Texas Lightning (1981)

Gary Graver was many things — a film director, editor, screenwriter, cinematographer and as Robert McCallum, the director and cinematographer of 135 adult movies. He’s in the Adult Video News Hall of Fame for his work, which includes Amanda By Night, Coed Fever, Suzie Superstar and Unthinkable, which won the AVN Award as Best All-Sex Video of 1985.

But what he’s best remembered for today is his work as Orson Welles’ final cinematographer, spending most of his life working on the master’s long unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind, the story of which was told in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.

In 1970, Graver made an unannounced pitch to work with Welles, who told Graver that only one other person had ever pitched him in that way — the legendary Gregg Toland who he worked with on Citizen Kane. To quote Variety, “From that day forward, Orson Welles was the central figure in Gary Graver’s life: more important than his wife, his children, his bank account, and his health. For the rest of Orson’s life (and his own) Graver belonged to the great director.”

In fact, Welles even edited several of Graver’s adult work — so that Graver could get back to the business of working on his films — including a scene in the movie 3 A.M. which shows all of his genius, albeit in filthy lesbian romp.

Graver’s career is all over the place. Sure, he worked on movies that the arthouse could swoon over like John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence and Welles’ F for Fake, but he also has grindhouse pleasing fare on his resume like The Toolbox Murders, Trick or Treats, MortuaryThey’re Playing with Fire and Satan’s Sadists.

Originally, this movie was going to be a serious drama entitled The Boys, but the producers demanded that Graver re-edit it into a comedy. Those producers were Film Ventures International, the people who brought you Beyond the DoorGrizzlyDay of the AnimalsThe DarkThe VisitorThe IncubusPiecesGreat White and so many more amazing films. They also released Antropophagus as The Grim Reaper and Bava’s Shock as Behind the Door II. Seriously, the list of films that they released is absolutely incredible and I haven’t even got to stuff like Stunt Rock and The Force Beyond.

By 1984, the company was almost bankrupt due to Universal suing them over the similarity of Great White to Jaws and the poor box office performance of Mutant. Montoro responded by taking a million dollars from the company’s bank account and vanishing, never to be seen or heard from again.

I told you all that to tell you this, the story of Texas Lightning, one of the most confusing movies I’ve ever seen.

Karl Stover (Cameron Mitchell!) is a macho truck driver who feels like his son Buddy is too soft, so he takes him on the road. The fact that his son is played by his real life child Cameron Jr. only adds to the gravitas of this movie. Also — you’ve never lived until you’ve seen cowboy Cameron in a shiny gold shirt.

Buddy soon falls in love with the first girl he meets, a barmaid named Fay, played by Maureen McCormick from The Brady Bunch. This isn’t her first redneck go-round, as she played one of the Hammer sisters in Moonshine County Express opposite John Saxon as a kung fu fight stock car driver.

Keep in mind when you’re watching this movie that none of the painted characters on the poster are actually in this film. This is probably the best movie I’ve seen where Cameron Mitchell punches the hell out of a truck stop bathroom while trying to explain the facts of life to his son.

Seriously — if you watch this hoping for some trucking and womanizing, you’re left with a pretty downbeat drama, despite Graver’s re-editing efforts. I assume this probably ran second or third in drive-ins, so nobody complained.

Mitchell Jr. ends up going back to his hotel with the barmaid, who cons him out of money for her sister’s operation before they start making out. This gives his father’s friends the license to smash down the door and assault her, which leads to the son to want revenge. Somehow, this movie has a happy ending montage and was still intended as a comedy. How can it be funny when we have Mitchell holding and hugging and crying over his son while a bunch of cowboy hat-wearing, sweat stains having gang team up on Marcia Brady? Your guess is as good as mine.

This was produced by Jim Sotos, who directed Sweet Sixteen and Forced Entry, which is also known as The Last Victim. It’s an R-rated remake of Shaun Costello’s adult film of the same name, substituting Tanya Roberts and Nancy Allen for Laura Cannon, Ruby Runhouse and Nina Fawcett. The latter two were two transient hippies who let their loft be used for filming as long as they could be in the film. They ended up so high on mescaline that their scene took five hours to shoot. Of all Harry Reems movies, it’s the only one that he claims to regret making.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

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