Nostalgic Cinema

Starhops (1978)

Starhops (USA, 1978) 87 min color DIR: Barbara Peeters. SCR: Stephanie Rothman. PROD: John B. Kelly, Robert D. Krintzman, Teri Schwartz. MUSIC: Don Hulette. DOP: Eric Saarinen. CAST: Dorothy Buhrman, Sterling Frazier, Jillian Kesner, Anthony Mannino, Dick Miller, Al Hopson, Paul Ryan. (First American Films)

This is an interesting product of 1970s “feminist” drive-in fare, in which this film’s director Barbara Peeters (Bury Me an Angel) and screenwriter Stephanie Rothman (The Velvet Vampire) cornered the market. Female protagonists in “male-centric” genres produce a reverse stereotype. In other words, they’re still exploitation films, but it’s okay if the women take their clothes off, as long as they’re directed by women.

Starhops is pure corny sex fluff (but with little sex). Our fable begins when Jerry (Dick Miller!), the boss of the failing drive-in restaurant, flips his lid one afternoon after being harassed by bill collectors and irate customers. His enterprising carhops -get a load of these names- Angel (Jillian Kesner) and Cupcake (Sterling Frazier) offer to buy the place from him with the ambition that they could really turn the place around. Having no money of their own, they use their feminine wiles to get a business loan, and set to work with a third employee, Danielle (Dorothy Buhrman), who can make cheeseburgers into French gourmet. As luck would have it, soon our trio is besieged by man-child millionaire Carter Axe (Al Hopson) wants to take over the property. He even gets his spoiled son Norman (Paul Ryan) to work there to sabotage the place.

Despite the insane overacting (watch Dick Miller’s meltdown), this is still however lightweight fare with sitcom-level screenwriting. Take the scene with weirdo biker Kong (their only customer?), who helps Danielle replace a pipe under the sink. The noises and words they make causes Norman to think they’re having some carnal bliss, and excitedly runs in when they ask him to help. This is right out of Three’s Company (and may have been on in the background while Ms. Rothman was at the electric typewriter).

Dick Miller flips out!

It is more enjoyable if viewed as a product of its time. Because it is the 1970s, these girls miraculously know kung fu, the opening credits crawl à la Star Wars, scenes transition with star-shaped lap dissolves, the score is countrified “wah-wah pedal” porn music (so I’m told- ahem), the floors are those cheap panelling in the Home Depot ads, there is even a cheesy “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as the girls learn to roller skate, and of course a three-minute discotheque scene that has nothing to do with anything!

Still, there are some interesting sexual politics at work. Refreshingly, the girls are always in control of whatever situation arises in a man’s world. Danielle seduces Norman and Kong to help the girls against old man Axe. The girls get a bank loan by teasing the manager- eventually embarrassing him for the male pig he is. Conversely, these politics work the other way. Scrawny brat Norman complains to the women in charge that if they don’t hire him, he will sue for discrimination! (Of course the joke is, the girls are more macho than he ever will be!)

Starhops can be considered among other 1970s blue-collar “workplace” ensemble comedies, with tell-all titles like Car Wash or Lunch Wagon. As the drive-in restaurant was waning due to new trends of health food and frozen yogurt joints, so too was the drive-in theater that would’ve played this movie. In just a few short years, as drive-ins were losing money and being plowed over in favour of strip malls, movies like this simply wouldn’t be made any more. And as lightweight as this picture is, that’s kind of sad. Also “of its time” is that upbeat opening theme song, that once heard, will stick with you for days.

Some interesting people did work on its production: music by Don Hulette (They Saved Hitler’s Brain), cinematography by Eric Saarinen (The Hills Have EyesFTAFillmore) and edited by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s ListSearching for Bobby Fischer). This innocuous fluff was distributed by First American Films, and released to VHS via Majestic Video. As of this writing, it still has yet to see a DVD release: knowing me though, I’d still buy the darn thing tomorrow if a boutique company like Vinegar Syndrome released it.