Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

Greydon Clark is a name that I used to see on the backs of movie boxes in the 1980s, and in the credits of movies on late night TV. Unlike other names I recognized, like David Cronenberg or George A. Romero, I didn’t know anything about Greydon Clark – and watching a movie like Angels’ Brigade (1979) on TV certainly didn’t convince me that Clark was a great filmmaker. But somehow, over time, his name became a kind of second-string stamp of approval. It convinced me, on many occasions, that the odd looking film in my hand was worth renting – or buying. 

Greydon Clark made about 20 movies between 1971 and 1998 – and I have several in my collection: Black Shampoo (1976), Hi-Riders (1978), Angels’ BrigadeWithout Warning (1980), Joysticks (1983) and now Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977).

I wasn’t too sure if I had seen Satan’s Cheerleaders before, and watching it last week I’m still not 100% sure. I recognized the opening sequence (perhaps the first ten minutes or so), but the rest of the movie seemed completely new to me. I suspect that I started watching it on TV at some point and, for whatever strange reason, I stopped. I can’t imagine that I would have given up because I didn’t like it. For starters, it’s fairly bad right off the bat – but I mean “bad” in the kind of way that my friends I would seek out; a campy comedy about cheerleaders having fun at the beach – what could be better than that?

Secondly, I’ve always been a stickler for finishing movies. I had a theatre professor at university who advised us that we should never walk out of a play because “you can always learn something from it.” His advice made sense to me, and I realized that I had already been practicing what he was preaching in the way that I watched films. I wouldn’t have articulated it in the same way, but I don’t think I ever stopped watching a movie on purpose. If you had asked me why, I probably would have said “because you never know if it might get better.”

If I had to guess, I would say that I probably saw the beginning of Satan’s Cheerleaders really late at night and I just couldn’t stay up to finish it. Maybe I had a class first thing in the morning. Maybe I didn’t think I could fully appreciate it when I was already dead tired. Maybe I figured I would track it down and watch it properly at some point in the future. Whatever the case, I stopped watching the film and never got back to it.

Satan’s Cheerleaders has one of those titles that you never forget – and it’s certainly been on my must watch list for a long, long time. I think that the main reason I didn’t get to it before now is that I somehow convinced myself that I had already seen it. I may have been mixing it up with memories of Satan’s School for Girls (1973), a pretty entertaining made for TV movie with two of my favourite Charlie’s Angels (Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd) – but that’s another story.

Satan’s Cheerleaders is a weird cross between a cheerleader movie (a kind of sexploitation comedy, I suppose) and a Satanic horror film. It’s a fairly gentle, and almost tasteful (if you can use a word like tasteful to describe a movie about cheerleaders and Satan), example of those genres. It’s sexy in a silly way, and does have a few brief glimpses of nudity, but for the most part it’s about cheerleaders (and their teacher) in bathing suits, underwear, and skimpy outfits. As far as the Satanic “horror” goes, it’s pretty campy and low key. As I said to someone on Twitter: there may have been better cheerleader movies, there may have been better Satanic horror films – but there has rarely been a film that combined BOTH of those things.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single other cheerleader exploitation comedy/Satanic horror film. I may be forgetting something, but I’m going to suggest that Satan’s Cheerleaders is a fairly one of a kind film. This doesn’t exactly make it a cinematic triumph, but it certainly makes it interesting.

When I wrote about Greydon Clark’s Angels’ Brigade I noted the fact that he’d assembled a really amazing cast of old TV/film stars. He did the same thing for Satan’s Cheerleaders. John Ireland (Red River (1948)Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)) plays a small town Sheriff who may be more sympathetic to Satan than cheerleaders in distress. His wife is played by Canadian actress Yvonne De Carlo, who is perhaps best remembered for playing Lily Munster on The Munsters (1964-66). Genre royalty John Carradine plays a bum who tries to warn the cheerleaders. Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s son) plays a monk (of Satan). And Jack Kruschen, a character actor who I’m sure we’ve all seen appearing on numerous TV shows (some of my favourites include Barney Miller (1973-82), WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), The A-Team (1983-87), Remington Steele (1982-87) – the list goes on and on). He was also in movies like The Apartment (1960) and The War of the Worlds (1953). He has a face that is instantly recognizable to anyone who watched TV in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. I could not have told you his name, but I knew him as soon as he appeared onscreen in Satan’s Cheerleaders. – as Billy the school Janitor, who procures victims for the local Satanic cult to sacrifice. My mind was completely blown, however, when I looked him up on the IMDb and discovered that Jack Kruschen was born in Winnipeg, my home town.

Jack Kruschen and his family apparently moved to New York when he was still a young child, and then to Los Angeles where he was discovered performing in an operetta at Hollywood High School.

