A Guide to Vansploitation Part 2 – Blue Summers, C.B. Hustlers and Supervans!

Originally published at Fine Print Magazine, DG is pleased to present the return of Jason Coffman’s look at the world of the Vansploitation film to commemorate the DVD release of the documentary VANNIN’!  Check out part one here, and check out part 3 here!

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BLUE SUMMER (aka LOVE TRUCK) (1973, dir. Chuck Vincent)

BLUE SUMMER is entirely concerned with the adventures of two male friends spending the last weekend of summer before they go off to college in a van, bumming around and looking for action. This being 1972, the beat-up gray Dodge van is always referred to by the characters as a “bus,” and the extent of its customization is some hastily-drawn flowers and butterflies taped to its sides along with white block letters spelling out “THE MEAT WAGON” on its driver and passenger-side doors. Tracy (Darcey Hollingsworth), the van’s owner, is careful not to let his mother see the name with which he has christened his van before he leaves to pick up his best friend Gene (Bo White). The two friends set out for adventure and almost immediately run into a pair of female hitchhikers who are more than happy to trade some “action” for a ride in The Meat Wagon.

As the film progresses, Tracy and Gene find themselves in various sexual adventures between discussions of what they are going to after summer is over and they move on to college. Even the theme song of the film playing over the opening credits seems to indicate where the story is going: “Soon the leaves will be/ Falling from the trees/ But for now the road is clear/ Would you pass another beer…” Gene seems eager to head off to college and settle into a family and career life like his (deeply unhappy, constantly bickering) parents, but Tracy feels stifled and trapped by the very idea. His father (never shown) is insisting that Tracy attend the same school he did, and since his father is paying the bills, he feels obligated to go.

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Tracy and Gene cruising along in The Meat Wagon, constantly drinking beer, looking for action. Note the Mickey Mouse sticker in the back window.

 The situations Tracy and Gene find themselves in range from the goofy to the ominous, with occasional stabs at social satire. Their first adventure is with a pair of kleptomaniac hitchhikers who try to make off with half their supplies. When they meet a male hippie and two women, the hippie explains that he is more than happy to share “his” girls. After Tracy and Gene join the ladies in an impromptu foursome, the hippie demands they share alike and steals all their beer and moves into their tent. While driving, the boys pick up a “Preacher” who suggests that a small donation may go a ways toward saving their souls. They meet a biker who can’t start his motorcycle because it’s out of gas; once they put gas in the bike for him, the biker follows them for the rest of the film, his intentions unclear. In a small town, Tracy and Gene are tricked into buying a case of beer in exchange for sexual favors from a very dizzy blonde, but before they get their part of the trade a group of local toughs show up and threaten to beat them up.

Ironically, both friends eventually find themselves in sexual situations that underline the things they most fear: Tracy sleeps with a lonely, fretful married woman who has a son who looks to be about his age, while Gene meets an anonymous girl with whom he feels a deeper connection, but who is uninterested in any semblance of attachment. These unsettling encounters end up being the last sexual experiences for each of the boys in the film, which ends on an uncomfortable note as the two friends toast all the people they met over the weekend. Tracy offers a final toast, “To Freedom!” and holds his can of beer high. Gene seems not to hear him, the silence continues for a long while, and the words “END OF BLUE SUMMER” appear on the screen as they ride along in silence

Like the relentlessly pessimistic ending of EASY RIDER, the looming specter of adult responsibility that cast a pall over BLUE SUMMER’s finale was blithely ignored by the films that came after it. This may at least be partially due to the fact that it was several years before the van movie genre came into being. BLUE SUMMER, originally released with an “X” rating in 1972 was clearly way ahead of its time. By the time the rest of the van movies were released, no one called them “buses” any more.

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A creepy guy informs Tracy and Gene of a local woman who will have sex for beer. They somehow don’t realize this is a very bad idea.

Chuck Vincent, the writer/director of BLUE SUMMER, was a filmmaker with an extensive career in exploitation films, helming a wide variety of both hardcore and softcore titles in various genres. BLUE SUMMER was his sixth feature film as a director, and he went on to direct over 50 films before his death in 1991. Davey Jones (who played Tracy under the name Darcey Hollingsworth) had made several sex films before BLUE SUMMER, including PRURIENT INTEREST and the amazingly titled SEXUAL FREEDOM IN THE OZARKS. His last screen credit was 1974’s THE DOCTOR’S TEENAGE DILEMMA. BLUE SUMMER was the feature film debut for Bo White, who played Gene. He went on to play in two very different films in the 1970s: Wakefield Poole’s BIBLE!, a softcore adaptation of Bible stories, and the gay drama A VERY NATURAL THING. White’s most recent credits were two films from the early 2000s, URBAN PLAYGROUND and CRAZY LIKE A FOX. Robert McLane, who played the “Preacher,” also appeared in A VERY NATURAL THING along with White and later appeared in Russ Meyer’s UP!

