Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Texas Detour (1978) review


Patrick Wayne (Clay McCarthy), Mitch Vogel (Dale McCarthy), Lindsay Bloom (Sugar McCarthy), R.G. Armstrong (Sheriff Burt), Priscilla Barnes (Claudia Hunter), Anthony James (Beauregard Hunter), Michael Mullins (Billy), Cameron Mitchell (John Hunter)

Directed by Hikmet Avedis

***WARNING! This review contains one image of nudity***

The Short Version: Come ride with the Duke's son for a rockin' and redneckin' good time in a film that could've been another MACON COUNTY LINE (1974), but never quite crosses into the territory. The bits of sleaze scattered about hint at a bumper crop of Hixploitation gold, but fans will have to settle for a few ounces instead. Still, Avedis's movie is recommended by default for its kick-ass cast and an enormously catchy soundtrack by Flo & Eddie that plays near constantly like somebody just put a ten spot into a jukebox. This TEXAS DETOUR is a safe bet, just know there's gonna be some bumps in the road when reaching your destination.

Stuntman Clay McCarthy and his brother and sister are traveling from California to start work on a new movie in Nashville. Passing through Texas, they are run off the road by some cretins who take their wallets and steal their van. As they get to steppin' in the hopes of finding some help they encounter a man named Beauregard Hunter broke down on the road. Clay gets his car going again and Beau offers them a place to stay at his dad's country mansion till their van turns up. Once they get there, Beau's sister Claudia takes one look at Clay and it's love at first sight. Meantime, Beau doesn't have as much luck with Clay's equally attractive sister, Sugar, and violence ensues.

An incredibly fun little picture despite failing to fully embrace its potential, TEXAS DETOUR runs into some pothole sized logic lapses (What happened to the three prison escapees? Why does the Billy Forest character disappear midway through? What happened to the pool player who kills a major character near the end?) over the course of its 92 minute sojourn. Director Avedis's script has all the parts for a souped up Hixploitation classic, yet the motor sputters when it should be revving the hell out the engine. Nonetheless, fans of Southern Fried Cinema will want to dig in even if it's not as greasy as it should be.

For much of its running time, TEXAS DETOUR feels like it could coast on a PG rating. Occasionally hinting at its MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) lineage, the tone changes, albeit intermittently, as if to appease the restless natives in the audience expecting something more visceral. These erratic changes in tone become frustrating when the familiar genre tropes aren't allowed to remain wholly serious; or when the film transforms into something resembling a teen sex comedy. Even so, Avedis and company know what type of movie they're making. There's a reference to New World's MACON COUNTY clone JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976); and occasionally the flick feels like a failed pilot for a Hal Needham television series.

Viewed within the parameters in which the genre excels, TEXAS DETOUR fails dramatically in a few key areas..... areas which could've made for a much meaner movie....

We keep hearing how John Hunter has the whole town in his pocket, hinting that the sheriff is going to be the perennial crooked lawman--a staple of this genre. Shockingly, it never happens. Instead, R.G. Armstrong's sheriff is dangerous by just how gullible he is. 

Nor is Cameron Mitchell's wealthy John Hunter--a literal hunter--given a suitably despicable character to work with. When the crooked sheriff angle failed to pan out, I expected the film to take another detour into THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME territory since we hear multiple times about his hunting trips; but again, this never surfaces, either. Instead he's only slightly less bufoonish than the sheriff is.

A love scene (the first of two) between Patrick Wayne and Priscilla Barnes on some off-road locale with conveniently placed bails of hay lying around is another big tease (and backed by a rock tune, 'Rollin' In the Hay'); although you do get a rather lengthy sequence of Ms. Barnes alone in her room wearing nothing but her underwear towards the end.

The film finally greases its gears during the last ten minutes, but by then, it's too damn late. There's a last-minute DUKES OF HAZZARD style car chase and smash-up culminating in vehicles blowing up for no apparent reason. Had there been more of this throughout we'd be talking about a mini-classic as opposed to an efficiently entertaining footnote.