Canadians are bad at celebrating our own success stories, and Winnipeggers can be even worse. Sure we hear about Monty Hall, Deanna Durbin, and David Steinberg. But over the years, I have learned about many born in Winnipeg people who went on to great success in Hollywood and elsewhere – who never get mentioned as former Winnipeggers. Gisele MacKenzie, Marjorie White, Ted Rusoff, Joanna Gleason… Jack Kruschen is just the latest (and possibly greatest) example, and knowing who he is will forever change the way I react when I watch one of the over 220 TV shows and movies in which he appeared. 

Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is classic Greydon Clark – which means it’s 100% Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema. People with low or no tolerance for “bad” movies will probably want to give it a wide berth. People who are looking for seriously scary Satanic horror will not find what they are looking for here. But those who appreciate the finer things in life, like Ed Wood, Al Adamson, and that low rent sex comedy you saw back in junior high school but can’t remember the name of, will find Satan’s Cheerleaders to be a welcome ray of sunshine on a rainy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.  

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Joysticks (1983)

I remember hanging around arcades when I was in junior high school. Whenever we had shops, we had to take a bus to another, larger school where we could learn about drafting, electronics, cooking, etc. This larger school was right next door to a shopping mall. So, inevitably, before and after class we would walk over to the mall to get something to eat, or wander around the stores. There was also an arcade inside this mall. But because we were under 16, we had to apply for a special membership card – which involved having our parents sign a piece of paper saying that they were okay with us blowing all of our money on pinball and video games (or something to that effect).

My parents signed the paper, although I don’t think they were thrilled about it, but truth be told I didn’t play many of the games. I was a cheapskate at heart, and I didn’t like to waste good quarters getting killed by aliens or asteroids in thirty seconds flat. Did I mention that I wasn’t very good at video games? This was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t spend a lot of quarters playing them (so it was a bit of a vicious circle, I suppose). I was better at pinball, actually. I liked the feeling of hitting an actual ball around, and I used to play pinball whenever we went down to Fargo for the weekend and stayed in a hotel. I also had my own pinball machine at home (a toy version from my childhood, but the mechanics were the same as on the big machines). So a quarter would last a lot longer if I put it in a pinball machine than if I spent it on Pacman or Space Invaders. I still played those games once in a while, or course, but not in the obsessive quarter-eating way that some people did. Mostly, I just watched my friends play in that shopping mall arcade. it was a place to hang out and talk about horror films, heavy metal, and all the other important subjects not covered in school.

We also talked about movies like Porky’s (1981) and Private Lessons (1981), which had been huge hits and what you might call “water cooler movies” at our school. I suppose water fountain movies might be a more appropriate term for them, as our school had lots of water fountains but no water coolers. These movies were referred to as “Teen Sex Comedies” by critics like Roger Ebert, and they were generally panned by those critics. But we all wanted to see them because they reportedly featured “naked ladies”, another subject that was of great interest to us but sadly absent from the school curriculum. We were too young to get into the theatres to see movies like that, and we had actually made plans to try to sneak in and see Porky’s one day, but for some reason we aborted that mission. 

In a bizarre twist of fate, my friends wound up seeing Porky’s without me when it was released on VHS and Beta. As I’ve mentioned before, renting movies was a social activity in those days. I never did it by myself. So I didn’t get to see Porky’s until much later. I actually saw Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) before I saw Porky’s – but that’s another story. 

Teen sex comedies were like slasher films in the early ’80s. There seemed to be new ones appearing in the theatres every week. And the video store shelves were lousy with them. We couldn’t get into the theatres to see them, but my friends and I had no trouble renting movies like Spring Break (1983), My Tutor (1983), and Joysticks (1983). 

Joysticks was obviously made by a cinematic genius. Not only was it a teen sex comedy (one of the most lucrative film genres of the day), but it was also about video games and set in an arcade! What could be more appealing to teenagers of the early 1980s? 

I don’t think we thought Joysticks was as good as some of the other movies in the genre. But it did have video games, naked ladies and fart jokes, so we enjoyed it. But unlike Spring Break, which we watched three times before having to return it the next day, we only watched Joysticks once. Come to think of it, I also watched Spring Break a couple of times on late night TV over the years, but I never saw Joysticks again…

…until last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. What made me do it? Nostalgia, of course. And I’ve been curious about this movie for some reason. Was it as bad as I remember it? I figured it would be horribly dated, in terms of the video game imagery. I also imagined that it would never deliver the goods as well as movies like Porky’s – but very few movies, if any, can live up to Bob Clark’s teen sex comedy masterpiece.

