I do so many reviews of new releases up in here that I feel like I’ve lost perspective. Back when I started up this blog, my reviews were of whatever I watched the night prior. I started to gain a reputation, though, and it wasn’t long before I was reviewing next week’s new releases on the dime of some home video distributor looking for a little press. Since then I haven’t done a whole lot of these Wabac machine reviews where I dig into the vault and produce something of such remarkable cheese that I’m beside myself when the credits roll. However, with Supervan, I get the best of both worlds.
MVD stands for Music Video Distributors. They put out a lot of DVDs of live music but I got an email last year soliciting some unnamed exploitation pictures that I accepted sight unseen. For the next six months they sent me porn. Periodically, though, they’d send me something interesting. Among the interesting batch was Supervan, a flick I’d only become aware of after catching a trailer for on Boing Boing. It’s an interesting specimen of 70’s culture that could have only been produced in that decade and it’s exactly what I needed tonight. Hurricane force winds knocked out power all over the state and the last few days without electricity have been raw. A movie about a guy, his girl, his futuristic custom van and his struggle to win five grand at a van contest was the only dose of insanity that could properly close out my weekend.Clint Morgan is a man with a dream. He’s going to take his sweet custom van to Freakout ’76 and god willing, he’s going to win the $5,000 prize and will go down in history as the king of the custom van. On his way, he rescues a girl from being raped by some bikers and winds up barely escaping with his life when his van is accidentally crushed in a scrap yard. With nothing to take to Freakout, he visits a hacker/engineer friend of his in a custom van shop who outfits him and his new ladyfriend with Vandora, a solar powered, laser equipped custom van of the future and they become the talk of Freakout ’76. However, Clint’s new squeeze turns out to be the daughter of the head of Mid American Motors, the proud manufacture of gas guzzling road monsters. He’s sponsoring the contest and also happens to own Vandora, the prototype that was supposed to be MAM’s next line of road hogs. In the ensuing 90 minutes, Clint goes head to head with a smarmy vanner with a porn star moustache. A lot of guys with shaggy hair and bushy ‘staches smoke pot and Charles Bukowski judges a wet t-shirt contest. I’m not kidding about that last part.
Director, Lamar Card, knows what makes a proper exploitation picture and Supervan is what so few exploitation movies manage to be. It’s a perfect time capsule of a corner of pop culture circa 1976. Most of the movie seems to be hand held footage of an actual custom van gathering in Missouri, whether or not it’s actually called Freakout ’76 is a mystery but if you have any lingering nostalgia for this sort of event or happen to be a really big fan of Fu Manchu, this is going to strike some kind of chord with you. There is a shit ton of van footage up in here and it has a soundtrack to match that seems to narrate what is mostly hard to discern and by that I mean a plot.
Supervan may be the model exploitation picture, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. It’s a fascinating look at cashgrab filmmaking but it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The central story tries to be many things as that’s usually what exploitation movies do and it does it well, but the entire movie is bogged down by stray elements competing for screen time. It will appeal to you if you liked Smokey and the Bandit. You’ll probably be into it if you have that C.W. McCall song, Convoy on 8-track and you’ll totally be sucked if your personal mode of transport features an abundance of shag carpeting. Freakout ’76 also seems to feature several wet t-shirt contests so if saggy boobs are your bag, Supervan has your name all over it.
So what do I expect from a cheap Custom Van movie, anyway? A flawed, scattershot production is a foregone conclusion. Supervan, in spite of only occasionally making any sense, is actually a pretty good time. It’s constantly scrambling to appeal to someone and that means that it’s constantly pulling these crazy ideas out of its ass in order to look like something you might already be familiar with. Just when you think it can’t get any more random, Supervan busts a dude out of jail with a laser beam. There’s also a nameless bunch of flamboyantly gay Vanners that play up the worst stereotypes for big laughs. They spend most of their time on screen running from a pair of girls so enthralled by their sweet custom van that they just have to have these guys. Also, it’s quite clear that having a custom van with all the amenities means frequent group sex by default. By the time the end credits roll, the only thing that surprises me is that the van didn’t drive itself and engage in witty repartee with counter cultural hero, Clint Morgan.
This release from Cheezy Flicks isn’t much to write home about, though. You can’t expect much from Supervan and whether or not a 35mm source exists to transfer to DVD remains a mystery. Cheezy Flicks’ release is clearly sourced from video tape, complete with damaged tape and video dropouts. I’m suddenly transported back to the mid-90’s, trading obscure bootlegs with shady dudes around the world and cursing their judgement of tape condition. Supervan is watchable but noticable video damage is always obnoxious and charging any more than $5 for this sort of thing is a crime. I’ve seen $1 Walmart DVDs in better condition than this. It does come with a sweet drive-in intermission reel, though, so there’s always that.