Friday, March 13, 2009

Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)

Directed by Greydon Clark
Starring Hillary Horan, Kerry Sherman, John Ireland, Yvonne DeCarlo
Rated R


Greydon Clark had already given the world the masterful blaxploitation classic Black Shampoo (1975) and the somewhat less-masterful but still sorta-awesome blax/'Namsploitation knuckle-dragger The Bad Bunch (1976) when he concocted this delirious slice of drive-in madness. Talk about being on a roll. Satan's Cheerleaders was destined for infamy on it's name alone - there's already been a couple bands and an actual cheer squad (sorta) that's appropriated the moniker, and let's face it, it's just fun to say - but beyond it obvious shlock appeal, this is actually a tremendously fun film.

Satan's Cheerleaders is actually two movies for the price of one. It's like a vinyl LP: there's the cheerleader side, and the Satan side. Up first, the breezy teen sex comedy. We open with a frolic on the beach. We meet our four heroines: Patti, the vacuous blonde (Kerry Sherman), Debbie (Alisa Powell), the slutty one, Sharon (Sherry Marks) , the half-intelligent one, and Chris (adorable, pint-sized Hillary Horan), the feisty one.

They're practicing their cheers under the watchful eye of their coach, wide-eyed innocent Ms. Johnson (Jaqueline Cole), when the football team shows up to goose the girls and cause all manner of teenage hijinks. Then the coach (Joseph Carlo), an antiquated 50's throwback with Brylcreem in his hair, shows up to grouse and grimace. And then the rival football team (and their cheerleaders) show up to kick sand around. Ms. Johnson proposes a 'chicken fight', and our girls decisively win. But does the rivalry end there? Oh, no.

The next day the girls are goofing around on the field with star quarterback Stevie (Lane Caudell). He starts to take off his pants, and I'm pretty sure they're planning a gang-bang, but then the rival team shows up again to pelt the girls with water balloons. So far, none of this appears to be at all scripted. It's just a bunch of girls wailing on each other. Pretty awesome. The movie could've just continued on like this, and it would have been a winner. But then Billy the Janitor shows up, and things really get nuts.

Billy (Jack Kruschen) is a strutting, barrel-chested 60 year old with an extravagant mustache and a workshirt bedazzled with rhinestones. He looks like a cross between a gay Santa Claus and legendary ladies-man and cult movie director Ted V Mikels. Billy is the classic creepy, put-upon janitor who stutters and mutters under his breath about who he's gonna "Show these r-r-r-rotten kids someday." Oh, and will he ever.

But first, since we are still balls-deep in the teen sex comedy portion of this evening's entertainment, there's the obligatory locker room/shower scene. Seems there's a big game across town tonight, and no place to change there, so the girls'll have to do it now. A likely story, but who cares? The cheerleaders lather up and dance around suggestively in the shower for a good five minutes. Unfortunately, we must detract a couple points because Horan, who clearly has the best rack of the quartet, is the only one who doesn't get naked. That smarted a little. Oh, and Billy has a secret hole in the shower wall where he can peep on the girls. Good one, Bill.

A bunch of mindless stuff happens, but the important bit is when Billy snoops around in the girls locker room after they leave, grabbing dirty towels and chanting incantations while fingering a primitive pentagram necklace. Could Billy be...a Satanist? Yep.

The girls head out for the big game and barely get out of the school's parking lot before they're run off the road. They're completely stumped as to what to do next. Sharon stares at the hood of the car and says "There has to be a motor under here!" Indeed.

Luckily, Billy shows up in his pick-up truck and offers them a ride. The girls are naturally uneasy about it, but with limited options (not really, but whatever), they decide to take him up on it. As Patti climbs into the back of the truck, Billy violently grabs her ass and pushes her in. You can practically hear Kerry Sherman screaming "What the fuck?" at Kruschen after they got the take. Ms Johnson rides up front, and Billy gets grabby with her, too. Something is very rotten in Denmark. Ms Johnson demands he let them out of the truck, but he refuses, driving them to a remote bit of woods where they stumble on a hilariously cheesy sacrificial altar. Basically, it's a stone and a stick and a dimestore monster mask. Still, it holds some strange powers over them.

