Schoolgirl Hitchhikers/High School Hitch Hikers / Jeunes Filles Impudiques (1973) -**½
My Jean Rollin binge a couple years back ended before I had a chance to check out any of his more or less pure sex movies, busy as it kept me with horny vampires and rape-happy pirates. Obviously I can’t let that void remain unfilled, so I’m starting my contribution to the B-Masters’ French vacation with Schoolgirl Hitchhikers. This was Rollin’s first straight skin-flick, and also the directorial debut, so to speak, of his pornographer alter ego, Michel Gentil. (It was not quite the first appearance of that pseudonym, however. Some years earlier, Rollin published part of an unused screenplay under the Gentil name in Midi Minuit Fantastique as an appendix to the last entry in his series of articles on the works of Gaston Leroux. Presumably the script was adapted from one of Leroux’s books, but I’ve been unable to discover which.) Were it not for its timing within Rollin’s career, Schoolgirl Hitchhikers would be an undistinguished film. The premise leaves little scope for Rollin’s usual bizarre flights of fancy, and the movie is further hampered by an inability to settle on any consistent tone or mood. Although the whiplash effect is nowhere near as severe, its lurching from gentle eroticism to stark brutality to cloddish comedy brought to mind unwelcome memories of The Rape of the Vampire.
The original French title— which translates to Shameless Young Girls— is much more appropriate than either of its English-language handles, for Monica (Joelle Coeur, of Seven Women for Satan and The Demoniacs) and Jackie (Gilda Arancio, from Crimson: The Color of Blood and The House of Lost Dolls) are certainly not hitchhikers, and may not even be schoolgirls, either. What they are is backpackers headed nowhere in particular. They’ve been camping for the past four days in a stretch of woods that has shown no sign of human habitation, so it takes them rather aback when they come upon a high stone wall one afternoon. Curious, Monica incites Jackie to scale the wall with her, after which they discover a grand but dilapidated manor house. No one seems to be living there, so the girls help themselves to the first bed they’ve seen in half a week. They do intend to use it for sleeping at some point, but this being the kind of movie that it is, they naturally have other plans for it first.
When Monica goes out onto the bedroom balcony to smoke a cigarette later that night, she sees to her surprise that there are lights on downstairs. Perhaps the mansion isn’t as abandoned as it looks? Indeed not. Maybe he was out when the girls arrived, or maybe they didn’t explore the house as thoroughly as they thought, but either way, there’s a droopy-mustached guy named Fred (Willy Braque, from Lips of Blood and Suck Me, Vampire) shacked out downstairs. The improvised look of Fred’s quarters suggests that he no more properly lives in the house than do Monica and Jackie. Anyway, now that Fred and Monica have met, they fall immediately into bed together, and when Jackie wakes up, she comes downstairs and makes it a threesome.
The girls part amicably from Fred the following morning, but they’ve by no means seen the last of him— and the next time they meet will be on far less pleasant terms. Fred, you see, is squatting the mansion because he belongs to a ring of jewel thieves, and the abandoned house is the gang’s post-heist rendezvous point. When Beatrice the ringleader (Marie Helene Regne, from The Bitches and The Erotic Confessions of a Too-Inviting Bed) and an unnamed criminal whom I’m going to call Shades (François Brincourt, of French Undressing and True Love Never Lasts Very Long) arrive to inspect the loot, Fred discovers that he doesn’t have it anymore. Fred doesn’t believe for a second that Monica or Jackie could have taken it without him noticing, but Beatrice insists that there’s no other logical explanation. The thieves rush out at once to capture the girls, and when they turn out not to have the missing jewels on them, Beatrice orders them tortured until they reveal their hiding place.
The stained-glass gazebo where Beatrice sets up her impromptu dungeon has room for only one prisoner at a time, though, so while she and Fred are working on Jackie, Monica is able to ply her feminine wiles on Shades unobserved. She conks him on the head with a heavy mantelpiece knickknack while they’re making out, then runs away to the nearest town. There she goes not to the cops, but to the office of Harry (Pierre Julien), the world’s least competent private detective. (I assume that the visibly miniscule budget could not be stretched to cover a precinct station for the world’s least competent police.) Harry and his Agent 99-like secretary (Reine Thirion, of My Body Burns) arm themselves and accompany Monica back to the mansion. From that point on, Schoolgirl Hitchhikers becomes less and less a softcore porn film, and more and more a comedy of errors.
It says something about how different pornography is from other film genres that Schoolgirl Hitchhikers contains nearly as many novice mistakes as The Rape of the Vampire, even though the several movies intervening between them show Rollin making significant progress in getting the hang of directing at feature length. In particular, Rollin seems flummoxed about how to pace and space the sex scenes. The first half-hour of the film is virtually non-stop boning, while plot increasingly muscles sex out of the way thereafter. There’s a certain logic to that, though, because Monica and Jackie can’t plausibly be expected to keep making carnal pitstops when they’re trying to escape from gangsters. The issue is that Rollin is applying normal dramatic thinking to a project that calls for something else altogether. If your porno premise requires you to front-load the sex scenes this much, then maybe you should consider a different premise. There’s a similar small but nagging problem with each individual sex scene, too, in that they all run on so much longer than the musical cues associated with them that the latter have to keep restarting in order to do their jobs fully. It isn’t that the sex scenes are too long per se. They’re just mismatched to the score in a way that somebody ought to have caught beforehand. The musical stutter is very distracting, and all the more so because the accompanying onscreen action is quite well handled. Another place where Rollin’s stumbling is harder to fathom is the uniformly cheapjack appearance of everything. He and his regular associates had become quite skilled at disguising the financial limitations under which they always had to work by 1973, so I really don’t understand what happened here. Maybe it’s simply that with no secret subcultures of flamboyant evil— no vampires, no pagan cults, no hellfire clubs— Rollin and company could find no excuse to overcome cheapness with garishness according to their usual method. But Schoolgirl Hitchhikers’ most serious flaw is its tonal incoherence. First it’s harmlessly sexy, then it’s nasty in a startling 42nd Street sort of way, and then it tries (without a lot of success) to be funny. Beyond that, though, the three main groups of characters— backpackers, gangsters, and detectives— feel like they each came from a completely different movie. And don’t even get me started about the ending…
Against all that, the main counterpoint is that this movie is extremely successful in its primary aim. Joelle Coeur in particular has a real gift for sim-sex, which by nearly all accounts is a lot harder than it looks. She especially excels at what appears to be the most difficult part of all, coming across like she’s actually enjoying herself. Gilda Arancio, meanwhile, deserves props of a different kind, because her torture scene wasn’t faked apart from the hot poker. Willy Braque and Marie Helene Regne whipped the shit out of that girl, and the bit with the fireplace tongs looks even more painful. Obviously you’ll have to determine for yourself whether that’s a selling point or a cue to run screaming in the opposite direction, but it sure isn’t something you see in any old Eurosmut flick. And if you do go in for such things, this is a pretty fair example. Schoolgirl Hitchhikers’ erotic content is nicely varied, too: straight and lesbian couplings, an F-M-F threesome, the aforementioned foray into sadism, a catfight between Monica and Beatrice that leaves both participants with their clothes in tatters. If you’re here for smut and nothing but, Schoolgirl Hitchhikers has you covered. It’s only when it tries to be a regular movie that it turns disappointingly inept.
This review is part of a B-Masters Cabal roundtable focusing on less reputable side of French cinema. Click the banner below to read the rest of the gang’s contributions.