Unquestionably the male cast member of BLUE SUMMER with the most extensive filmography is Eric Edwards (who played “Fred,” one of the guys who threaten to beat up Tracy and Gene). Edwards had already starred in a number of adult films when BLUE SUMMER was released, and would go on to appear in over three hundred films– including Wes Craven’s porn film THE FIREWORKS WOMAN, the hugely popular DEBBIE DOES DALLAS and Radley Metzger’s THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN and MARASCHINO CHERRY and direct nearly fifty films over the course of his career. Many of the female cast of BLUE SUMMER either have this film as their only credit or made a few other adult films, with the exception of Chris Jordan, who played “Miss No Name.” Jordan appeared in nearly twenty films throughout the 70s, including two other films for Chuck Vincent (MRS. BARRINGTON and FAREWELL SCARLET), Roberta Findlay’s THE CLAMDIGGER’S DAUGHTER, and several films by legendary sexploitation filmmaker Joe Sarno including DEEP THROAT PART II, ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN and MISTY.

 

 

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C.B. HUSTLERS (1976, dir. Stu Segall)

 After BLUE SUMMER, there was a gap of about three years before the next Vansploitation film hit drive-in screens across the country. Director Stu Segall, under the pseudonym Godfrey Daniels, made a few sex films (both softcore and hardcore) throughout the early 70s before taking the reins for C.B. HUSTLERS. Whether Segall was aware of it at the time or not, he managed to cast one of the most recognizable and famous actresses to ever appear in a Vansploitation film: Uschi Digard. A very popular and highly prolific adult film actress born in Sweden, Digard had already appeared in nearly one hundred movies by the time she made C.B. HUSTLERS, including the bizarre blaxploitation film THE BLACK GESTAPO, the notorious ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS, and three films by Russ Meyer (CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL, THE SEVEN MINUTES and SUPERVIXENS!). Digard, despite working under the name Elke Vann, is immediately identifiable by her incredibly thick accent and classic Russ Meyer physique. Unfortunately, she is not in the film enough to make it a worthwhile viewing experience.

Dancer (John Alderman) runs a brothel out of a pair of vans. They roam the highways, stopping at truck stops and van rallies, picking up work wherever they can get it. Life seems pretty much ideal for these nomadic hookers until one day they ride into a small town where the local paper is run by frustrated newspaper man Mountain Dean (Richard Kennedy) and his dim-witted assistant Boots Clayborn (John F. Goff). Dean, desperate for a big story to break his career, decides to investigate some unusual C.B. chatter he hears on the office radio: talk of “fruits” and “tunnels,” and unfamiliar C.B. handles (notably “Hot Box 1” and “Hot Box 2”) that mean somebody new is in town. Meanwhile, Sheriff Elrod P. Ramsey (Bruce Kimball) is on the trail of Dancer and his girls as well, stacking the odds against the C.B. hustlers that they will be able to get out of town before they get thrown in the slammer.

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Domestic bliss: Dancer drives Hot Box 1 as Scuzz works on a crossword puzzle.

C.B. HUSTLERS quickly establishes that Dancer is unsatisfied with life on the road. Despite making a lot of tax-free money and having two awesome vans, Dancer has dreams of settling down somewhere with his number one girl, Scuzz (Jacqueline Giroux). The hassles from Mountain Dean and Sheriff Ramsey seem to be the last straw, as Dancer finally makes a deal with the other girls that he will give them a chunk of money he has saved up and one of the vans to continue their work. Dancer hands over the operation to Boots Clayborn, who is tricked into running the show through an elaborate hoax in which Boots thinks he has been caught having sex with an underage girl. At the end of the film, Boots picks up right where Dancer left off, informing all drivers in range that the C.B. Hustlers are doing business as usual as he drives out of Sheriff Ramsey’s jurisdiction. This ending seems to indicate that Dancer could not be happy without leaving the life of the road behind him, although he does keep one of the vans.

