Schlock Value: Pick-Up (1975)
Welcome back, Schlockers! With Halloween now safely in our rear view mirror, it’s time to shift gears. This week, I dug into my collection of old sleazy grindhouse/drive-in flicks and found yet another piece of classic trash cinema from our good friends over at Crown International Pictures. Written by John Winter (his only credit) and directed by cinematographer Bernard Hirschenson (Satan in High Heels), the 1975 film Pick-Up has a simple enough premise: two sexy hippie chicks hitchhiking through Florida get picked up by a young man transporting a bus/mobile home, but things go awry when a storm and a few unplanned detours leave them stranded in the middle of the Everglades where they have life-changing experiences (and lots of outdoor sex).
It’s worth noting that the poster sells a slightly different (read: pornographic) film. Instead of two girls, there’s just one, plus a pick-up truck full of hillbillies and the slogan, “It was the longest ride of her life!” (Oh, the ‘70s) In any case, the end result is a film that feels reminiscent of those early Dennis Hopper films mixed with some David Lynch-esque weirdness for an experience that is ultimately a bit difficult to pin down.
Not interested in subtlety, Hirschenson begins the film with an extreme close-up of someone’s shiny, silver Native American belt buckle. As the camera pulls back, a pair of hands begins to undo the button fly of the pants, but don’t worry; the camera cuts away to reveal a thin, shaggy-haired man now taking a leak on the side of the road. This is Chuck. Not far from him are two beautiful young girls sitting in some waist-high weeds. The more free-spirited of the two is Carol, the other, Maureen, is more dark and mysterious. With the two more-or-less stranded on the highway, Carol approaches, hoping to secure a ride from Chuck, who is transporting a bus/mobile home to Tallahassee. Everything would be cool and groovy, except Maureen senses that Chuck is an Aries and, well, you know, it’s a very turbulent time for Aries right now, and getting on that bus would definitely end badly for them. Despite her protests, though, they all end up on the road together. With Carol up front with Chuck, smoking joints and shaking her moneymaker for a truck full of rednecks, Maureen sits in the back with her Tarot cards, waiting for their inevitable misfortune.
After some time on the road, a storm hits and after a slew of unexpected detours, the trio find themselves lost in the middle of the Everglades where the bus gets stuck. Unable to move the bus themselves, their only option is to wait for someone else to hopefully pass through and help them. So, with lots of time to kill, Carol and Chuck head out into the Everglades where they proceed to frolick around in the swamps completely nude, having lots of outdoor sex on the ground, in a pond, even up in a friggin’ tree. They also find some baby raccoons to play with, as well as a giant swing out in the middle of nowhere. Because why not. While Carol and Chuck are out getting their freak on, things are a little different for the Maureen, who is suddenly called out into the wilderness by some mystical being who claims to the the Priestess of Apollo who then leads Maureen to an altar for the god Apollo IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN FLORIDA EVERGLADES. After receiving a magical phallic scepter, Maureen is now the new Priestess of Apollo. She disrobes, lies atop the altar, and begins convulsing in ecstasy.
Then, things really start to get weird. Out of nowhere, a sleazy politician, complete with a straw boater and campaign buttons, arrives as though he’s been out canvassing the neighborhood. There is no explanation for this. Maureen then experiences a flashback to her younger days when she was molested by a priest, leading to her subsequent rejection of Christianity, explaining her current interest in the occult. At this point, the film is more or less put on hold to give us flashbacks for Carol and Chuck, as well. Carol, as a teenager (the same actress, just in pigtails), rebels against her mother, and runs off to have a more innocent, but consensual, sexual experience, and Chuck, a HAM radio enthusiast, is berated by his overly oppressive mother. Once the film returns to the present, Maureen sets out to find Carol and Chuck and encounters a balloon-wielding clown that would give Pennywise nightmares. For some reason, she ends up finding Chuck, who has somehow become separated from Carol, and the two of them begin making passionate love atop the altar from before.
Meanwhile, Carol is all alone when she is discovered and pursued by the rednecks from the beginning of the film who are now looking to get a taste. As Maureen and Chuck go at it, all of the characters that have plagued Maureen begin to appear: the priest from her childhood, the sleazy politician, and the clown. Just as the nightmare comes to a head, the film concludes with a final scene that comes just shy of “it was all a dream.” Was any of it real? What did it all mean? I’m not really sure, and honestly, to try to explain it would just take the piss out of the whole experience.
Just on the sheer WTF factor of it all, Pick-Up is well worth your time. Not content to be your average, garden variety 70s hippie skin flick, it takes plenty of risks, and often feels more artful than it really is. While Carol’s plot thread is pretty much everything you expect, Maureen’s is a wild and trippy fever dream that is downright terrifying at times. And just before it gets to be too much, it cuts back to Carol and Chuck’s nude extracurricular activities for a short reprieve. By never lingering on one aspect longer than it should, the film achieves a nice balance, which brings me to my next point. Considering just about everyone involved had never made a movie before (nor would most of them really do much else afterward), it’s surprisingly competent overall.
Thanks to director/cinematographer Bernard Hirschenson, it actually looks pretty good with much of the film shot in a beautiful, dreamy haze which works doubly well for the flashback sequences. Jill Senter and Gini Eastwood are likewise fantastic as the freewheeling, sex-obsessed Carol and the dark, brooding Maureen, respectively. You could argue that what the film lacks is any real depth, and you may be right about that, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, Pick-Up delivers. It has a certain willingness to go to some truly oddball places, keeping the viewer constantly unsure as to what will happen next, and that right there is the glue that holds the entire thing together. Never mind what it all means. Just sit back, relax, and go along for the ride.
Pick-Up is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, as well as on DVD in Mill Creek Entertainment’s Drive-In Cult Classics collection.