MALIBU HIGH (1979) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Irvin Berwick
Vinegar Syndrome

Crown International favorite MALIBU HIGH is lovely but deadly in Vinegar Syndrome's new Blu-ray/DVD combo.

When her boyfriend Kevin (Stuart Taylor) dumps her for rich girl Annette (Tammy Taylor, MEATBALLS PART II) and her mother (Phyllis Benson, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD) and teachers harp on her about her failing grades, Kim (Jill Lansing) decides to make a drastic change. She decides to use her body to raise her grades with the high school's male faculty while earning money turning tricks in the van of pimp/dope peddler Tony (exploitation luminary Alex Mann, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD). She tells her mom that she is doing "relief work" while flashing her skimpy wardrobe and new car at her ex and his girlfriend. When mob-connected Lance (Garth Howard, MISS MELODY JONES) offers her a better deal than Tony with a higher class of clients and more money, she demands a larger cut from Tony only for him to toss her out. She takes Lance's offer and things are looking up until she stabs a rough client. When Kim realizes that she likes the violence, Lance decides to train her to be a hitgirl (starting with wasting Tony), a talent which she also uses towards her academic maneuvers and her beef with her ex's new squeeze.

Far from the high school sex comedy suggested by the title, poster artwork, and Crown's trailer, MALIBU HIGH is thoroughly entertaining and mean-spirited grindhouse fodder that offers up a healthy helping of nudity and some refreshing splashes of blood. Acting is rather stiff with the exception of Mann who puts more into his supporting scumbag role than probably required, but Lansing is fairly compelling in her only film role. The climax uses some library music familiar to watchers of THE PEOPLE'S COURT (apart from the theme song "Lovely But Deadly" the rest of the score was rifled from the KPM music library). This was the last film of director Irv Berwick, who had previously helmed HITCHHIKE TO HELL and MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS. Producer Lawrence D. Foldes directed Taylor the same year in his first directorial effort DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK. Katie Johnson – daughter of GILIGAN'S ISLAND's Russell Johnson – appears as Kim's best friend, and Foldes' wife at the time Cambra cameos as a classmate.

A Crown International release – re-released in 1983 by Juniper Releasing as LOVELY BUT DEADLY – MALIBU HIGH has been easy to find on DVD via collections from BCI (in a double bill with TRIP WITH THE TEACHER) and Mill Creek, along with Scorpion's progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer comes from a newer HD master as part of the DANGEROUS BEAUTIES double feature with the considerably entertaining Cirio H. Santiago-produced THE HUSTLER SQUAD from Cesar Gallardo (BAMBOO GODS & IRON MEN). Scorpion's transfer was clear enough to detail the hairy and rug-burned backs of Kim's lovers but the Vinegar Syndrome's slightly darker 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray sports more stable colors and less orange skintones, as well as slivers of additional information on all four sides of the frame. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is accompanied by optional SDH subtitles.

While the Scorpion DVD included an interview with actress Taylor, the Vinegar Syndrome disc is stacked, starting off with a new audio commentary by producer Foldes and Taylor hosted by Marc Edward Heuck. Although Foldes does not divulge the identity of the famous screenwriter credited here as "John Buckley" he does discuss how Berwick and much of his crew from HITCH HIKE TO HELL got involved. Foldes took classes in filmmaking at Calarts and then Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara but took a UCLA extension course taught by Berwick. Using Berwick's crew, additional staff and equipment from Brooks, and UCSB dancers and high school kids as extras, the film began production in Santa Barbara at Brooks until a rumor spread that they were shooting a porno and production moved to Palos Verde. They note that the film began life as HIGH SCHOOL HIT GIRL, then DANGER IN DENIM, then LOVLEY BUT DEADLY and attribute Crown's Mark Tenser for the MALIBU HIGH title. Foldes and Taylor discuss working with Lansing who proved difficult, health nut Mann who took his role seriously, and Foldes' difficulty with one-take Berwick, hack DP William DeDiego (SEXCAPADE IN MEXICO), and professional but slow editor Dan Perry (JAWS OF DEATH). Heuck sheds light on the other credits of Mann and Berwick while also pointing out the KPM library cues and their use in other films like the porn film SOMETIMES SWEET SUSAN.

The interview with Foldes (26:40) covers much of the same ground, expanding upon his film education (noting that Calarts treated cinema as an art and Brooks treated it as a business), his desire to skip the mailroom route of getting into filmmaking and put together a production with the help of his accountant father, working with Berwick (who wanted a blonde for the lead), the necessity of requiring auditioning actress to take their clothes off, and more about the difficulty of working with Lansing (who was replaced on the poster by Mary-Margaret Humes when she asked for a ridiculous amount of money). He also notes that he still receives residual checks from Crown for the film. Taylor appears in a new interview (12:42) in which she discusses how she got into acting, how MALIBU HIGH was her first professional job when she turned eighteen, her critique of her performance and shocked reaction to the finished film (especially after learning that her brother and sister saw it with some church friends) which she now regards as "a hoot." Actor Garth Pillsbury – aka "Garth Howard" appears in an interview (14:51) in which he recalls finding an agent through the advice of Bruce Dern (while appearing in a play with the actor's wife), his first film role in Russ Meyer's VIXEN! as well as subsequent Meyer credits, his opinions on Berwick's direction of the film, as well as an amusing anecdote about his later credit MISTRESS OF THE APES.

Also included is a Q&A from a screening at the New Beverly Cinema (27:01) featuring Foldes, Taylor, and Mann (who died in 2010). Foldes holds court and covers much of the anecdotes already heard in the commentary and interview (including smash-and-grab thefts of the film's poster which was considered quite racy at the time) while Mann mentions concurrent international screenings of some of his works for Joseph Sarno and his passion project in development, and Taylor recalls her audition and covers some of the same ground as the interview (once again referring to the film as a hoot). While some other Vinegar Syndrome discs include an optional director's introduction, it might have been interesting to have split this featurette into two parts and provide an option that plays the feature in between as a "screening." Besides the film's theatrical trailer (2:17) – which does not even hint at the film's violence – and a still gallery (2:52), the disc also includes two short films from Foldes: "Struggle for Israel" (19:52) from 1976 – juxtaposing footage of life in contemporary Israel with stills depicting refugees arriving after the war – and "Grandpa & Marika" (11:07) from 1975, a slice of life looking at the daily routine of the titular couple. The disc comes with a reversible cover of the same artwork with the title logo positioned differently. (Eric Cotenas)