While the vans in the film are not as prominently featured as in other Vansploitation films, they are the stage in which many scenes are set. Obviously, there are sex scenes that take place in the vans, but a few key dialogue scenes are also shot in the vans. In addition to “Hot Box 1” and “Hot Box 2,” there is an extended sequence where the Hustlers crash a van rally out in the middle of nowhere. The rally in this film is made up of about six or eight vans in a field, which is very likely the saddest van rally in film history. Still, the vans in C.B. HUSTLERS are an important enough aspect of the production that there is an acknowledgement in the opening credits for “CUSTOM TOUCH of Van Nuys, California, for their cooperation in the Making (sic) of this film.”

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Elke Vann (aka Uschi Digard) prepares to hustle. Note the van’s wood paneling and carpeted ceiling.

While Uschi Digard may be the biggest star in the cast, she is hardly the only cast member with an impressive list of exploitation film credits. Bruce Kimball (“Sheriff Ramsey”) actually appeared in Crown International Pictures’ THE PINK ANGELS the same year that C.B. HUSTLERS was released, and was in other Crown films and movies by Al Adamson and Bethel Buckalew (who went on to direct MAG WHEELS in 1978) from the late 60s through the early 70s. Weirdly, both Richard Kennedy and John F. Goff had also appeared in ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS (along with Digard) and Matt Cimber’s THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA. Tiffany Jones and Catherine Barkley, the actresses playing the other girls from “Hot Box 2,” each have only two film credits to their names: C.B. HUSTLERS and Stu Segall’s 1977 horror film DRIVE-IN MASSACRE. Jacqueline Giroux also appeared in ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS and DRIVE-IN MASSACRE, and has since gone on to a long career in film as an actress, producer, writer, and director. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “The 18 Wheelers of Interstate 5” have yet to make any further film appearances.

 

 

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THE VAN (1977, dir. Sam Grossman)

 THE VAN is notable for several reasons, not least of which is the appearance of Danny DeVito in a small role and the fact that the film’s theme song is the 70s light-rock hit “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns. The plot of THE VAN is very simple: Bobby (Stuart Goetz) is a teenager who works at a car wash run by Andy (DeVito) and as the film begins he has a big day. First he graduates from high school and then he makes the down payment on his brand-new custom van, for which he has been saving up instead of setting aside money for college. Bobby leaves no question as to why he wants the van: girls like vans, and if he has a van he might get girls to come have sex with him in it. So begins a series of misadventures in which Bobby tries to use his new van to convince some girl, any girl, to have sex with him.

At first, it seems that his plan is not working. After his attempt to forcibly undress her drives away the first girl he picks up, Bobby’s next choice turns out to be a prostitute, although whether he pays her for sex or not is unclear. It is probably safe to assume that he does not, as he continues his quest unabated. In at least one case the van works too well, as Bobby catches the eye of Sally (Connie Hoffman), girlfriend of local tough-guy Dugan (Steve Oliver, who later played the same character in the film MALIBU BEACH). As tempting as Sally is, the beating Dugan is sure to dish out is incentive enough to stay away from her, at least for a while. While his friends try to set him up with smart, nice Tina (Deborah White), her reluctance to get involved with a sex-and-van-obsessed jackass prevents her from falling for Bobby’s dubious charms. Utterly frustrated, Bobby finally makes a play for Sally, only to discover that his feelings for Tina may not entirely come from below his belt (although they probably mostly do). Even after this realization, Bobby is unwilling to give up his dream of no-ties sex in his awesome van, which for some reason makes Tina really angry. She storms off and leaves him to his precious van.

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Love at first sight: Bobby is introduced to the van of his dreams, The Straight Arrow.

 Bobby’s van is, admittedly, pretty sweet. Named “Straight Arrow,” it is yellow with large black, red and blue arrows painted down its length, with a huge circular window near the back. It has thick white carpeting, a waterbed, a card table, a CB radio, an 8-track, “AND MORE!” It is no wonder he is so excited about it, and no wonder that his square dad hates it. His mom seems to like it well enough, which the audience can assume means she also really wants her son to get laid. The only other van of note in the film is Dugan’s “Van Killer,” which makes a few quick appearances. Despite its intimidating name, it is probably safe to assume “Van Killer” is inferior to “Straight Arrow” in almost every way. It is certainly less interesting to look at, mostly just flat black with its name painted on the side in highly stylized letters.

