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Take an Easy Ride

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Odeon Entertainment
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Directed by: 
Kenneth F. Rowles
Ina Skriver
Derek Slater
Gennie Nevinson
Margaret Heald
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 You've never seen anything quite like Kenneth F. Rowles's amazing 1976 exploitation film "Take An Easy Ride"! If there were ever  two distinct genres that it would surely be an insane fool's errand to even consider blurring, then the public information film and the blue movie would have to be those two genres! But thankfully that didn't deter Mr Rowles, who has here provided one of the most gloriously tasteless mid-seventies time-capsule examples of the exploitation-posing-as-awareness-raising-information-film you could ever imagine seeing the light of day. It's truly mind boggling stuff indeed, but absolutely essential cult viewing which manages, during its scant forty minutes, to cram in a weighty ton of period Home Counties perversity: indeed, there's jail bait T&A aplenty and denim-clad, dope smoking teenage tearaways, most of the cast clad in a tasteless array of '70s fashions, including everything from mini-skirts, primary coloured clumpy boots and kaftans; there's lashings of roadside rape and murder and explicit threesome sex on a blandly patterned hotel eiderdown, and everything set during a grotty, sleazy looking milieu consisting of tatty Soho strip joints, sleepy English villages and roadside motorway cafes full of leering lorry driver, the memorable soundtrack of early seventies rock and various jaunty library cues adding more period colour than the well balanced mind can feasibly cope with! This is sensory overload for the connoisseur of '70s exploitation, but all of it ostensibly cast in the form of a public warning about the dangers of hitch hiking!
Kenneth F. Rowles appears to have been a mediocre filmmaker who aspired to much greater things than he was ever realistically likely to achieve given his meager talents. "Take An Easy Ride" started life as the director's attempt to make a film in the style of Ken Loach's acclaimed "Cathy Come Home": a gritty realist examination of a particular urban social issue, but utilising scripted drama as well as documentary conventions such as interviews and factual reporting. Rowles was inspired to make the film after reading some lurid tabloid headlines about several teenage girls who had supposedly been raped while hitching a lift along the UK's ever expanding miles of concrete motorway - the trend for hitch hiking being a comparatively recent one in those days.  It was shot on 16mm film, originally for HTV and was -incredibly! - to have been shown on British television.
But when this plan failed to come about, though, the ever pragmatic Rowles eagerly took the advice of  sexploitation guru David Grant, and went back and added some more sexy footage on the promise that Grant would then release the resulting film in his chain of blue movie theatres ... something he duly did! The result was a big hit with the dirty mac brigade ... and one of the strangest exploitation flicks of all time was born. This sudden radical change of intent by the director half-way through the project's inception couldn't be more obvious from the results, but the stilted direction and uncertain performances meant that this was never going to be the powerful social drama it once aspired to be. What we end up with is a bizarre concoction that includes real life  'vox pops' interviews with bewildered members of the public, a serious sounding narrator ("It is up to the viewer to decide if hitch hiking should be banned!"), vintage documentary footage of '70s Soho strip clubs mixed in with luridly pervy vignettes, culminating in footage of two teenagers being molested, raped and murdered in a staged Last House on the Left-inspired attack by a black gloved, West Country pervert, after they're picked up by a motorway verge on their way to a pop festival. The dingy soft core content is bolstered by some tenuously connected sequences of full-frontal nudity, courtesy of Danish sexpot Ina Skriver and a Bentley-driving, well-to-do suburban English couple who pick her up, take her out for a meal, get her drunk then drag her out of her hotel bath for, first of all, some lesbian canoodling with the horsy wife (filmed in the director's own bedroom!), followed by a gruesome threesome full of heaving flabby flesh when the portly husband enthusiastically joins in! 
The various episodes and interviews are intercut with each other and returned to throughout the film, so that the whole thing has an arc and each of the individual vignettes reaches a conclusion almost simultaneously. The interviews are often hilarious; it looks as though the filmmakers just used footage of the first four subjects they came across in the street, despite their total lack of coherence or eloquence. The two American students (in matching red jackets?) are loquacious and eager but seem to have little real content to impart; there's a bloke with bad teeth and disheveled uncombed hair who just talks utter gibberish ('there have been reports of girls being raped ... and vica versa!'); two Scandinavian girls who claim to have hitch hiked without encountering any problems at all; and a staged sequence leading into the country hotel room threesome footage, in which Ina Skriver is waylaid in a vox pop interview outside a chemists shop in exactly the same style and manner to the sketches featuring the character Mandy, played by comedian Dick Emery in his well-loved '70s TV sketch show! Skriver is even dressed in startlingly similar trouser suit and beret to one of Emery's famous female characters.