Oddly enough, Joysticks was made by Greydon Clark, an actual name in genre film circles – not as revered as Bob Clark, perhaps, but a person of some note, nevertheless. I recently featured one of his other movies at the home drive in, Angels’ Brigade (1979). I also have a surprising number of his films in my personal library: Black Shampoo, Hi-Riders, Without Warning, and Satan’s Cheerleaders. It seemed to me that Joysticks just might be a necessary addition to the collection. 

I am happy to report that Joysticks was everything I could have hoped for – and more! It was so over-the-top 1980s that it was a perfect time capsule. The nostalgia was on overdrive but, surprisingly, it did not feel as dated (in a bad way) as I thought it would. The video games actually looked pretty good to me, and they made me want to dig out my old Atari and start chomping on some dots. The movie also did a pretty good job of delivering on the promises that all teen sex comedies make; there were naked ladies, there were tasteless jokes, there were hapless losers, nerds and misfits who have to save the arcade from an unscrupulous businessman. This movie could be the Citizen Kane of video game teen sex comedies!

Joysticks (1983) is 100% certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema – and I am so glad that I finally watched it again. Perhaps if I had seen it on late night TV in the 1990s, I would have dismissed it as dated nonsense. But it has reached a point in the aging process where it is ripe for rediscovery – at least by people who have fond (ish) memories of seeing it back in the days of arcades and misspent quarters. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Angels’ Brigade aka Angels’ Revenge (1979)

I once almost wrote a musical like Angels’ Brigade (1979).

I was in the midst of my most successful fringe tour in the summer of 1997, with a show called Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical. Everywhere we went we were doing boffo box office and I was starting to ask myself “How am I going to follow this?” I had a cast of regulars, mostly female, with whom I was hoping to work again. And I had a certain style, or “brand” as some people might say. I needed an idea that would not only appeal to me, but to the fans of my current and previous shows. After a couple of all night drives down the Trans Canada Highway, I started to think about movies like Angels’ Brigade and how they might just be the perfect fodder for my next musical atrocity. But perhaps I need to back up a little…

When I was at university, I majored in FIlm Studies. There was one class in filmmaking, and another in screenwriting, but most of our time was spent studying films, the way English majors study literature. This was not entirely satisfying to an aspiring writer and filmmaker like me. Fortunately, I also did a minor in Theatre, where most of our time was spent acting, directing, stage managing, building sets, etc. I also had the opportunity to write plays.

The Black Hole Theatre Company, my alma mater’s student run theatre company, accepted submissions of new plays by student writers for possible production. I was excited by the possibility of having a play produced, but I learned very quickly that if I wanted my play to be chosen it had to have a lot of good roles for women.

It didn’t take a genius to notice that there were twice as many women enrolled in theatre as men. And most classic plays, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, had way more parts for men than women. The Black Hole Theatre Company, my professor told me, made a point of trying to select plays that had good roles for women. I took this news to heart and wrote a play for three women and two men. It was produced as part of the The Black Hole Theatre Company’s Lunch B.H.A.G.G. series (free plays produced at lunch time).

When I started producing my own plays, at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, there were no requirements to cast women. But I felt that it was stupid to write a lot of parts for men, when there were clearly more women interested in being in plays. And from a practical point of view, I knew that I had access to lot of good female actors (friends and acquaintances from university). There were already enough plays filled with parts for men, and not enough good men to fill them. So, I wrote plays with more parts for women.

This culminated with my first musical, Bad Girls Jailhouse in 1994. My previous plays had all included one man – and I toyed with the idea of having a male guard, or warden – but in the end I wrote a play for seven women. Yes, seven women. Smarter people than me were producing one person shows, in which they stood on a bare stage and talked for an hour (like a stand up comedian). I was producing a musical with props and costumes. And seven actresses. Apparently I wasn’t concerned about making a profit.

Two years later, I took Bad Girls Jailhouse on the road. It was my first fringe tour, and it was a success. But nothing could have prepared me for the success of Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical in 1997, and then later in 2001. It sold out performances and broke box office records. It was a play that featured four women and one man.

Both Bad Girls Jailhouse and Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical. were satires of film genres. I had always imagined that I would be writing and directing films. But in the pre digital video, pre internet days of my early career, making films was expensive! Even if I had made a short three minute movie, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars and I would have never made that money back. For the same amount of money (or less), I could write a one hour (or ninety minute) play and produce it at the fringe festival. And wonder of wonders, the plays could actually make a profit!