THE VAN ends with a climactic race between Bobby and Dugan that ends with Bobby’s van flipped and presumably totaled. The viewer must assume that Bobby has learned important lessons about what really matters in life, or possibly just one: do not to get in a van race when you’re really drunk. Still, the ending of THE VAN seems to indicate that its main character’s life can move forward only at the cost of the thing which has come to define him most, a fate similar to that of Dancer in C.B. HUSTLERS and echoed in both ON THE AIR LIVE WITH CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT and VAN NUYS BLVD. In other words, the overriding message of THE VAN seems to be: “Yes, vans are awesome, but eventually you have to get over that and grow the hell up.”

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Steve (Bill Adler in his first Vansploitation film appearance) taunts Bobby while Tina looks annoyed.

Despite its apparent success, THE VAN was director Sam Grossman’s only feature film as director. Co-writer Celia Susan Cotelo went on to write MALIBU BEACH (a sort of sequel to THE VAN featuring Dugan and a new crew of youngsters) with co-writer Robert J. Rosenthal, who also wrote ZAPPED! and had a story credit on Crown International’s THE POM POM GIRLS. Bill Adler, an actor playing the part of one of Bobby’s co-workers at the car wash, would go on to appear as a “Vanner” in MALIBU BEACH and as one of the outlaw mechanics in LOVE AND THE MIDNIGHT AUTO SUPPLY(co-starring with Michael Parks) before landing the lead role in VAN NUYS BLVD., arguably making him the most iconic actor in Vansploitation cinema.  Danny DeVito’s post-VAN acting work, if any, is unknown.

 

 

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SUPERVAN (1977, dir. Lamar Card)

 If the message of THE VAN is ““Yes, vans are awesome, but eventually you have to get over that and grow the hell up,” the message of SUPERVAN is “Yes, vans are awesome, totally awesome, vans forever, my van has lasers, come check out my vaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”

SUPERVAN is the point at which the Vansploitation cycle moves into Cronenberg territory. Not until CRASH would such long, loving shots of vehicle interiors be seen in a film again. If other films in the cycle are, say, Playboy for vans (showing us their pretty exteriors while coyly teasing what might be held back), SUPERVAN is an anatomy textbook. The doors of vans are flung wide, the camera taking in their bared interiors again and again. You can almost smell the Milwaukee’s Best that has soaked into their carpets. It is actually a little unsettling, and often more than a little boring, unless you really like vans. There are dozens shown at a van rally, and the titular Supervan is a bizarre, 70s-futuristic beast called Vandora. Vandora was designed by George Barris, “King of the Kustoms,”* whose previous work in automobile customization included the Batmobile from the 1960s Batman television series. A complete breakdown of Vandora’s history and specs from George Barris’s official web site provides a glimpse into how seriously the makers of Supervan were about having the most awesome van ever in their movie:

 

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Vandora, the titular supervan.

 “It started out as the Love Machine in the late 60’s, made out of a Dodge Sportsman Van… A six foot U shape boudoir sofa is the center of the entertainment console area, using a new flamboyant blue and orange burnished cotton material. The interior utilized Van Stuff accessories, with Perkins seat panels and Cole snack trays for added luxury pleasures. Musical sounds from a Craig stereo flow through quad speakers and dual 40 channel CB units. Wild music bars transform the tones to visual colored lights. A plastic servateria slides our (sic) for easy access to refreshments. The number two compartment contains a monitor phone with intercom system. In the center, a Panasonic colored television and video units offers another choice of entertainment. Another compartment houses a Panasonic recorder for all taping and playback. Solar Power and electric panels by Sensor Technology, Inc., and PDC Labs, have solar battery and electronic system. A unique computerized lighting circuit with switches, actuates the electronic system to provide more battery power from the solar cells.”

Vandora is unquestionably the most ridiculously tricked-out van to appear in any Vansploitation film (and thus, probably in any film). Thanks to the Barris connection and the fact that SUPERVAN is also the only PG-rated Vansploitation movie, SUPERVAN is also the only Vansploitation film that had notable toy tie-ins: a scale model of Vandora and a smaller Vandora Hot Wheels-style replica (although the Straight Arrow from THE VAN also had a Hot Wheels-size toy). Despite its PG rating and tie-in toys, SUPERVAN also hilariously features a cameo by Charles Bukowski soaking a bunch of young ladies at a wet t-shirt contest and helpfully wearing a shirt that says “WET T-SHIRT CONTEST WATER BOY.” A somewhat more appropriate cameo is made by George Barris playing himself and judging some of the events at a van rally. This is a movie that takes vans very seriously.

