Color, 1975, 83 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Noel Nosseck
Starring Richard Hatch, Susanne Benton, Doug Chapin, Ann Noland
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) , BCI/Eclipse (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
In its drive-in heyday, Crown International was notorious for coming up with wildly misleading artwork to promote its films with odd, unsettling fare like Trip with the Teacher and Pick-Up all given posters featuring paintings of sexy, semi-clad women promising a carefree good time. However, few titles can surpass the bizarre marketing of Best Friends, which was given a small roll out promising a tribe of avenging Native Americans, hippie chicks in peril, and the tagline, "She became the ravaged victim of a century of revenge!" What you actually get is a fascinating, low key, but oddly haunting character study about four young people heading out for fateful road trip, a solid calling card for first-time director Noel Nosseck before he went on to helm many made-for-TV movies and the odd big-screen feature like Las Vegas Lady and Dreamer.
A pre-Battlestar Galactica Richard Hatch stars as Jesse, who's recently completed a tour of duty in Vietnam with his best friend, Pat (future When a Stranger Calls producer Chapin). Jesse's become engaged to the straitlaced Kathy (A Boy and His Dog's Benton) and decides to have one last hurrah by heading out in an RV to California with Pat and his casual girlfriend, Jo Ella (Satan's School for Girls' Noland). Unfortunately Jesse doesn't quite seem to grasp how much the war has rattled the psyche of Pat, who's becoming deeply possessive and aggressive against Kathy over the thought of his losing his buddy. As the trip wears on, Pat's tactics threaten to cross an unforgivable line and the bond of friendship could be severed permanently.
For much of its running time, this is a relaxed, intriguing snapshot of four very different characters thrown together during the postwar American hangover. Shot for pocket change, the film makes effective use of its Arizona shooting locations and features a quartet of strong performances at its core. (Why the always intriguing Benton didn't have a stronger career is a true mystery.) Though there is some casual nudity in a handful of scenes, it's presented in a such a casual, non-sensationalized fashion that the decision to market it as a sexy exploitation film likely led to more than a few nonplussed patrons. In typical '70s fashion, the film has to take a grim turn in the final stretch with a fatalistic, nocturnal finale, one of those bummer notes that had become virtually expected by this point. At least it doesn't go for full-on Easy Rider-style nihilism though, opting for a more ambiguous, melancholy tone that seems to fit the subject matter quite well on reflection after the end credits finish rolling.
Evidently never released on VHS for some reason, Best Friends (not to be confused with the Burt Reynolds / Goldie Hawn comedy from seven years later) first turned up on U.S. home video on DVD in 2008 from BCI Eclipse and then again two years later from Mill Creek, both times packaged with a batch of other Crown titles. As with its fellow films from the studio made around that time, the elements have been kept in impeccable shape and boast that bright, saturated look familiar from the era. That means the obligatory Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome in 2020 (which comes with a limited embossed slipcover reflecting that bizarre but striking original poster art) is another visual winner from the Crown library, sporting a new 2K scan from the 35mm original camera negative. There's really nothing to fault here from an a/v standpoint at all; it looks very true to the source with excellent detail, natural film grain, great color, and a clean, clear DTS-HD MA English mono track with optional English SDH subtitles. Four new video interviews are included -- "Making Friends" (13m24s) with Nosseck, "Movies and Travel" (32m47s) with cinematographer Stephen M. Katz, "Educate Yourself" (15m10s) with editor Robert Gordon, and "A Lifetime of Music" (10m57s) with composer Rick Cunhaall -- of which touch on their early career stages at that point, the allure of making a feature requiring only "four actors and an RV," and tangential topics like biker films, Switchblade Sisters, country and western music, and Jennifer Warnes. The theatrical trailer is not included but can be found on 42nd Street Forever: Volume 4.
Reviewed on August 7, 2020