The sole directorial offering from Thomas J. Schmidt (who served as second unit director seventies cult oddities like Evel Knievel and Day Of The Dolphin), this tepid PG rated exploitation picture starts off with promise. The opening shots of Girls On The Road (or, as indicated by the title card used for this transfer, Hot Summer Week) showcase the instantly identifiable rack of the lovely Uschi Digard trying to burst out of the skimpy bikini she's wearing on the beach. From there, however, the picture follows the exploits of two teenage girls, Debbie (Kathleen Cody) and Karen (Dianne Hull), who hop into a lime green Mustang and hit the road for a weekend at Debbie's parents' cabin on the shore at Big Sur. After unwittingly stealing a hippy's guitar and throwing Karen's bra at a motorcycle cop, the pair pick up a hitchhiker named Will (Michael Ontkean) with whom they share a joint. Unfortunately the girls haven't been listening to the news reports that would have otherwise alerted them to the presence of a murderer in the area preying on young women.
When the girls, with Will in tow, arrive at the coast they find some hippies hanging out in the cottage. Will tries to chase them off with his gun but gets bopped in the head. He wakes up, freaks out, and gives chase but to no avail. Later on, the girls accompany him to 'The Institute,' which is a hippy encounter group lead by his friend, John (Ralph Waite of The Waltons) and made up of various flower children including a bizarre man with a painted face who calls himself The Maker (John McMurty, who popped up briefly in the excellent Point Blank). Through some weird fish-eye colored flashback scenes we learn that Will has been troubled since getting back from The 'Nam, and the girls are starting to notice some bizarre behavior on his part. Debbie can't help but grow closer to him though, while Karen starts to fall in with 'The Institute' and it's strange assortment of free love hippies.
Part road movie, part comedy, part slasher film and part romantic drama, Girls On The Road doesn't really do any of those genres well but is at least interesting in that it tries. Written by Michel Lavesque and David Kaufman, the guys who gave us Werewolves On Wheels, it's pretty much a total mess of a film. The opening credits, made up of the various participants' names appearing on bumper stickers and graffiti, are interesting and Uschi's presence therein certainly gets our attention but from there the promised sleaze barely materializes. There is some brief nudity when Karen flashes an old man and a big of blood when Will gets into a bar fight with some bikers, but from there the next forty minutes or so are pretty tepid. Things pick up again in the later half, when Karen takes her glasses off, lets her hair down, and approaches Will, topless even, for some lovin' and once it all hits the fan with the film's murderer, but it's so completely unfocused and poorly put together that you probably won't care.
As far as the performances go, most of them are pretty goofy. Kathleen Cody and Dianne Hull are a little grating at first, as they bicker and ramble on about cutting loose and getting away from it all without actually doing any of that, at least initially. As the movie goes on you do start to like them a little bit more as their characters do start to show a bit of maturity. Michael Ontkean is fun as Will, playing his slightly deranged part with a bit of pleasant scenery chewing, while Ralph Waite's all too caring hippy leader is creepy in his kindness, particularly in his affections for the underage Karen later in the film. The real star of the film, however, is John McMurty as The Maker. His performance is quirky and creepy and just off kilter enough to make his part really stand out from the rest of the characters in the film and had the picture given him more screen time, it probably would have been a whole lot more interesting. As it stands, it's a marginally amusing cult oddity that should have been a whole lot more fun than it was.
NOTE: The following review is based on a test disc that may or may not represent final, finished, retail product.
Girls On The Road looks good in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The image shows a few instances of print damage throughout t he presentation but detail is generally pretty good. Color reproduction looks great and the transfer definitely does a good job of replicating that laid back, California coastal town tone that the movie starts off with. Black levels, while not reference quality, are quite strong as well. Flesh tones look good, there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement at all.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track on this is also quite strong. It's well balanced, easy to follow and free of any hiss or distortion. A few sequences sound a little bit flat but that's likely got more to do with the nature of the recording than with the DVD. All in all, it sounds quite good. No alternate language options or subtitles have been provided for this release.
Scorpion Releasing has included two brief featurettes on this disc, the first of which is The Maker: An Interview With Writer David M. Kaufman who speaks for just over eight minutes about writing this film as well as writing Werewolves On Wheels. He notes that a lot of what was originally in the script was taken out and doesn't seem all that happy with the way that the movie turned out. The second featurette is Remembering Thomas J. Schmidt: An Interview With Tom's Friend, David Walsh which runs for about ten minutes and is a discussion with the film's cinematographer who was also a close friend of the director. He shares a few amiable memories about Schmidt and expresses how happy he is that the movie is going to be rediscovered on DVD.
Aside from that, look for a trailer for the feature, an alternate title sequence using the Girls On The Road title, trailers for a few other Scorpion Releasing properties, static menus and chapter stops. On a semi-related note, the cover art for this release is pretty cool, using the film's one sheet, even if it is completely misrepresentative of the movie.
Girls On The Road is interesting for what it is, rather than for how it plays out. The film is a strange mix of genre bending ideas, bizarre performances, and empty promises of thrills it can't deliver on. It's not well made or all that exciting and it ends so abruptly that you can't help but be left scratching your head. Scorpion Releasing have done a fine job releasing the film for those who want it, but this is one that even die hard seventies movie buffs might have trouble getting into, despite some interesting characters and a few cool set pieces. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.