Summer School Teachers

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Summer School Teachers (1974) was the second film Barbara Peeters wrote and directed for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. As the title suggests, the film follows the love lives of a trio of mid-western women who have taken teaching jobs at a high school in southern California for the summer. This particular type of exploitation film was, in the seventies, a highly popular softcore confection that typically prioritized female nudity over characterization or plot.

But Peeters does something else with Summer School Teachers. Peeters sees her film more as an erotic comedy that, in a series of broad strokes, lampoons the erotic conventions of the contemporary exploitation film. There are only two sex scenes in Summer School Teachers: one is played for awkward yet endearing laughs and the other as an exaggerated exercise in pretentious arthouse erotica. Peeters casts her trio of teachers (Candice Rialson, Pat Anderson, and Rhonda Leigh Hopkins) as agents for social reform and justice while their male counterparts are totally hampered by either their libidos or their egos.

One of the best sequences in Summer School Teachers is the grocery store encounter between Pat Anderson and Michael Greer’s rock star. After the two share a shopping cart collision, Greer follows Anderson around the store pulling outlandish faces of arousal as she tests the firmness of fruit. Into this bawdy burlesque, Peeters inserts close-up shots of parts of the female anatomy that resemble whatever fruit Anderson is handling. This stylized sequence immediately announces Peeters’ views on the commodification of the female body in the media while also suggesting that the sex in Summer School Teachers is not going to be titillating in the least.

The other standout sequence in Summer School Teachers sees the Girl’s Football coach Candice Rialson taking the Boy’s Football coach Dick Miller out for a night on the town. Rialson’s interest in Miller is a ploy to keep him busy so her team, disguised as mustachioed maintenance men, can steal the “uncooked” financial records of the school’s physical education department. Peeters cuts from the teenagers’ heist back to Rialson deflecting all of Miller’s advances until she has drunk him under the table. In this comical scenario female sexuality and teamwork are celebrated in Looney Tunes fashion.

None of this makes Summer School Teachers a particularly good or well made film on a technical level, but it is far more interesting than most of the other films of this ilk that I have seen. Barbara Peeters, who worked predominantly in the grindhouse idiom, is one of the most fascinating auteurs who worked for Corman in the heyday of the exploitation theme. It might be difficult to see at first, but all of Peeters’ low budget genre excursions feature feminist ideologies and subversive gestures. Like Roberta Findlay, Barbara Peeters’ followed in the footsteps of Doris Wishman to carve out a place for women in the sleaziest corners of American cinema.