Once someone gets the fever for making films, it’s hard to stop. Even those working on low budgets feel that temptation. Frederick Friedel was in post-production on his first feature Axe when he decided to make another film with the talent he had worked with on his debut. The result was Kidnapped Coed: like Axe, it’s a quirky blend of drive-in-friendly content and artsy indie-flick experimentation but it goes even further into unorthodox territory .
Kidnapped Coed starts in a hardboiled crime thriller mode: Eddie (Jack Canon) kidnaps Sandra (Leslie Rivers), the daughter of a rich man, with the intention of holding her for ransom. The two spend time in close quarters as they wait for the ransom to be fulfilled and find themselves on a strange odyssey where they are party to events both comic and horrific. Somewhere along the way, they begin to develop feelings for each other but unpredictable things happen before their journey comes to an end.
The result is an intriguing oddity from the drive-in era. Kidnapped Coed’s early scenes are as taut and brutal as the similar crime-noir scenes that open Axe but once it gets through its first act the storyline begins mutating into new and unusual shapes. It’s put together in a way that suggests someone who isn’t beholden to conventional storytelling rules: tonal shifts can be abrupt as well as shifts in characterization, particularly in the final twenty minutes of the film. That said, the unpredictability also means it’s never dull and reflects the ethos of the road movie (i.e., the point of the trip is the journey, not the destination).
Kidnapped Coed is also interesting in how it represents a step up in technique for Friedel. Working again with gifted cinematographer Austin McKinney, he creates a lovely visual backdrop for his unorthodox storyline that is full of gorgeous tracking shots and painterly wide-shot imagery. Friedel is also more skillful with his cast: Canon gets a more complex character to play this time around and handles the nuances well while Rivers brings a compelling, vulnerable presence to some difficult scenes.
In short, Kidnapped Coed is an interesting piece of work from a director who should’ve gotten more chances to develop his craft. Even when it’s uneven, Kidnapped Coed still has a brave, artful approach that keeps it interesting — and fans of offbeat ‘70s drive-in fare should seek it out.