Bummer (1973)

A Far Out Trip Through a Hard Rock Tunnel!

Poster image from 1973's Bummer

The creatively-named band The Group has somehow earned themselves a devoted local following with their mostly-generic brand of rock music, including a devoted retinue of female groupies. All of the other members of the band enjoy the emotional and sexual perks that come with having groupies, but bass player Butts (yes, Butts) simply can’t get any action. This may have something to do with his sweaty and slovenly appearance, his complete lack of charm and social skills, or the fact that nobody wants to fool around with a guy named Butts. Behind his greasy and misogynistic exterior, though, lurks an even greasier psychopath who gets off on taking what he wants.

This dull and slow-moving drama could be considered a thriller if there were thrills to be found, but they’re virtually non-existent. Poor pacing, bad acting, thin characters, and an abundance of padding is just too much for even the inherent sleaze factor to overcome.

It’s the early 1970s in Los Angeles, California. The Summer of Love is almost as equidistant in the past as the Summer of Sam is in the future. Psych-rock was on its way out, and disco was on its way in. Bridging the gap between these disparate eras lies, of course, The Group.

We have already met Butts, so we must take a moment to acquaint ourselves with his bandmates: There is Duke on guitar and lead vocals, Mike on keyboard, and Gary on drums, but they are bland enough to be almost interchangeable. If the movie focused more on the music scene, they would be defined by their instruments of choice, but most of the “action” takes place away from center stage. They are managed by the tough but affable Morley, and she’s probably more interesting than any of the yahoos that she represents. The groupie girls that the guys set their sights on fare only slightly better, in that they actually have a defining characteristic, even if it is a cliched one. Barbara is the rich bitch, Dolly is naïve, and Janyce is, well, the black one. And that’s about as deep as most characterization gets in this movie.

Connie Strickland as seen in 1973's Bummer

The final third of the movie may evolve into an (admittedly mediocre) killer-on-the-loose thriller, but it really takes the long way to get there. It’s the scenic route without much in the way of scenery, the occasional moment of sleaze offering temporary respite from the tedium like Barba-Sol signs promising our destination is just over the horizon, while any real plot lingers eternally in the distance like some sizzling mirage. These sleazy signposts include pointless scenes of the groupie gals auditioning for a strip club and later posing for risqué photographs in order to make ends meet—there’s even a conversation about whether or not they should just start turning tricks! Most offensive, though, is the scene in which Butts forces two of the girls to bathe together while he leers on. This virtual assault does little to kill their libido, however, as they move onto other members of the band once Butts has gotten his sordid kicks.

Shower scene from 1973's Bummer

Even these softcore pit stops can do little to alleviate the boredom we feel while chugging along this celluloid highway at a snail’s pace. Maybe if The Group’s music was better and there was  more of it, it would keep us from realizing how lame of an outing this truly is. Unfortunately, we’re not snapping our fingers or tapping our toes, we’re only rolling our eyes, and that’s a difficult thing to do to the beat.

The cast and crew were certainly no strangers to the exploitation film, and each of them proved that they were better than this mess. Screenwriter Alvin L. Fast, for instance, also worked on Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE (1977), which may not have been on par with Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), but then again, what is? Similarly, director Allan Castleman gave us the superior JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975), with which BUMMER comes double-featured on the Something Weird DVD release. Castleman is also listed as a producer, along with schlock king David F. Friedman of BLOOD FEAST (1963), TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964), and COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965) fame—all three of which benefitted from the hand of Herschell Gordon Lewis (whose bloody sensibilities are sorely missed here).

The sleazy Butts from 1973's Bummer

Good ol’ boy character actor Dennis Burkley played the despicable Butts in his first film role. From here, he went on to appearances in NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON (1974), LASERBLAST (1978), MASK (1985), STEWARDESS SCHOOL (1986), and supplying multiple voices for the Southern-fried animated series KING OF THE HILL (1997-2010)—and well over a hundred other credits. His less-psychotic (and less interesting) band mates include Kipp Whitman, David Buchanan, and David Ankrum. The groupie girls were played by Connie Strickland, Diane Lee Hart, and the audacious Carol Speed. Band manager Morley was played by the one and only Leslie McRay, who had starred in her own show biz drama (of a sort) just a few years earlier, GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS (1968).

The ad campaign likely raised some eyebrows back in the time that it was released, but it would have the internet in an absolute uproar today. The salacious tagline of “You Don’t Have To Assault A Groupie…You Just Have To Ask!!” was reportedly changed from the even more troublesome “You Don’t Have To RAPE A Groupie…” somewhere along the way. The poster image, from an unknown artist, is the best part of the movie, done up in that classic painted fashion that people are so nostalgic for. The keen observer may notice that one of the scenes that the artist depicts is the climactic scene in the film!

Spoilers aren’t anything new, I guess. 


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