Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pick-up (1975)

... aka: Pazuzu
... aka: Swamp Lord

Directed by:
"Bennie" (Bernard) Hirschenson

Those damn dope-smokin' hippies are it again! Chuck (Alan Long) has been hired to transport a mobile home (fashioned out of a large bus and even with a working telephone inside!) to Tallahassee from somewhere in Southern Florida. Around Naples, he pulls over take a leak and a fun-loving free spirit named Carol (Jill Senter) comes running out an overgrown field asking for a ride. Carol also has a friend, Maureen (Gini Eastwood), who's more introspective, solemn and serious than her friend, and really into astrology ("Aries is in a time of turbulence") and tarot cards, with her. Considering both girls are attractive, Chuck is more than happy to oblige. After they smoke up ("Wanna get high?"), Carol treats a truck full of rowdy guys to a dance and a flash and then the weather starts getting windy and rainy because of a hurricane. They encounter a guy in a yellow raincoat redirecting traffic, who points them off the main road. Another sign directs them onto another road and they drive on through the night with so sign of civilization in sight. The bus  finally gets hung up in the mud and they then find themselves trapped somewhere deep in the Everglades.

Chuck and Carol take a walk, find a baby raccoon and do the free love thing (i.e. stripping off their clothes and running naked through a field), while Maureen has a strange encounter with a woman clad in white named Pythia (Bess Douglass), who emerges from the swamp and announces herself as the "Priestess of Apollo." She tells Maureen she's about to enter a new spiritual life and will serve as her successor and then says "The wrath of the python is the enemy of Apollo. He is the messenger of Pazuzu who seeks to destroy the spirit of Delphi and your God." (Say what?) Pythia then hands over a silver scepter and disappears from most of the rest of the film. Maureen finds an altar in the woods, strips off her clothes and writhes around in ecstasy. All three main characters have brief flashbacks to their childhoods and even get to play themselves as children. Maureen was raised in an oppressive religious environment, played organ and was molested on a pew by her priest right in front of a crucified Jesus statue. Carol grew up in a restrictive household with a mother who spies on her phone conversations and bitches about "the new morality," the pill and abortion. So no surprise she rebelled by becoming a sexually aggressive teenager. And Chuck's controlling mother demands he go to his room and beg for forgiveness for using a profanity.

While the two lovebirds are outside cavorting around (or on a swing together) in the nude to the tune of a song called "Touch Me" ("It's young. It's warm. It's freeeEEEEeeeeEEEeee!"), Maureen keeps flipping over grim tarot cards of "Death" and "The Devil." She's then visited by conservative Senator Max McIver (Don Penny), who discusses disarmament, Russia, abortion and starts flipping through papers about other hot button issues. Afterward, Maureen encounters a creepy clown (also Penny), who hands he a balloon and chases her around. Chuck's boss (Tom Quinn) keeps calling wondering where he is and threatening to send an airplane out to look for him. Chuck and Maureen sneak off to have sex on an altar while the clown, the priest, the senator and the goddess sneak around watching them. Carol dances around a campfire and then the group of guys she flashed earlier show up and start ripping her clothes off. There are frequent cut away shots to trees, water, the overcast sky, a python and flamingos; all accompanied by the near-constant sound of birds.

This Crown International release is not the sleazy 'hitchhiker' grindhouse flick one may expect based on the title and the poster. This is actually more art-house on a budget, made by an unknown, mostly-inexperienced cast and crew clearly aiming for something more profound than the usual drive-in exploitation flick. While it's loaded with nudity and soft-core sex scenes for the drive-in crowd, the story is nonsensical, the pacing is slow, the music is genuinely bizarre and the photography is sumptuous, dream-like and sometimes quite striking. Experimental quick-cut editing techniques in the spirit of such earlier trailblazers as Midnight Cowboy (1968) and Easy Rider (1969) are also utilized with varying degrees of success. When this works it's pretty fascinating and inventive. When it doesn't, it's blandly self-indulgent. The director ultimately - and rather unfortunately - allows this to drift off into an inaccessible realm that will only really appeal to fans of the vague and random, but it's still hard not to at least appreciate the effort that went into this.

Pick-up (shot in 14 days under the working titles of "Pazuzu" and "Swamp Lord") sat out the entire VHS era with no known releases but has since been picked up for distribution by numerous companies. It was paired with The Teacher (1974) for the 2nd installment of the "Welcome to the Grindhouse" series by BCI Eclipse, then was included in Mill Creek's 8 film box set "Drive-In Cult Classics;" which also included Cindy and Donna (1970), The Sister-In-Law (1974), The Teacher (1974), Best Friends (1975), Trip With the Teacher (1975) and Malibu High (1979); all from the Crown International catalogue.

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