Thursday, December 28, 2017

Starhops

STARHOPS is notable as one of the few films directed by Barbara Peeters, who worked for Roger Corman as an art director, production manager, second unit director, and even stunt coordinator (!), as well as a screenwriter and director of her own features, including SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. The latter was not a pleasurable experience for Peeters, who was surprised to see Corman had inserted gratuitous violence and sex shot by a different director behind her back. She moved into episodic television in the early 1980s, but her directing career petered out by mid-decade.

Another female pioneer in exploitation cinema — Stephanie Rothman, who also started with Corman and later ran Dimension Pictures with husband Charles Swartz — wrote the screenplay for STARHOPS and was the original director, but used an on-screen pseudonym after she left the project and her script reportedly radically rewritten. Though STARHOPS was neither a Corman production nor release, several other New World regulars worked on it, including production manager Mike Finnell (producer of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), cinematographer Eric Saarinen (EAT MY DUST!), and ubiquitous character actor Dick Miller. Catherine Coulson (TWIN PEAKS’ Log Lady) was on the camera crew, and Steven Zaillian, later the Oscar-winning screenwriter of SCHINDLER’S LIST, edited STARHOPS.

Produced as THE CAR HOPS, but retitled to cash in on STAR WARS, which was still in theaters when STARHOPS premiered in March 1978, Peeters’ film in no way lives up to its fascinating production history. Sexy carhops Angel (FIRECRACKER star Jillian Kesner), Cupcake (Sterling Frazier), and Danielle (Dorothy Buhrman) buy a drive-in burger joint from angry, broke Jerry (Miller) and turn its fortunes around using their sex appeal. Shenanigans abound, until a fatcat oil executive (Al Hopson) wants the L.A. real estate the girls own and sends his wastrel son Norman (not that Paul Ryan) undercover as a carhop to find dirt on them.

A blatant ripoff of New World’s “3 Girls” series, such as Peeters’ SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS, STARHOPS not only lacks the action and social commentary of those films, but also their more prurient elements. STARHOPS contains very mild sex and nudity and a post-synced profanity dubbed in by producers to jack up the MPAA’s original PG rating to a tame R. We’ll never know what Rothman’s early drafts were like, but it’s hard to imagine they were less funny than what ended up on the screen.

Like the Corman movies, it’s refreshing to see women protagonists driving the plot, controlling their own destinies, and duping the dopey male characters. Though Kesner was the only star to have a decent Hollywood career, Frazier is also quite good as the group’s Eve Arden. Poor Buhrman, though top-billed, never gets a handle on Danielle’s French accent, and her performances suffers. Peeters filmed entirely on location, particularly around Marina Del Mar, which adds visual interest.

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