The ABCs of Weird Cinema: Pinball Summer

In this semi-regular column, I’ll go through the alphabet and post a different movie that you should seek out. These aren’t reviews, merely a small sample of the weirdness you’ll find in the film itself.

Pinball Summer (1980)
Country: Canada
Director: George Mihalka
Writer: Richard Zelniker
Starring: Michael Zelniker, Carl Marotte and Karen Stephen


There’s a proud history of crafting sex comedies around fads. From the van culture to pinball enthusiasts, enterprising low-budget filmmakers have long been able to seize upon a flash-bulb interest in some borderline pop culture phenomenon and find a way to fit in copious amounts of breasts, hairy chests and hormone-induced hijinks. It’s disappointing that the current crop of filmmakers haven’t really sized upon this tradition. The closest we’ve gotten is Kyle Newman’s FANBOYS, a half-hearted attempt to recapture that ‘70s sex-pot comedy shtick using a group of protagonists largely sexless. It was a valid attempt but I wish other filmmakers had given a crack at the genre as well. Where is our sex comedy about Magic: The Gathering players or Bronies?

Regardless, PINBALL SUMMER (aka PICK-UP SUMMER) remains an entertaining, if strangely off-putting, sex comedy about those glorious few years in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s where pinball machines weren’t just tolerated, they were championed. For those of you scratching your head, wondering why anybody would ever get excited over a pinball machine  – you have to remember: this was before scientific minds put aside their quest to cure cancer or solve world hunger so they could perfect the technology found in video games. Before Guitar Hero, before Crazy Taxi, before House of the Dead – heck before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time – there were teenagers that would get a chubby just thinking about the latest pinball machine awaiting them at the local arcade.

PINBALL SUMMER is directed by George Mihalka, the Canadian director who a year later would bring the world the equally entertaining Canuck film MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Written by Richard Zelniker, PINBALL SUMMER is a morally grey romp in which a town full of assholes act like assholes for an entire summer. Following a pretty strict recipe for these kinds of films, the movie features two teenage kids played by adults who live out of their van and exist only to make the lives of those around them miserable. And they’re the film’s heroes! Michael Zelniker and Carl Marotte pick fights with local bikers, harass older women and generally ignore their girlfriends so they can spend their time engaged in very slightly homoerotic behavior.

Karen Stephen and Hélène Udy are the hapless girlfriends who put up with their boyfriends being complete and utter tools. Suffering with a smile, these summertime cuties encourage their boyfriend’s behavior and even find time to make their own mischief. Rounding out the main cast is Thomas Kovacs as a biker named Bert. A generally happy dude, Bert is also prone to being a complete and utter douche at every given opportunity. All the characters will clash when a pinball championship is announced that provides the movie with a very flimsy plot – but heck, what more do you need?

PINBALL SUMMER is not a film for those looking for great insight into human emotion, rich struggle or even an in-depth exploration into the world of pinball hobbyists. Instead, the film is a joyfully mean-spirited portrait of teenage douchebaggery. The movie bounces along like an actual pinball – careening off of parallel plotlines and its ensemble cast. The only truly sympathetic character in the film is the rich kid – a straight-laced dipwad who only wants to tell his girlfriend about his father’s expensive cars and horses but is constantly being tormented by the film’s protagonists. When you feel sorry for the rich kid in an ‘70s/’80s sex comedy, you know something is off.

PINBALL SUMMER excels at capturing that blissful teenage mindset where nothing was more important than your own amusement. Before a sense of responsibility or guilt set in, wasn’t it so much fun to speed through life
being a complete and utter dick as long as it meant you were having a great time? PINBALL SUMMER, with its bouncy ‘70s pop music and copious amounts of barely covered flesh, will take audiences back to the summers of their youth. The movie will have you grinning ear to ear all the way through the finale – a Charlie Kaufman-esque scene in which the film’s characters meet on a pinball battlefield – playing a game with graphics that are eerily reminiscent of the film’s preceding events. Imagine how much that would fuck you up as a person – to play a video game that summarizes the previous two months of your life? And that’s not even the creepiest pinball machine in this movie! Wait until you see the one that looks like a murderous ginger and has the ability to communicate via a cybernetic vocal chord with those unlucky enough to encounter it. You’ll be pissing straight through your cut-off jeans.

PINBALL SUMMER can be purchased on DVD at or, if you live near Houston, Texas, you can come see the film in 35mm at the Alamo Drafthouse – Mason Park this Wednesday, August 15. When it comes to sex comedies, PINBALL SUMMER won’t give you herpes and that’s more than you can say about most of the sleazy sexploitation comedies that emerged from the ‘70s.

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