The staged episodes which appear in between these sections deliver plenty of amusingly bad performances and clunky, poorly written dialogue: the ill-fated teenagers agree to pocket the money which one of their dads has provided to pay for their bus trip to the pop festival, and get there by hitch hiking, instead. We also encounter another couple of girls on their way to the same festival (one with an acoustic guitar, wearing a kaftan, and another in mini-skirt and knee high leather boots) who get picked up by a gurning lorry driver who looks like the troglodyte cousin of Reg Varney from "On the Buses". The other two, meanwhile, get picked up by the leather glove-wearing perv in his open-topped convertible (we know he's dodgy because we see him drooling over the extremely well-thumbed pages of a grotty porn mag, which he keeps in his glove compartment). We never fully see this guy's face; apparently, that's because the same man who plays one of the girls' fathers also doubles up as the gloved perv (if I had no shame whatsoever, I could've claimed that this represents a radical feminist critique of patriarchy, but frankly, I haven't got the gall!). The eventual fate of these two girls is signposted way before, when we see a worried mum in her beige living room (it is the '70s remember) frowning over a tabloid headline (the rather prosaic: 'Two Girls Strangled in a Wood'). Sure enough, after tempting them with his porn stash (...'ere, 'ave a look at this ... and show yer friend.'), the perv sneaks the car off down a secluded country lane and attacks them both in scenes filmed with such lurid relish it would've made Sergio Martino blush!
Meanwhile, the other two girls seem to reach their destination with no problems at all, although there is a bit of pestering from a bunch of leching truckers and lorry drivers at a motorway cafe. But aside from peering at their naked thighs in a suggestive manner, their Reg Varney lookalike driver is true to his word and delivers them safely to the festival (where the kaftan wearing girlie who strums Green Sleeves on her guitar and warbles in a wavering falsetto - proves by far the most disturbing thing in the movie!). We rejoin the anxious parents of the girls who have been attacked; they're at a cottage hospital, where we learn that one of them has survived. But a solemn doctor takes the father aside to inform him that: 'you must prepare yourself for some bad news ... she is blind!' Then we watch the hippie guitar player and her mini-skirted pal returning home and, lo and behold, they accept another lift ... from the same black gloved, porn mag reading rapist/murderer who attacked the unfortunate penny-pinching teens! Cue mournful, sensitive end-title music as we digest this mordant irony!
There are many other equally enjoyable delights on offer here, including a sequence aiming to illustrate the dangers of giving, as well as accepting, lifts on motorways: you just never know when your good intentions may be repaid by a knife in the chest from the buxom, denim wearing, pot smoking good-for-nothing delinquents who line the hedge-rimmed motorways of Kent, just waiting for a chance to rob you of your wallet and your life!
If "Take An Easy Ride" is unintentional '70s exploitation nostalgia, then the second feature on this DVD - for which Kenneth F. Rowles is credited as the creator and producer - is even more evocative of the same era. It's a pilot for a TV series that never got made called "Go Girl" about a trio of go-go dancers who solve crimes! It was shot in 1972  and proves to be charmingly cheap and cheerful despite aiming for the fun, breezy brio of a slick ITC series or of "The Avengers" during its mid-sixties heyday. It gets nowhere near it - but now only looks all the more evocative of the early '70s thanks to its ultra cheap and faded attempt to suggest a shininess and glamour it can only aspire to on its limited budget. Shot on 16mm, its disco fever and glittery Glam Rock milieu (we are introduced to the three hot pant-wearing leading ladies in a night club where they and the patrons are banging their heads to a Slade track!), not to mention a fabulously groovy title theme song accompanied by psychedelic opening titles displaying gyrating female torsos, is pure unadorned cheese. The inclusion of animation turns out to be a shortcut to progress the limited plot in double quick time, but adds yet more period quirkiness to the silly plot. Top billed is Laun Peters, an actress with even more cult cache these days because of her involvement in '70s Hammer films such as "Lust of a Vampire" and the early Pete Walker flick "Man of Violence", though her co-stars Susan Shifrin and Francoise Pascal get very little to do. The plot of this pilot sees Peters and her long-haired DJ boyfriend, played by Simon Brent, getting involved in a feeble search for buried treasure in a Spanish resort, and is simple enough to get resolved in a brief twenty-five minutes. In fact, there's a considerable amount of padding even with this short running time, so negligible is the plot; but that's not where the attraction lies for a modern audience: this is simply another time-capsule voyage into early '70s TV with a cheese factor that's off the scale. 
This marvelous disc is also embellished by a twenty minute interview with Ken Rowles conducted by Simon Sheridan at the Riverside Studios, and there are also some pertinent trailers for other Odeon Entertainment sexploitation titles. This is another great disc from Odeon Entertainment and comes highly recommended.

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