the twitching squirrel), the fellas visit a local tavern to dance awkwardly with dazed locals and to chortle drunkenly about women and killin' stuff.
Oh, and there's a wet t-shirt contest! Yee haw!
While all this goes on, Buddy Owen manages to charm the cleavage-bearing waitress, Fay (Maureen McCormick) with his aw-shucks, virginal ways.
Fay suggests they get together after work; Buddy Owen can't believe his luck, and takes her to his motel room. They make sweet, cherry-popping motel love and Fay rips Buddy off for a quick twenty bucks, suggesting that perhaps she's more a hustler than a heart-of-gold. By the way, Brady Bunch fans hoping from some prime Marcia booby-flashing are sadly, out of luck - while they do seem to be out, Mitchell Jr. tightly cups one of 'em, while the other is strategically hidden by her arm. Curses!
So anyway, long story short, dad's loutish buds bust in during the afterglow and rape Fay. So that was a bummer.
Later on, the fellas all go hunting again. Frank throws a plate full of beans at Lenny. That was pretty exciting.
And then Buddy almost shoots everybody. It should be noted, at this point, that Graver - who also wrote the script - initially imagined Texas Lightning as a gripping, violent, coming-of-age drama. Fearing they had a lame duck on their hands, the producers forced Graver to reshoot and throw in a handful of 'comedic' scenes - like the ditzy blonde and the pork n' beans incident - so that they could sell it as a Bandit-esque redneck comedy. Presumably, Buddy Owen actually shoots these fuckers in the director's cut. Here, he just lets 'em go.
Then he apologizes to Fay about the whole rape-y evening. And then she sings a song! Honkytonk bartenders get over shit pretty quick, I guess.
Bloodless, boob-less, and wavering uneasily between overcooked drama and half-baked comedy, Texas Lightning is not a great - or even a good - flick. It's worth the effort mostly for McCormick's cleavage and pretty song. The rest is a slog. Even crazy old Cameron Mitchell sleep-walks through it. And he's usually up for anything.
- Ken McIntyre