Hulu is mostly known for TV content, but the range of films offered on the channel is quite wide-ranging (though often united in being films that the sane aren’t terribly interested in). The service is currently offering some odd 1970s and 1980s exploitation choices, from Acts of Vengeance (more infamous under its original title Rape Squad, though said title refers not to a squad of rapist but a squad of women who attack rapists), the film which not only is “referenced” in Tarantino’s Deathproof, but also beats Friday the 13th Part 3 to the hockey mask punch by a good seven years, to less gritty T-n-A comedies like Cheerleader Ninjas.
Gas Pump Girls falls into the later category, and would, at first glance, appear to not need any review. The basic “scantily clad girls work at X menial job” plot is incredibly formulaic, and hasn’t changed since it was first introduced. Someone, either an attractive young woman, or perhaps even a young guy who knows attractive women, needs to save a business. Maybe they inherited it; maybe their sick uncle needs someone to mind the store, maybe they bought it improbably cheaply, maybe they just work there and decide to drum up business for their kindly old boss. Whatever the reason is, the lead hits on a formula to make money: women, with little clothing, who pump your gas, or serve you food, or wash your car, or anything that’s not actually sex work. The business is a hit (and why shouldn’t it be, when in the real world Hooters is a success, as improbable, tacky, lame, and pathetic as that is), but of course there’s a catch-the hero(ine)’s top competitor is not about to take this lying down, and engages in every dirty trick in the book to shut the upstarts down. Thus, a battle between the young, risk-taking, unorthodox and unprofessional newcomers and the crusty old bastard is on, and will go back and forth until some obstacle which threatens to complete destroy the new business leads to a climax in the third act.
This plot, with or without the scantily clad women, was one of the most reliably trotted out formulas in low-budget comedies from the 1970s on; it’s a basic “slobs vs. snobs” set-up, and it’s easy to make a passable comedy with it. Put in some reasonably likable slobs, a few absurd moments, and a modicum of successful jokes and you have the makings of a cable staple. This is a genre that aims low. The T+A version, which subtracts even moderately well-known actors (though washed up character actors and third string comics often show up for bit parts in the older ones) and a budget and substitutes what one wag called “the cheapest special effect”, i.e., nudity, aims even lower, especially as the genre moved out of drive-ins and low rent theaters and into the video market.
Gas Pump Girls is slightly more ambitious than later flicks of its ilk, is still a low-budget film that little care was lavished on. There is basically one location, a gas station, and the few scenes not occurring there are so ludicrously spare they become comical. After the graduation opening, we get a “dance” that is, essentially, the leads walking into a building and dancing near a window in an empty room with some lights flashing around. We never see the inside, only the exterior, with a motorcycle “gang” (there are only 3 members) called The Vultures hassling the lead girls and their dates until forced to leave. The young actors are nobodies who mostly remained, nobodies, although ex-Bowery Boy Huntz Hall, Car 54, Where Are You? star Joe E. Ross and veteran tough-guy character actor Mike Mazurki (Dr. Renault’s Secret) show up in small parts.
Lead Kristen Baker (mostly known for being one of the victims in Friday the 13th, Part 2) is part of a group of graduating high school seniors that are good friends (most notable of the five girls are Sandy Johnson, who played Michael’s sister in Halloween-and if you thought her acting was terrible there, be glad there wasn’t more of it-and Rikki Marin, Cheech Marin’s wife at the time). Baker’s uncle, played by Huntz Hall, owns a gas station that he puts no energy into. When he has a heart attack and can’t work, he stands to lose the station-but Baker, who’s anxious about her friends moving on (which leads to a bizarre musical interlude with Baker singing alone at the gas station), manages to convince her girlfriends to don skimpy outfits and pump gas. She also gets their ludicrously preppy boyfriends to help out fixing the cars. The Vultures (including Steve Bond of The Prey and Ken Lerner) are co-opted to run the station’s tow truck. All is well until Mr. Friendly, who owns the neighboring station, cuts off the girls’ oil supply. Can the girls get suspiciously OPEC-like Pyramid to end the embargo?
The plot is standard. What makes the film moderately interesting is how it tries, off and on, to cash-in both on the disco and 50s nostalgia crazes. The Vultures are more-or-less T-Birds stand-ins, though fewer-in number and at least theoretically rougher around the edges. There’s a big dance number with their leader and one of the girls, which melds Travolta’s roles in Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Appalling disco plays throughout the film (including a snippet of, of all things, Carl Douglas’s second attempt to follow-up Kung-Fu Fighting, Shanghai’d), and the girls are certainly in roller disco gear at some points, minus the skates. The one musical number seems like the film was meant to go the Grease route, until budget and time schedules intervened. The comedy is never actually funny, mostly revolving around terrible innuendos, but the film manages to earn some good will with cheery, likable characters. The “bitchy” girl’s speech about how girls need to use what they have to get what they want is about as un-feminist as it gets, though the sex-positive attitude of the naïve good-girl lead is the one the film endorses. The girls get naked at the regular intervals the script requires, with an attitude of playful “innocence” throughout the film that fits better with the faux musical nostalgia trappings than the sex jokes and nudity. Expecting this film to offer, even unintentionally, any comment on gender relations is about as realistic as expecting those wings at Hooters to be as good as the “only go there for the wings” guys say they are. Gas Pump Girls is an interesting cultural artifact, and is a solid T-n-A comedy, but that’s damning it with very faint praise.
The god-awful dance sequence:
The whole film: