I don’t know if I would have believed it if I hadn’t watched it with my own two eyes, but, yes, Larry Buchanan, the director of Texas-fried trash like ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS and MARS NEEDS WOMEN, really did make an artsy-fartsy ripoff of/tribute to Ingmar Bergman. Thankfully, some tasteful nudity by Buchanan’s leading lady, 1970s drive-in star Monica Gayle (left, in THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO), helps make 1970's STRAWBERRIES NEED RAIN palatable for general audiences.
Les Tremayne, best known to my generation as the avuncular Mentor to Michael Gray’s Billy Batson on the SHAZAM television series, is the Grim Reaper, who brings his scythe to the doorstep of a sweet teenager named Erika (Gayle). The poor thing has “never loved,” and convinces Death to give her one more day on Earth, which she uses to try to get laid. It’s apparently a lot more difficult than you would think for someone as hot as Monica Gayle to find a young man to take her virginity, but that’s how it goes in Buchananland.
First up is Franz (Terry Mace), the horny neighbor boy who spends his bedtime hours peering at naked centerfolds under his covers with a flashlight, but totally freaks when Erika climbs through his bedroom window and tries to give herself to him. Then there’s Bruno (Paul Bertoya), a callous hit-it-and-quit-it type who takes Erika up to the abandoned mill for a good time, but scares her off when his foreplay gets too rough. Finally, she is seduced by Mr. Sestrom (Gene Otis Shane), her former teacher who feeds her strawberries laced with champagne.
Gayle, whose most familiar role is probably the villainous Patch in Jack Hill’s SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, was an appealing actress whose earthy sexiness makes her particularly fascinating in STRAWBERRIES NEED RAIN. Not only does she play Erika at different ages, which shows a little bit of range unusual to actresses who starred in sexy pictures then, but she’s also extremely sympathetic—innocent but not naïve, in search of sex but neither aggressive nor crude. Her chats with Tremayne display a maturity Gayle rarely got to demonstrate on film.
STRAWBERRIES NEED RAIN may well be Buchanan’s best feature. While no one would actually mistake it for a Bergman film, as he reportedly claimed, it is interesting and dramatically sound, although he almost ruins everything with a silly final plot twist. The score and songs by Ray Martin are quite good. Buchanan regular Bill Thurman shows up unless you blink.