Written by Greydon Clark & Alvin L. Fast
Directed by Greydon Clark
Starring John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jack Kruschen, John Carradine
Released June, 1977
RT 92 min.
Home Video VCI Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 4 (out of 10)
Unless you’re extremely fond of a particular movie, there’s sometimes no reason to upgrade from a perfectly adequate DVD to a supposedly superior quality Blu-ray. For example, VCI Entertainment has just released Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) and it’s about as bare bones as they come. The package offers no commentary and no special features. There is, however, the option to watch the original print or the restored version of the movie.
From what I can tell, the restored version removes some lines and spots, but retains a picture that’s still not entirely crisp. Do you really need to see Satan’s Cheerleaders crisp and clean, anyway? A little dirt and grit goes a long way toward eliciting appreciation for a movie that belongs on a drive-in screen where the less attention you pay it, the better you’ll feel about it.
There can be no accusation of false advertising in its tagline: “Funnier than The Omen… scarier than Silent Movie.” Both statements are true. Reverse them, though, and nothing could be further from the truth. Satan’s Cheerleaders is neither funny (intentionally, anyway) nor scary. It could use some of the cleverness from its marketing campaign. It’s not even bad enough to make it something special; it’s just mediocre.
Until recently, I had never seen Satan’s Cheerleaders. Its reputation led me to expect something really salacious. However, while the cheerleaders from Benedict High School do bounce around a lot, the young women aren’t Playboy-caliber models and there’s no gratuitous nudity. They are more talk than action when it comes to promiscuity. The guys join them in a little back and forth innuendo…
Playing football on the beach with the boys from the football team, one of the young men says, “First we touch, then we tackle, right girls?” Later, on the high school football field, one of the girls says, “I’m wild about your backfield in motion.” Granted, someone else may find the dialogue humorous, but I groaned instead of laughed. I’ll stop short of saying that, in this day and age, it’s offensive. But I will remind you the movie is a product of its times.
Potentially more offensive than the male treatment of women in Satan’s Cheerleaders is the female treatment of women. These girls do enough among themselves to demean their role in society without any men having to do it for them. They don’t seem to have heard of feminism. I’m not saying it necessarily matters. I’m just mentioning it in an environment 40 years later when you have to be sensitive toward such things.
The story itself isn’t bad. While it could make an interesting, if not entirely original, horror movie, that either wasn’t the intention of writer/director Greydon Clark or he didn’t have the talent to execute it properly. In the script by Clark and producer Alvin L. Fast, the Benedict janitor attempts to teach the cheerleaders, football team and their respective coaches a lesson for ridiculing him.
He’s dispatched fairly early, though, when he delivers the girls to his coven for sacrifice only to learn that the leader, The Sheriff (John Ireland), finds him expendable. Patti (Kerry Sherman) lies on an altar and writhes in ecstasy as the wind blows and the camera utilizes color negative trickery to symbolize Satan’s presence. After that, she gains powers that she uses, oddly, for the side of good instead of evil.
She frightens the High Priestess (Yvonne De Carlo), who is also The Sheriff’s wife, and commands the dogs to kill her and her friends. This upsets her husband, who says, “That woman will pay for this. My god, they mustn’t soil the maidens.” This begins a repetitive back-and-forth between the two characters that contributes to the feeling that, even at 92 minutes, the movie is much too long.
De Carlo has fun with her role, but Ireland is apparently pissed off about his. Fans of John Carradine should probably see Satan’s Cheerleaders for his extended cameo. He plays The Bum, whom the girls encounter when their car spins off the road and won’t start again. The look on his face when one of them lifts her leg is almost worth the price of admission. He appears again later when the girls escape and each one runs her separate way.
For a movie like this, they make one of the most sensible decisions I think I’ve ever seen in a horror movie: look for a phone so they can call their parents. This earns the movie some good will, but it’s entirely squandered by the ending, which reminds me of Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). You may relate to what the football coach says while watching his team during the big game, “I’ll be damned.” Patti responds, “Probably.”