But being a film fan, and a filmmaker at heart, I chose to write plays that were kind of like movies. My specialty became musical spoofs of film genres. Mel Brooks was one of my heroes. He taught me, among other things, that the best satire is a labor of love. He often included musical numbers in his films, which were always a highlight. I saw myself doing things that Mel might have, but with more unusual, or perhaps less respected film genres. So, after the success of Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical, I was looking for another offbeat film genre I could lovingly satirize. One that involved a large proportion of female characters…

And that’s what made me think of films like Angels’ Brigade and The Doll Squad (1973). I don’t know if there’s an official name for that subgenre of cinema, but someone I know once referred to them as “female commando movies.” Interestingly, some say that The Doll Squad was the inspiration for Charlie’s Angels (1976-81). Angels’ Brigade was clearly named to cash in on the success of that show, which was at the height of it’s popularity. I wouldn’t call Charlie’s Angels “female commandos”, so that may be a misnomer. I’ll have to come up with a better term for them…

In any case, I thought that a musical about a team of female agents/detectives/vigilantes sounded like a really fine idea back in 1997. Unfortunately, that never happened. But it did give me an excuse to revisit movies like this one…

Angels’ Brigade aka Angels’ Revenge aka Seven from Heaven (1979) is undoubtedly a bad movie. It scores a 2.0 on the IMDb, which is lower than a lot of movies that aren’t worth anyone’s time. But Angels’ Brigade is the kind of “bad” that can be a whole lot of fun to watch (if you have a taste for it). The assembling of the team, and the explanation of each member’s purpose, is almost as hilarious as the brilliant SCTV sketch Maudlin’s Eleven (1982). For example, they need someone to distract the guards at the front gate of an isolated drug processing compound, so they bring in a beautiful model played by Noela Velasco, whose only other credit is an episode of Chico and the Man (1974–1978).

But they are ALL beautiful women, including Susan Kiger, a former Playboy playmate. I don’t think they needed to go outside the group of six to find a woman who could distract a couple of guards. But much like Maudlin needed his team to add up to eleven (and so brought in The Harmonica Gang to wait by a pay phone), Angel – wait, there is no Angel – April, a schoolteacher played by Jacqulin Cole, needs her team to add up to seven – as in “seven from heaven”, so she’s got to have a professional beautiful woman to walk up to those guards and bat her eyelashes. Makes sense to me.

Schoolteacher April (Jacqulin Cole, real life wife of director Greydon Clark)  and Las Vegas entertainer Michelle (real life Playboy playmate Susan Kiger) recruiting stuntwoman Terry (Sylvia Anderson).

Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out, this is #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold. It’s the kind of movie magic that makes sifting through bargain bins of unwanted VHS tapes worth it. Or in my case, watching random movies on TV late at night.

The man responsible for Angels’ Brigade is Greydon Clark, the auteur of such #NotQuiteClassicCinema greats as Black Shampoo (1976), Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), Without Warning (1980), and Joysticks (1983) – all of which are in my personal library. Apparently he first conceived of Angels’ Brigade as a blaxploitation picture (not unlike Black Shampoo), but in the end he went with a multicultural team of women that included Sylvia Anderson, as the 6’1″ tall stuntwoman, and Lieu Chinh as the shorter martial arts expert. Here they are sandwiched in between the schoolteacher and the beautiful model:

The seven from heaven are rounded out by real life sisters Robin and Liza Greer. They are two of the women who tell their stories in the book You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again (1995), which appears to be an expose of prostitution and sex with celebrities in Hollywood.

Real life sisters Robin and Liza Greer in Angels’ Brigade.

One of the most remarkable things about Angels’ Brigade is its star-studded supporting cast. When I first stumbled upon this movie on late TV, one of the reasons that I couldn’t stop watching it was that every few minutes another recognizable TV actor would make an appearance. The movie seemed to be, to my relatively untrained eyes, extraordinarily bad – but all of these famous actors were in it! How could that be?

Top of the list for me was Jack Palance, who I used to see on Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (1982-86) and in movies. Perhaps even more shocking to me was the presence of Jim Backus and Alan Hale Jr. – both from Gilligan’s Island (1964-67) which I had watched religiously in reruns. Other recognizable faces included: Peter Lawford, Neville Brand,, Pat Buttram, and Arthur Godfrey. I didn’t recognize Darby Hinton at the time, but I would get to know him later thanks to the mighty Malibu Express (1985). 

As a kid, I knew nothing about the common exploitation filmmaking technique of hiring recognizable “names”, or actors with name recognition, paying them for one day of work and then putting their names and/or faces on your poster, in your trailer, etc. Often they would be actors who used to be successful, but had fallen on hard times. I’m not saying that this was the case for any of the people in Angels’ Brigade, but according to the cinematographer, Peter Lawford would show up drunk with a woman on each arm, and perform his scenes sitting in a chair because he had trouble standing.

I could go on about Angels’ Brigade all day, but I’ve probably already written more words than could be reasonable justified. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Nostalgia is undoubtedly a factor, but it also a camp classic – a minor masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – and I could happily watch it on any given #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.