 

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Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Charles Bukowski.

 The film itself delivers on that promise: this is the ultimate van nerd movie. Opening with a constant stream of incomprehensible C.B. chatter, SUPERVAN quickly moves directly into action as hero Clint Morgan (Mark Schneider) saves a young woman from being raped by a biker gang but loses his van (“The Sea Witch”) in a car crusher in the process. The young woman turns out to be Karen Trenton (Katie Saylor), daughter of T.B. Trenton (Morgan Woodward), head of Mid-American Motors. Trenton has hired Clint’s genius auto designer friend Boseley (Tom Kindle) to create a new van that uses more gas than any before, but Boseley has instead taken the money and designed “Vandora,” which runs completely on solar power and does not need gas. As a way of helping his friend Clint and getting back at Trenton, Boseley offers to replace “The Sea Witch” with Vandora, provided Clint takes her to The Invitational Freak-Out ’76 (a big van rally that makes the one in C.B. HUSTLERS look even more pathetic than it already was) and puts Mid-American Motors’ new model to shame.

And so Clint and Karen take off for the Freak-Out while T.B. Trenton attempts to prevent them from getting to the rally and ruining the debut of his newest gas-guzzler. Trenton uses his influence to put police on the trail of Vandora, but Vince has built her with some tricks to avoid “Smokey,” who is frequently “on her donkey,” including a high-pitched squealing noise which interferes with radio signals in its range to prevent the cops from communicating with each other and may also cause some wildlife and possibly humans to commit suicide in order to stop hearing it. Also on board for wacky antics are some lasers that Vandora can use to, say, blow holes in the walls of county jails or blow up police vehicles. Plenty of highway slapstick ensues with the idiotic police before Clint and his crew make it to the rally and blow everyone’s minds with their amazing Supervan, simultaneously ensuring that Mid-American Motors new model looks like the lamest thing ever to have four wheels and ending America’s reliance on foreign oil forever. That second part is more implied than anything, but it is really the only logical outcome of Vandora’s dominance at the Freak-Out.

 

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A tiny percentage of the vans on display at Freak Out ’76. Viewers will get to know them all intimately.

 Director Lamar Card has directed a handful of films, including three in the 1970s (THE CLONES, SUPERVAN and DISCO FEVER), one in the 1990s (SHADOW WARRIORS) and one in 2000 (FLAMINGO DREAMS). He has also produced over ten films, including acting as Executive Producer on 1980’s TERROR TRAIN (starring Jamie Lee Curtis), 1983’s HEART LIKE A WHEEL (the Shirley Muldowney biopic starring Bonnie Bedelia) and 1995’s PROJECT: METALBEAST (starring Kane Hodder). He also acted as second unit director on Jonathan Demme’s second feature film, 1975’s CRAZY MAMA. Mark Schneider (“Clint Morgan”) went on to play the lead in the Crown International Pictures drag-race film BURNOUT, which features actual race footage of Shirley Muldowney.

 

* – If the name “George Barris” sounds familiar, it’s no surprise. Barris has been in the automobile customization business since the 1950s, and has designed some of the most iconic vehicles in pop culture history. He designed the “Dragula” car for THE MUNSTERS television series and created vehicles for shows as diverse as THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE GREEN HORNET and MANNIX. His best-known work, though, is undoubtedly the original Batmobile for the Adam West BATMAN television series that ran from 1966 to 1968. In addition to creating “Vandora” for SUPERVAN and designing other vans that appeared in Vansploitation films, Barris also designed the titular antagonist in the classic horror film THE CAR.

Unsurprisingly, George Barris’s work wasn’t restricted to car design. He got in front of the camera for SUPERVAN, MAG WHEELS and SMOKEY AND THE HOTWIRE GANG, as well as appearing as himself in Jack Hill’s PIT STOP (1969), Lamar (SUPERVAN) Card’s DISCO FEVER (1978), and director/stuntman H.B. Halicki’s two films following his hit GONE IN 60 SECONDS: THE JUNKMAN (1982) and DEADLINE AUTO THEFT (1983). Barris acted as producer on MAG WHEELS and DISCO FEVER, and co-produced and co-directed 1960’s JUKE BOX RACKET.

George Barris continues to work to this day in his California-based customization shop, Barris Kustom Industries. He has made appearances on various reality television series over the last several years including MONSTER GARAGE and AMERICAN PICKERS, and he often makes appearances at custom car shows around the country.

Click here for Part 3!

 

-Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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