Monday, 17 July 2017

Malibu High (1979)

When you watch a movie made in the 70s with a title like Malibu High you know what to expect. In this case your expectations are going to prove to be dead wrong. This is not a teen comedy, or a sex comedy. It’s not a teen melodrama. Deciding what it actually is presents a bit of a problem. There is teen melodrama here and the central character is a high school senior but mainly this is a crime thriller - although you won’t know that until about halfway through the picture. 

Kim Bentley (Jill Lansing) is just your average high school student but things are starting to go wrong for her. This is 1979 and the American Dream is still alive and this is southern California, the very epicentre of the American Dream. If you’re a bright, pretty high school student and you have rich parents the world is your oyster. Unfortunately Kim is not exactly a bright student. She’s flunking every class. And her parents are not rich. Her father killed himself and her mother struggles to keep things afloat financially. Worst of all her boyfriend Kevin (Stuart Taylor) has dumped her. To rub salt into the wound he’s dumped her for spoilt rich girl Annette Ingersoll (Tammy Taylor).

Everything Kim wanted seems like it’s being taken away from her. She had desperately wanted to graduate from high school, and she is still madly in love with Kevin. Kim decides that something has to be done and she’s going to do it. The first thing is to do something about her grade point average. That’s not too difficult. If her teachers won’t listen to her she’ll just sleep with them and then blackmail them.

Kim also decides she needs to earn some money. For a girl with her modest accomplishments being a hooker seems like the best bet. Tony (Al Mannino) is a sleazebag dope dealer who operates from a van which also serves as a kind of mobile mini-brothel. Kim is soon the star attraction. In fact she’s the only attraction but she’s a major drawcard.


Soon Kim has attracted the attention of a big time pimp, Lance (Garth Howard). This is a chance to earn real money and to show up that snooty bitch Annette. It’s not quite as simple as that however. Kim has taken a step into another world, the world of organised crime. At this point the movie changes gears and Kim starts to change as well, discovering a side of herself that she might have been better off not discovering. Lots of good girls go bad but very few do so quite as spectacularly as young Kim.

It’s hard to say just how seriously we’re supposed to take this picture. It’s not played for laughs at any stage but the plot is utterly outrageous. In some ways it’s more like a 1950s juvenile delinquent movie than a 70s teen exploitation movie. Everybody’s playing it straight but the content is totally off-the-wall.


This was the last of the handful of films directed by Irvin Berwick and while his approach is straightforward and conventional it’s effective enough. The scenes of violence in the latter part of the movie are handled well. He also knows how to pace a movie.

The acting is pretty average for the most part (sometimes below average) which is not surprising for a low-budget movie released by Crown International and destined for the drive-in circuit. The one exception, and it’s a major exception, is Jill Lansing as Kim. She gives the character real depth. Kim is not exactly a sympathetic character but at least we can understand how she got to where she is and we can see that her emotional wounds are very real and very raw. This was Jill Lansing’s only movie role and she then dropped out of sight never to be heard of again. Which is a pity since this performance should have landed her parts in more prestigious movies.


As an added bonus we get to see a very great deal of Miss Lansing’s naked breasts and rather lovely they are too. For the late 70s this is a movie that (despite the subject matter) is fairly restrained on the sleaze front. Apart from a brief glimpse of pubic hair early on all we see is breasts (admittedly with great frequency) and the sex scenes are positively coy. Miss Lansing’s breasts were however presumably enough to keep the attention of young male viewers at drive-in screenings and they also get a fair amount of violence. Unusually though for this type of movie there’s also enough to keep female viewers interested with Kim’s romantic woes and her vendetta with the self-satisfied rich girl Annette.

Kim’s confrontation with the headmaster is the film’s most bizarre episode. It’s bizarre in a good way. I think. It’s definitely bizarre in an interesting way.


A very pleasant surprise is the extremely good anamorphic transfer included in Mill Creek’s Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection. I believe there’s also been a Blu-Ray release!

Malibu High is a strange one. I can’t decide if it’s a bad movie with a good movie inside it struggling to get out or if it’s a good movie with a bad movie inside struggling to get out. It is original and it is entertaining. It’s perhaps too dark in tone to qualify for camp status, but much too outlandish for the arty crowd. And probably too weird for mainstream audiences at the time. It was popular enough with its intended audience. If the story is too over-the-top for you you can always just wait for yet another topless scene from Jill Lansing. 

Movies like this are the reason why it’s worth delving into the strange and often murky world of drive-in fodder. Every now and then you come across a classic of the genre such as this. Highly recommended.

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