The Horror Movie Magazine You Can
Really Sink Your Teeth Into
Issue #7

The Sheriff's Going To Kill Us, or Something: A Review of Satan's Cheerleaders Buy now from Movies Unlimited! 

David Christenson

Satan’s Cheerleaders, DVD released 2002 by VCI Entertainment; originally released in 1977, 92 minutes, color, mono sound. Suggested retail price: $9.99.

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Satan's Cheerleaders DVD CoverSatan’s Cheerleaders—great title, huh? And check out the cast: John Ireland, who improved many 1950s westerns with his angry intensity; Yvonne DeCarlo, exotic actress of the ’50s turned Munster; John Carradine—they couldn’t make a low-budget horror movie after 1965 without John Carradine. Add support by Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie and a competent comic actor in his own right, and Jack Kruschen, one of those comfortingly familiar middle-aged character players, and you’ve got a winner, right?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of wasted potential in Satan’s Cheerleaders. Given the sure-fire premise—a squad of nubile teens pursued by an evil redneck cult—there may not be enough payoff in either erotica or horror, unless you’re one of the most devoted viewers of cheesy drive-in fare. Nor is co-writer and director Greydon Clark incompetent enough to make it really funny. The movie apparently does have its fans, however, particularly those who have fond memories of encountering it on late-night television back in the days when late-night television wasn’t overrun with old episodes of sitcoms.

The cheerleaders of Benedict High are as young, fit and intellectually deficient as you might expect. There are only four of them, Patti, Sharon, Debbie and Chris, and they wear their names emblazoned in large letters on their undersized T-shirts, evidently as a guide for the actors. Let’s just say these young women were not going to win any MacArthur grants; they’re not even very good at cheers, which they execute by jumping up and down in an uncoordinated fashion. Oh, and there’s a cheerleading coach, the astoundingly simple Ms. Johnson, who makes the squad look like a Mensa meeting.

Sample dialogue:

“What’s the matter with Patti?”

“Nothing. She’s thinking.”

“Why would anyone want to do that?”

Aside from that sort of obvious stuff, there’s a lot of talk about sex, but not much of the real deal. It appears as though there’s barely enough nudity to earn this movie an “R” rating (and the violence is pretty tame, too). There’s an obligatory bikini-beach sequence, launching a truncated subplot about a rivalry with Baker High School. There’s the obligatory locker room scene with flashes of T and A, jarringly cross-cut with shots of Jack Kruschen’s bulk as he ogles through a peephole.

(Incidentally, characters in this movie use the terms “prevert” and “precious bodily fluids” at various times, not because there’s any other hint of the refined humor of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, but it’s evidence of the general cultural influence of that infinitely superior film.)

Anyway, it turns out that Kruschen, as janitor Billy Brooks, is both a lecher and a Satanist, a deadly combination. His weapon is black magic; his battle cry, “You think you’re so smart!” Pursuing the cheerleaders, who are headed for the Big Game in an old sedan, Billy uses his influence with the dark forces to run the girls’ car off the road. The cheerleaders gather around the car, unsure of the means to open the hood.

Patti: “There’s a motor in there. I’m sure of it.”

Debbie: “Yup, there’s gotta be a motor in there.”

Sharon: “No doubt about it. I know there’s a motor in there.”

Chris: “If you say so—I guess there’s a motor in there.”

Billy offers them a ride that turns into a nasty detour, and thus do the cheerleaders begin their descent into heck. Not only must they battle the lusty janitor, but also much of the population of Nether, California and its sheriff, B. L. Bubb. The plan is to keep the girls captive until it’s time to sacrifice one of them, the “unsoiled maiden.” (Sharon: “What’s an unsoiled maiden?”)

They can’t phone for a ride, they’re told, because the sheriff’s phone is out of order. Uh-huh. You’d think with a bunch this gullible, a nefarious plot would be a breeze to accomplish, but the girls keep on escaping and running around in the woods, looking for help in all the wrong places.

For example, Debbie encounters a local farmer, and deftly summarizes their peril. “We’re from Benedict. We’re on our way to the game. The car crashed. Please help me. Billy died. The sheriff’s going to kill us, or something.” The farmer attacks her with a potato fork.

A couple of times they encounter Carradine, who lends the proceedings a touch of class, although his dialogue as a homeless wacko is obviously improvised: “I’m crazy. At least they think so. They’re the crazy ones. All around. Everywhere. Don’t you see?”

Ireland plays the evil sheriff with more integrity than the movie really warrants—it’s as though he’s played this tough character so often he can’t turn it off—while DeCarlo, as his wife, mostly hangs around and glowers. Chaplin, as a hooded monk of the evil order, brings some belated comic relief. The most effective among the evil crowd are two Dobermans (the official dog breed of 1970s drive-in movies) who growl, run like mad and jump through a window with convincing menace.

The cheerleaders are finally captured in a sequence where the actress portraying Sharon can be seen trying not to laugh. A few desperate plot twists are saved for the very end, however, like a good dessert that can improve your overall impression of an otherwise weak meal.

The special effects consist of some post-production red tints and a big wind machine, and the music, by something called “Sonoma,” is appropriately stuck in the ’70s, complete with disco beat and wah-wah guitar.

In the end, what we have here is a movie with all the ingredients for success, except a script. And a budget. Well, okay, there’s not much movie here. Appropriately, VCI’s presentation of this DVD version is pretty basic, at a bargain price, with only a couple of trailers as “extras,” and a menu that allows you to revisit your favorite scene, if any. Thank goodness they spared us the “behind the scenes” documentary this time, and as for outtakes and bloopers, as far as I can tell they’re all in the finished product. For connoisseurs of lame cinema it’s a winner all the way.

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David Christenson is a journalist, photographer, dealer in used and rare books, ex-beekeeper and movie buff who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2002 by the author. All rights reserved.