Everyone falls into a trance, and Patti strips naked. She climbs onto the altar and lies down. There's a psychedelic light show and some jarring monster sounds. And then Billy drops dead.

The girls snap out of it and take off. The run into John Carradine, who was already taking any job that came his way at this point. He's the local psychotic bum who tries to warn them off. They do not listen, and eventually run into Sheriff Bub(legendary character actor John Ireland). Sheriff Beezle Bub. Beezle-Bub, who owns two Doberman pinchers, named Lucifer and Diablo. And yet, no warning bells go off for our heroines. What are you gonna do? They're cheerleaders, man.

Bub has a weird wife named Emmy (Lily Munster herself, Yvonne DeCarlo), who assures the girls that all will soon be well and gives them some tea. Satanic tea! This distracts the girls enough for Bub to go out, revive Billy, kick his ass and kill him again, rape Ms. Johnson (!), and then gather all the local loonies to prepare for a black mass of some stripe.

The girls finally get it and bail, splitting up in different directions, all in the hopes of finding a phone, or at least some non devil-worshipping local to help them out. Patti stays back to stare down Emmy. Chris gets to a phone booth, but there's a long-haired cowboy in there. After banging on the door, he finally lets her in, but then snips the telephone cord. Only then does she notice that he's wearing the devil-necklace. Debbie finds a weird-mustachioed stuttering farmer digging a ditch, and when she asks him for help, he flashes his Satanic jewelry, as well. Sharon runs into a chicken-feeding monk and immediately falls to her knees, clutching his robe and begging for help. When he rebuffs her, she looks up to see his necklace.
"Jesus," she says.
"Not quite," he laughs.

The girls are rounded up by the half-assed demonic cabal and marched to the barn. They're left there with Lucifer and Diablo standing guard outside. By the way, I cannot express to you how awesome the camera angles are in this film. Cinematographer Dean Cundey has a jaw-dropping resume - he's shot everything from Black Shampoo to Jurassic Park, with scads of cult classics like Rollerboogie and The Thing in-between - but, quite arguably, this is his masterpiece. Every single chance he has in this film to shoot a cheerleader's panty-clad ass or bouncing boobs, he takes it. Dean Cundey, we salute you.

Where was I? Oh, the girls escape when Patti hypnotizes the dogs, and they take off in the woods. They skulk around in the dark for awhile, until they hear a noise in the distance. "I hope it's only like, two guys," feisty Chris says, "So we can overpower them." Unfortunately, it's the whole backwoods Satanic army. They corral the girls once more and march 'em to the sacrificial altar.

Meanwhile, back at the Beezle Bub ranch, High Priestess Emmy has had about enough of these fuckin' cheerleaders as she's going to take. Her gobbledy-gook chanting ("Aba Tura Satana!") suddenly becomes far more pointed.

"Answer my prayers, Satan," She yelps. "Kill...mutilate!" As she says this, the room glows red and dishes start to rattle. The whole room starts shaking, in the most low-budget, cost-effective, shoddy-Wednesday-night-TV-movie way possible, i.e. some dude shakes a houseplant, his arm just out of the camera's range, and the curtains, via transparent string, start to twist themselves up in a most (non) alarming way. Emmy's incantations reach their crescendo as her two bloodthirsty dogs burst through the windows (this is repeated half a dozen times in quick succession; it is, after all, a money shot) and advance on her. So that's pretty much the end of Emmy.

Back at the sacrificin' stump, the sheriff and his motley crew of mustache farmers and cretins are ready to get the evening's entertainment rolling. One by one, he tosses the girls on the slab, asking the big Satan head which one the virgin is. The cheerleaders find this highly amusing. "Is she the maiden, o master?" asks Bub, shoving Chris towards the rock.
"I'm no maiden, man," Chris laughs. I've been a cheerleader for three years!"

