‘I suggest you go right over there in those bushes and wizzle your lizard.’
This 1975 item – which must have come a little late to be part of the self-actualisation boom of about half a decade earlier – got shoved out in the ‘80s on the back of bit-player Robert Englund’s Elm Street notoriety, with the most insultingly burned-in video retitling overlay ever seen rebranding it as Slashed Dreams. Actually, though this suffers from all the noodling self-indulgence of weird hippie shit cinema, I find this cycle now more interesting than the rote slashers of the ‘80s, so its presence in one of those fifty-films-for-a-pittance box sets is tolerable. And how many counterculture exploitation flicks find room for a cameo from ‘20s crooner Rudy Vallee, seemingly as himself and a really genial presence talking about old-time radio?
It opens on campus with a classroom discussion (Peter Brown is ‘The Professor’) about, y’know, deep stuff, then straight girl Jenny (Kathrine Baumann, a Miss Ohio who had interesting exploitation credits) expresses her dissatisfaction with her life-path, and admiration for the drop-out Michael, who has gone off to find himself in the woods. Her nasty, preppy frat guy b.f., Marshall (Ric Carrott) is pissed off at her attitude, but the more sensitive, and (it has to be said) manly Robert (Peter Hooten, later the TV movie Dr Strange) ‘gets it’ and after a bad scene (in all senses of the term) at the frat pool where a pledge is being humiliated they head off into the woods to find Michael finding himself. After the encounter with Vallee, singing to an audience of nobody in his nostalgia store, there’s a reel or so of wandering sweetly in the wilderness, accompanied by divisive folk rock songs from Roberta Van Dere, before the kids find Michael’s seemingly abandoned shed. A skinny dipping scene in a mountain lake is interrupted by Levon and Danker (co-writers James Keach and David Pritchard), some caricature sleazy redneck types (Keach sports a piratical scar) who evoke Deliverance and do a lot of leering and fractured imbecile semi-comedy (‘Those were some of the weirdest guys I ever think I’ve come across.’ ‘They sure were.’). Later, these scumbags invade the cabin and the generally amiable tone turns nasty for a what sets out to be a Deliverance/Last House on the Left/Straw Dogs rape scene – which blows over quickly as the rapists fall out and leave the cabin without killing the kids or even (seemingly) fully raping Jenny (this might be accidental, but it’s also possible that the attack, with more slapping than penetration, is a realistic depiction of a kind of sexual assault rarely bothered with onscreen). She’s traumatised and Robert has to reassess his pacifism (earlier, he turned down Vallee’s gift of a hunting knife – ‘I don’t hunt.’ ‘Yes, but suppose you’re the one who’s being hunted?’), but the film doesn’t take the perhaps-expected revenge route.
The next morning, Michael (Englund) shows up and, contrary to the star’s later image, tries to help Jenny get through trauma with passages from Khalil Gibran, piping hot herbal tea (oddly, these hippies never do or even mention drugs) and general kindly sensitivity (‘You know that’s true about anything – you have to left go of the itch and forget about the scratching. You have to think about the good things and get the Devil out of hour house’). There’s a real problem for the movie’s prospects in that even counterculture audiences preferred to see, say, Billy Jack kicking rapist ass than a victim be coaxed through trauma with philosophy, and even this film can’t fully commit to non-violence though there’s no full-on revenge wrought on the cartoon villains. Levo n and Denker are arguing in the woods when Robert finds them, and there’s a non-contact knife/axe-waving fight that ends with the bad guys muddied and humiliated and run off as if they were comedy goons rather than murderous rapists and the hippies having a group hug (Robert’s laughing/crying at his lapse into violence is oddly credible). Then more swimming, soundtrack warbling, Gibran-quoting and the leads walk hand-in-hand into the soft-focus sunset (or sunburst). With Anne Lockhart. Produced and directed by James Polakof (Satan’s Mistress), whose credit reads ‘created by’.
Here’s a nice picture of Miss Baumann.