AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review originally ran in Drive-In Asylum #21. You should buy it!
The film that dares to explain what most parents can’t…
SEE life begin!
SEE the actual birth of a baby!
There are some movies that I can’t wait to watch. And then there are others that I keep from watching, waiting for the right moment so that they achieve maximum viewing velocity and impact.
For years I’ve thrilled to the trailer for Teenage Mother, with its barking voice basically shouting to no one in particular, “It happens 250,000 times a year. Where is your daughter tonight? This is the story of a girl who wasn’t careful.”
I can word for word perform this trailer for you – go ahead, ask me next time you see me in person – so I was concerned. How could the movie live up to a ballyhoo build that promises a girl who turns brother against brother, a wanton lass so scandalous that roadshow presentations of her story would come complete with split audiences for the boys and the girls, as well as a nurse to explain “the real facts of life” with a “brief lecture about how we use our bodies.” The voiceover shrilly lays it all on the line, “every parent should bring our child. It explains things you can’t” in color and Cinemascope.
Also known as The Hygiene Story, a lesser title if there ever was one, this was produced by Jerry Gross. Obviously, he learned and applied the square up reel instructional angle that the legendary Kroger Babb employed when he roadshow four-walled Mom and Dad across America for decades. While Gross only directed two other movies – Female Animal and Girl On a Chain Gang – he also produced everything from All the Kind Strangers to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and The Black Godfather.
More than that, Gross was the genius who bought a movie called Caribbean Adventure, retitled it I Eat Your Skin and like some mad genius, had the vision to pair it with a movie that is literally LSD on filmstock, I Drink Your Blood.
Gross brought both of the Mondo Cane films to American theaters, complete with actors hired to play natives that would dance through the aisles. He also had a hand in getting Fulci’s Zombie, Fritz the Cat, Blood Beach, Johnny Got His Gun and The Boogeyman on screens. And he possessed the carny intelligence it took to rename Day of the Woman to the much more titillating – and money-making – nom de plume I Spit On Your Grave.
Nobody could title a movie like Jerry. He once said, “I guarantee that all these are selling titles. The public just cannot resist a film if the title drags them in. Stars don’t matter. Titles do!”
Jerry pulls a fast one here, as our heroine Arlene (Arlene Farber, the at-the-time wife of Gross, who appears in the film as a seedy truck driver) never even gets knocked up. She’s just lying to her boyfriend to get attention. So yeah – the movie Teenage Mother doesn’t even have a teenage mother in it, but is really about Ms. Peterson, a teacher who has angered all the parents with her sex education class.
Beyond all that, Teenage Mother provides an odd place for several stars to get their first on-screen credit. Earl Hindman, Wilson from Home Improvement, is here, as are Lynne Lipton (the voice of Cheetara on Thundercats), Alex Mann (who appeared in movies by Joe Sarno, Barry Mahon, Doris Wishman and Michael Findlay) and most surprising, Fred Willard. In his brief moment on screen, he breaks up an attack on Ms. Peterson, an act that the future star of Fernwood 2 Night said caused boos in some of the rougher showings of this opus.
But back to the story. Our heroine being mock pregnant has the town in an uproar and the hygiene class is the culprit.
“Teaching that stuff in school is like talking about the Devil right in church,” screams the matronly librarian – who should really speak in a hush, if you think about it – at one point. But for all the bluster of the trailer about how “this is a film about a girl who went all the way” and how this “may very well be the most important film that you will ever see,” the sleaze mostly resides in that five-minute get butts in the seats masterpiece.
I say mostly because Teenage Mother ends with the actual birth of a child – forceps and all – with the same voice as the aforementioned trailer, which I like to believe is Gross. It’s the most clinical and mechanical description of the miracle of birth you’ve ever seen, using words like Universal Joint, interior birth canal and minimal compression of the fetal head.
You have to love a movie whose climax is predicated on stock footage being shown, much less stock footage that Gross slipped some doctor fifty bucks for.
Never let anyone tell you that this world is bereft of magic. At one point, Jerry Gross walked the Earth and instead of using his genius for the kind of things that normal humans celebrate like inventing consumer products or running for political office, he blessed us all with mind-melting reels of cinema. He taught us so many things, foremost among them the knowledge that Satan is an acidhead and that Teenage Mother means nine months of trouble.