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PICK-UP (1975).

The ad campaign for this Crown-International release made it look like any run-of-the-mill, hitchhiker-themed sexploitation. Sure, first-time director-cinematographer Bernie Hirschenson offers up enough female nudity to appease viewers searching for simple smut, but he also delivers an unexplainably odd, "what the fuck am I watching?" treat that transcends its drive-in roots. In fact, Jack Winter's mindroasting script is so overstuffed with supernatural hokum, buried traumas and fragmented concepts that it resembles something you'd scribble down in the midst of a glassy-eyed mushroom trip. And that's high praise indeed... Two lovely hippie chicks, Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood, no relation to Clint) snag a ride across Florida from equally-groovy Chuck in his kickass, fully-stocked mobile home, and all seems well until a sudden storm forces them off the highway and onto the rural backroads. When their vehicle becomes stuck in a secluded swamp, it's an excuse for Carol and Chuck to switch on the hallucinogenic-camerawork and frolic naked about the idyllic Everglades. As the two horndogs explore the pleasures of slo-mo fornication, the focus shifts to Tarot-reading Maureen, who never got off the bus and is experiencing bizarre, religion-fueled flashbacks of her past, including molestation by a lecherous priest (who likes girls? Nah, I don't believe it!) and her teenage transformation from good girl into a slut. There are several baffling visions along her spiritual journey, such as a black woman in a white dress (a self-proclaimed "priestess of Apollo") who strides out of the foliage and names Maureen her successor. After that she wanders across a stone alter in the middle of nowhere and winds up disrobing and writhing on top of the slab. Every time you think this freakshow has reached maximum weirdness, the filmmakers top themselves with some inexplicable, half-baked sequence (like a smarmy campaign worker suddenly visiting this stranded mobile home? And what about that goddamn clown with his balloons?). Meanwhile, the three leads are appropriately enthusiastic and keep a straight-face throughout the overwrought chaos. After the movie's cinematic high has subsided, it's difficult to decide if PICK-UP is subversively brilliant or just a lucky, accidental one-off. Alas, we'll never know, since it seems Hirschenson never made another film. Why am I not surprised?... As for that pick-up truck full of dangerous hicks featured on the film's poster? It's a bait and switch! They're in it for two whole minutes, and aren't seen again until the very end.

© 2006 by Steven Puchalski.