Now this is how I'd of preferred to see TEXAS DETOUR play out: 

Clay and his siblings are robbed by escaped convicts and seek help from the sheriff who seems more than a little disinterested and maybe a little deranged. They end up staying with the creepy Beauregard Hunter, his hot sister Claudia, and John, his dad, after Beau gives them a lift. The eccentric John Hunter has a vast number of animal trophies about his house and hints he'd like to hunt something other than a traditional four-legged critter. 

Clay's sister fears Beau, who persists with his advances, but her brothers tell her it's nothing and not to make trouble till they can find their van and get back on the road to Nashville. Clay is in town one day and finds the sheriff with three dead men that turn out to be the three convicts who stole his van. The Sheriff seems pleased with himself for gunning down the three criminals, yet still no van. 

Meanwhile Beau follows Clay's sister while she's out riding. He rapes her and leaves her there. Clay finds out and seeks out Beau and beats the hell out of him. The Sheriff shows up and arrests Clay. His brother and sister speak out and they too are thrown in jail. Learning John Hunter owns the town, they also discover the sheriff has had their van for some time. Clay and company figure they won't get out alive. 

After Claudia helps them escape, the Sheriff informs John, who now figures he has a chance to hunt something new; John, his son and the Sheriff begin tracking them. Clay uses his skills as a stuntman to fight back, managing to kill Beau, but Claudia is accidentally killed by their father. Clay's brother and sister are injured in all the ruckus, leading to a car chase with John and the Sheriff giving pursuit ending with a crash and burn finish.

Derivative? Yes. A possibly more satisfying exploitation experience? You betcha.

Cognizant of this genre's strengths, the filmmakers do tease us with modest touches of sleaze even if these never jump-start things into darker territory expected of its R rating. At the center of this is Anthony James, the ever-reliable celluloid scumbag of dozens of films. He gets a rare lead villain role as Beauregard ("Whatever Beau wants, Beau gets") Hunter. His degeneracy is at least potent enough to rile the audience to maintain interest; only we're denied a satisfactory payoff when the script does a detour of its own instead of taking the safer, more familiarly cliched route in regards to his character's comeuppance. 

Beau's sweet tooth for Sugar leads to a rape scene that should be the catalyst for revenge; instead it's more or less casually brushed aside afterward. The character Sugar spurns Beau for, Billy Forest, inexplicably vanishes halfway through and is never mentioned again. Billy embarrasses Beau in front of Sugar after laying him out, only the expected retaliation never materializes--another loose end left to dangle. A scene of Beau lustily staring at his sister (played by the luscious Priscilla Barnes) while she struts around her room half-naked at least adds a shade more repugnance to his character.

Aside from being mesmerized by the gorgeous body of Priscilla Barnes, what fuels TEXAS DETOUR is an amazing soundtrack by The Turtle's founders Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan). Apparently whipping up this score in two weeks, the former Frank Zappa/Mother of Invention singers managed some hard thumpin' tunes like the main theme rocker 'Get Away (Back to L.A.)' and others like 'The Big Showdown'.

Patrick Wayne baked himself a nice little Drive-in movie pie during the tail-end of the 1970s with SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and TEXAS DETOUR (1978). The Duke's son is about as out of place here playing a fist-fightin' stuntman as he was essaying Sinbad the Sailor; yet it's nice to see John Wayne's second son headlining a film that isn't starring his iconic father. His starring role in 1973s BEYOND ATLANTIS was reportedly only secured under the provision that the film be PG; so there may have been some finagling with TEXAS DETOUR's content due to Wayne's participation.

Getting off to a good start, Hikmet Avedis's backroad barn-burner runs out of gas kinda fast but manages to stay in the game due in no small part to the hummable, exceedingly catchy rock and country soundtrack. TEXAS DETOUR isn't a great scenic route, but you'll see some nice sights and have a good time getting to where you're going.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD. Specs and Extras: Anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. Extras: Code Red Trailers; running time: 1:32: 08.

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