Monday, April 20, 2009

Cheerleaders Wild Weekend (1979)

AKA The Great American Girl Robbery
AKA Bus 17 is Missing
Directed by Jeff Werner
Starring Kristine DeBell, Marilyn Joi, Jason Williams, Elizabeth Halsey
Rated R

"Now that's what I call a fine, foxy frame of femininity!"

As you may have noticed, this obscure entry in the 70's cheersploitation cycle has gone by a host of different titles. I suppose that if you take this title at face value, it is pretty accurate. The cheerleaders do, in fact, have a wild weekend. Not only that, but it's a wild weekend that's pretty wall-to-wall with naked hijinks. Still, with a title like Cheerleaders Wild Weekend, you expect a teen sex comedy, not a kidnapping drama. I can only imagine the looks of utter confusion on the faces of party-hearty drive-in goers in the summer of '79 when the booby gags suddenly dry up and we're left with sobbing cheerleaders huddled together in the dark corner of isolated cabin in the woods.

That craziness comes later, though. The opening is prime cheer-flick raunch.
In a scene that approximates Russ Meyer's hyperkinetic panic-sex vibe better than any teen cinema flick I've ever seen, a school bus full of warring cheerleader squads on their way to a state competition try their best to run the hillbilly in the pick-up behind them off the road using their distracting feminine wiles. Thigh and panty is flashed in escalating one-upsmanship, but the delighted redneck somehow manages to right his rickety truck at the last second every time.

This high-speed game of pervy chicken comes to an abrupt end when one of the more buxom blonde cheerleaders takes the nuclear option, popping her top and mushing her ample teenage sweater-puppies up against the bus's back window. The 'billy can take no more, and so he crashes, headlong, into a roadside fruit stand. Apples and chicken feathers fly everywhere.

This lusty-busty froth does not last long, however. Minutes later, the bus is stopped by a police officer. When the driver gets off to find out what's wrong, he's conked on the head and dragged into the bushes, never to be seen from again. The drawling faux-cop, a criminal-in-disguise named Wayne (Flesh Gordon himself, Jason Williams, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and a thick-necked tough guy named George (Anthony Lewis) commandeer the vehicle, assuring the girls that all will, eventually, be well. They drive all night in silence, and finally stop at a seemingly abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere. The cheerleaders are threatened with dogs and guns and forced off the bus. They're corralled into the cabin and told to sit quietly on the floor. And then one of the thugs gives their busty nurse/chaperone Frankie (Courtney Sands) a gun. She flashes an evil grin and takes it.


Turns out, she's a member of the National American Army of Freedom, as are the other dudes. Apparently Mr. Werner was fascinated with the Patty Heart saga, and thought, what's better than kidnapping one pretty debutante? Well, how about a whole bus full of fuckin' cheerleaders, man?

Although most of them aren't given much to do, this hodge-podge of cheer-crews (there's a gum-snapping inner-city squad, uppity private school girls, and a third team of apple-cheeked suburban blondes) is rife with genre vets. Head cheerleader Debbie is essayed by the amazing Kristine DeBell, who should be instantly recognizable to genre fans from her roles in Meatballs in the X-rated Alice in Wonderland. Look close and you'll also spot Ann Wharton from Last Resort and Up in Smoke, Shell Kepler (RIP) from Homework, Elizabeth Halsey from loony erotic-musical Cinderella (1977), Leslie King from Gas Pump Girls, the amazing Marilyn Joi (The Student Teachers, Coffy, Blazing Stewardesses, Ilsa Harem Keeper of the Oil Shieks), Janet Blythe (Eaten Alive, Hills Have Eyes), Janie Squire (Piranha) etc. It may be the greatest gang-pile of T&A actresses ever.

A plot eventually begins to unravel. The three revolutionaries - plus Wayne's semi-retarded brother Billy (Robert Houston, not the prolific X-director) - want $2 million for the safe return of the girls. They issue their demands to a smooth-talking FM radio DJ, Joyful Jerome (Leon Isaac), and then spend the majority of the film fiddling with the cheerleaders. Bored and horny, George stages a beauty contest.

The winner gets to make a phone call. Although the girls are at first coy and embarrassed about the situation, it quickly escalates into a topless free-for-all. Shortly thereafter, Frankie plucks one of the girls from the line-up and soaps her up in the bathtub.

Meanwhile, Debbie finds herself caught in the grips of Stockholm Syndrome, playfully flirting with Wayne, who is also smitten with his perky young hostage. Still, he leaves the man-handling and girl-watching to his crew. It should be mentioned that after the girls' initial shock and horror, the threat of violence and/or rape vanishes almost immediately, and the film's tone is almost always light and airy. Sure, they've been kidnapped, threatened, forced to strip nude and nuzzled by lesbian nurses and halfwit creeps, but the cheerleaders usually appear to be having a fantastic time. This is pretty unique for a 70's exploitation film. Most girl-napping movies from the era wallowed in sadism and sexual abuse, but this is more of a lusty romp than a roughie.

Wayne has constructed an intricate, Die Hard-esque bait and switch scheme to get the ransom loot and outmaneuver the cops. While he instructs Joyful Jerome to ping pong from one scene to another with the paper bag full of dough, the girls creep around the cabin, slowly connecting the pieces to their Scooby Doo escape attempt. Will good-bad guy Wayne get away with the money, and with Deb? Will the cheerleaders thwart the kidnappers and win the day? Well, you'll have to watch to find out, but I will say this much: it does involve a rigorous bout of girl-on-girl wrestling.

Despite the film's abrupt turn into crime drama, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend is still a certified genre classic, a crowd-pleasing, kitchen-sink exploiter that knows exactly what the audience wants and gives it to 'em in fleshly fistfuls. If you're being especially intellectually generous, you could call this one 'politically charged', but aside from the gang's surface revolution-now trappings, it never really explores the notion of the kidnappers as political extremists. They appear to just be using the guise of revolution as an excuse to extort money from panicked parents. There are a few murky flashbacks along the way that suggest some sort of ex-jock revenge scheme as well, but again, not really what this movie is about. This movie, quite simply, is about 70's tits. And therefore, it is awesome.

PS: Kristine DeBell, please come back. Thank you.

Availability: Cheerleaders Wild Weekend is available on VHS.

- Ken McIntyre

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