Well, big shocker: none of the girls are virgins. Also, Patti's pissed.
"You toad, you worm, you crawling miserable man!" She snarls at Bub, explaining that there really was a virgin in their midst - 26 year old Ms. Johnson - but since he went and raped her in the woods, well, the whole virgin sacrifice scheme is well-fucked. Bub, at this point, is quite confused. "Look," he says, pulling a tape recorder out of thin air, "This is where the sound was coming from!" (There was a lot of demonic wooshing going on). "It's just a trick!" I'm sure I missed something, but I don't really get why he was conning the entire town into a bogus Satanic cult. Unless, of course, it was all a ruse to fuck cheerleaders. That, I would totally understand. Anyway, unfortunately for Bub and his buffoons, Patti really is channeling the powers of darkness. And they are all about to feel her wrath.

In the typically fuck-everything epilogue, Patti, now proudly wearing the macramé faux-pentagram and permanently stuck with the crazy-girl gaze, stomps onto the playing field during a crucial moment in the game against Baker High. Stuporstar quarterback Stevie has twisted his ankle, and all appears lost. Patti simply stares at his leg, and he jumps up, good as new.
"I've got a feeling we're going to be winning a lot of games from now on," beams Ms. Johnson.
As if demonic possession is a positive trait in a cheerleader. The brilliance of this throwaway ending is that it flies directly in the face of 70's demon-fear. Exorcism be damned, baby. The devil wins.

Quite clearly a genre classic, Satan's Cheerleaders makes a lot out of very little. The budget could not have amounted to more than pocket change, the nudity is minimal, and the special effects are non-existent, and yet it scratches every sleaze-beast itch: boners are popped, and ribs are tickled. Look past the cheap thrills and you'll start to notice the cracks in the veneer, but even then, the wildly uneven dialogue, the wonky editing and the hilariously threadbare production design only enhance the experience. It's junk, for sure, but it's such glorious, eager-to-please junk that you cannot help to fall under it's idiotic spell.

Clark showed no signs of slowing down after this one hit the drive-ins and grindhouses, and he continued spitting out low-budget mayhem like Joysticks (1983) and Lambada, the Forbidden Dance (1990), for the next 20 years. Billy the janitor went on to play a judge in half a zillion sitcoms. Sorta surprisingly, none of the cheerleaders went on to the cult-actress careers you'd imagine Satan's Cheerleaders would provide. Sherman landed a role on a soap opera for a good portion of the 80's, Powell appeared in the infamous Toolbox Murders (1978) and a Gilligan's Island TV movie, but quit acting in 1978. Sherry Marks appeared in only one other film, Hometown USA (1979), and our girl Horan did bit roles on various sitcoms (Joanie Loves Chachi, Mork and Mindy, Facts of Life), but hasn't acted since 1982. We still feel sorta cheated about that shower scene, Hillary, and quietly await your comeback. Please make it full-frontal, if possible.

Mandatory viewing, quite obviously. And if you can hunt down any LPs from Sonoma, who provided the bitchin' disco tunes on the soundtrack, all the better. Satan AND really can't miss with this one.

Availability: Satan's Cheerleaders is available on DVD.

Link: Greydon Clark's official website
Link: Satan's Cheerleaders fansite

Clip: Satan's Cheerleaders trailer.

-Ken McIntyre

PS: If anyone has a copy of The Facts of Life, Season one (1980) episode 13, titled "Dope", starring Hillary Horan as "Tumpy" (!) could you send it to me?

Thank you in advance.


  1. I love the fact that there's almost always a formerly recognizable star in these things. This one, of course, has an abundance! Even Jack Kruschen had been a longtime character actor on radio and TV!

  2. Stream the Facts of Life pot-smoking episode here...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails