Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976)

Directed by Richard Lerner
Starring Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, Patrice Rohmer, Helen Lang, David Hasselhoff
Rated R

The title of this highly absurd, highly amusing slice of drive-in mid-seventies fun suggests the film might be a sequel to The Cheerleaders, the 1973 smash hit that this film’s director, Richard Lerner, co-wrote and co-produced. The mysterious “Ace Baandige” (or “Baandage”) -- listed as a co-writer of both films’ scripts -- suggests another connection as well.

Even so, there is no explicit link between Revenge of the Cheerleaders and the earlier film in terms of plot or characters, although Revenge does reprise the same setting and scenario. As was the case in The Cheerleaders, we are again presented with a California high school full of oversexed teens in which the cheerleaders enjoy the greatest power -- exceeding that of even the teachers and staff -- at an otherworldly place that really only ever existed on the silver screen and/or in adolescent boys’ dreams.

While Revenge doesn’t really challenge the original film’s sexploitation classic status, it is nevertheless a mostly entertaining romp that delivers in most of the same areas as did the earlier film, with a bunch of babes, burlesque, and buffoonery.

It also most certainly delivers a Boner, too. Literally. (Read on.)

The story opens in rockin’ fashion, with the half-dozen cheerleaders riding to school in a convertible with the top down, changing into their uniforms as they go. Upon their arrival, a caption informs us they attend “Aloha High School, Aloha California,” the scene, it seems, of a non-stop party. The girls instinctively lead an impromptu pep rally, to the delight of all.

Once inside, a conflict is established when a couple of non-cheerleaders, including the goody-goody Joanne Hartlander, watch our heroines goofing off in the halls while noting “things are about to be flushed clean.”

As they pass by, Joanne hands Heather, played by the doe-eyed Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, a copy of the school paper, calling her a “slut” as she does.

The epithet seems inspired by the fact that Heather is obviously pregnant. Indeed, Smith was herself expecting during the filming of Revenge, and the story goes the pregnant cheerleader character was written into the script to accommodate her condition. The girls then see the paper’s ominous headline:

Apparently the “moral crisis” is so severe the school board has decided to merge Aloha with their hated rival, Lincoln Vocational. If that seems like a strange solution to the problem, there’s a reason for that. Eventually we discover the plan to close A.H.S. is part of a larger plot by land developers to build a shopping plaza on its grounds. The developers have secured the help of the corrupt Walter Harlander -- father of Joanne and member of the school board -- to help make their evil plan come about.

We’ll worry about all that later. For now, let’s follow the girls to the bathroom for a little primping.

One of the cheerleaders, the vivacious Sesame (Patrice Rohmer), disappears into a stall just before Nurse Beam (Eddra Gale) arrives. Amid Nurse Beam’s lecturing the girls, we hear squealing from the stall, from which eventually Sesame and her lover boy emerge. And who might that lover boy be?

“Boner!” cries a disappointed Nurse Beam. “Get out of here! This is the girls’ room!”

That’s right. It’s a young David Hasselhoff -- well before his star rose on “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch,” and the German pop charts -- appearing here as the unforgettable Boner, an early role which he later tended to leave off the career résumé.

The sass with which the cheerleaders respond to Nurse Beam’s censure shows they are clearly uncontrollable. The principal, Dr. Ivory -- played by Carl Ballantine (of “McHale’s Navy” fame) -- seems mostly unconcerned about the “moral crisis,” too, giving little heed to an upcoming visit by an investigating committee sent by the state’s Board of Education. He’d rather work on cooking a turkey in his office from a recorded recipe, aided by both Heather and Nurse Beam, a scene that ends -- like a lot of scenes in Revenge -- in a slapsticky mess.

Onto to the soda shop, where one of the squad, Leslie (Helen Lang, July 1976 Penthouse Pet) hooks up with soda jerk Jordan (David Robinson). While he services a customer, she services him.

Soon a couple of rough-looking girls from Lincoln Vocational arrive, telling the girls from A.H.S. to stick it “up your middle-class ass.” Apparently this rivalry between the schools is formed along class lines, thus adding additional tension to the prospects of an upcoming merger.

“You ladies may be the queens of Aloha today,” says one of the Lincoln girls. “But tomorrow you’ll be the slaves of Lincoln.” Erm... slaves of Lincoln? Never mind. We get it... the merger wouldn’t be desirable for the cheerleaders, given how damaging it would be to their royalty-like status at Aloha High.

The Lincoln girls leave, and finally the Aloha squad and their boyfriends can relax. The scene rapidly transforms into a funky good dance time. Boner, in particular, shines with some creative moves here:

An odd scene follows. Actually, all of the scenes are pretty odd in this one, but this one might be the strangest. A couple of Aloha cheerleaders visit a class at Lincoln, holding them up and robbing the students -- and teacher -- of their drugs and booze. They carry said booty back to Aloha, dump most of it in the spaghetti sauce being prepared for the day’s lunch, then sit in the bleachers and get high while watching the boys’ basketball practice.

The investigative team from the Board of Education then arrives, and soon all devolves into an extended sequence of cross-cutting between two chaotic scenes -- one in the cafeteria, where everyone (including the Board of Education folks) gets blotto on the spaghetti and a food fight erupts...

...and the other in the shower, where the cheerleaders and basketball team enjoy a super-sudsy orgy.

We end up seeing a lot more of the former -- and less of the latter -- than we’d necessarily like. That said, Hasselhoff’s most ardent fans will see fit to freeze-frame certain moments here which likely embarrass the celebrity even more than did his dancing.

This imbalance is made up for somewhat, however, when Sesame awakes the next morning (in a tent on the school property?), feeling especially refreshed:

Alas, news of the inspectors having been drugged makes the papers, making the Aloha-Lincoln merger now seem all but a done deal. Dr. Ivory is sent off, replaced by a new principal, Hall Walker (Norman Thomas Marshall). As a first order of business, Walker meets with the cheerleaders, the obvious first cause of all of Aloha’s anarchy.

Walker “fires” the cheerleaders, soon announcing that there will be tryouts to replace them. Distraught, the cheerleaders vow to fight back, and at last we see some sort of significance for the film’s title.

The new principal appears to be somewhat successful in cleaning up Aloha, which is kind of getting in the way of the plans of Hartlander and the developers to close down the school. Hartlander therefore employs his daughter Joanne (now a cheerleader) and Nurse Beam in a scheme to thwart principal Walker’s efforts to avert the “moral crisis.”

Cut to a field trip, some strange class taught by Nurse Beam that includes all of the now “fired” cheerleaders. This scene, incidentally, takes place at the Cabazon Dinosaurs in Cabazon, California, later also memorialized on celluloid in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

The girls wander off, with Sesame and Leslie finding a boyscout whom they soon help earn his Outdoor Threesome badge. On their way back, the girls are “pulled over” by a cop, who engages in some frisky frisking.

The pair jiggles their way out of that fix, then the squad rushes back to the school where the big basketball game between Aloha and Lincoln has already reached halftime. Aloha is getting crushed, and the Lincoln cheerleaders’ cries of “M-E-R-G-E-R” make it seem as though the outcome of the game may bear some relationship to the impending merger.

With a less than a half-hour to go, there’s a lot of plot left to sort out. Will the cheerleaders reclaim their spots on the team? Will Aloha come back and win the big game? Will the school survive?

Will Boner ever get up?

(Ooh... that still kind of recalls another embarrassing film Hasselhoff would later make.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly... will there be more dancing?

Actually, the answer to that last one is kinda obvious.

During the final wild sequence, Revenge actually transforms into a kind of comedic thriller in which the cheerleaders become action heroines amid the many plot twists, all as absurd and confusing as what came before. Will leave all that for you to experience, aside from noting that Heather does have her baby -- as evidenced in a nice, post-credits wave from Rainbeaux Smith as she holds her newly-born, real-life son, Justin.

As already noted, Revenge of the Cheerleaders doesn’t quite match the especially-inspired standard of the original Cheerleaders, though it does provide a large dose of wacked-out entertainment, further fueled by its bevy of babes, delirious dances, and abundant absurdities.

Revenge is available from Anchor Bay on DVD in a three-disc set along with The Cheerleaders and another genre entry, The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974).

- Triple S

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