Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hot Rods and Bad Backs: "Hot Rods to Hell" (1967)

Crazed teenagers terrorize a family in the desert! Well, okay, I mean, thirtyish-looking B-movie actors annoy a family on a studio set!

Tom (Dana Andrews) and Peg (Jeanne Crain) live in Boston with their vacuous teen daughter Tina (Laurie Mock) and precocious son Jamie (Tim Stafford). Around Christmas time, Tom is in a car accident that keeps him in the hospital for two months and drains their bank account. Looking to start fresh, Tom's brother sets up a deal in the western desert. Tom and Peg will run a successful motel in the middle of nowhere. The family leaves Boston, and while driving toward the motel, are terrorized by a group of teenagers in souped-up hot rods. The family narrowly escapes, but finds the teens also hang out at their new business, thanks to old motel owner Dailey (George Ives). Will Tom and family run again, or stay and finally fight for what's theirs?

If you think this sad little film is going to have a "Duel" vibe to it, think again. This film came out toward the end of Andrews' career. He is heavily made up, and has the same hemorrhoidal expression on his face as he wore in "Zero Hour!," a camp classic in its own right (the makers of "Airplane!" used actual lines and character names in their classic). This film is ripe for another Zucker/AbrahamsZucker "remake." Crain's only emotion here is hysteria, sad considering her talent in films from just a few years before. Stafford is annoyingly cute, and Mock plays Tina as an idiot. So, you think you could just go ahead and cheer for the villains?

Sure, but the villainous teens look like a couple of Young Republicans gone bad. Duke (Paul Bertoya) and Ernie (Gene Kirkwood) sport Kennedy haircuts, look thirty, and use terms like "kicks" and "old man." They are as threatening as a terrycloth robe, and I kept thinking a less restrictive conceal and carry gun law could have ended this film in about fifteen minutes. The editing is bad, and the film looks cheap. Andrews can do nothing more than limp around and clutch his lower back, something I do enough when I come home from work. Gloria (Mimsy Farmer), the hot rodders' tart, is unintentionally hilarious, trying to escape her small town existence by sleeping with Duke and Ernie and throwing herself at any man who comes along.

In case you think driving fast is a thrill, you delinquents, treat yourself to the world's oldest cop's lectures about how speed kills. Oh, gosh darn it, you might get your jollies speeding up and down the blacktop at a hundred miles an hour, but the road will make you pay...or you might get laughed at forty years later by a film critic. "Hot Rods to Hell" stalls in the carpool lane. (*) out of five stars.