Aah, the cheerleader. A sexual icon of Americana since the 1950s, cheering was often the closest thing you could get to seeing a strip act in high school! Seeing the lovelies of your class parading around in mini-skirts and clingy tops, bouncing up and down, was too good of a feeling for exploitation to leave alone. Strangely, there were only a handful of cheerleader exploitation films, contrary to popular belief, and even fewer adult films spotlighting pom-pom girls. Anchor Bay has tossed three of the most notable cheerleader flicks into a nifty little boxed set (one they had previously issued in 1999). The wackiest of the trio, REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS, is available only in the set, but any fan of one film will enjoy them all! Here's my take on this team spirit trio, in chronological order:
THE CHEERLEADERS (1973)
Director: Paul Glickler
Get ready for some of the most politically incorrect fun of your life! Meet THE CHEERLEADERS, all played by a group of no-name actresses who are very hot to trot. Want a plot? Sorry, no dice. Want lots of nubile bodies having lots of wild sex? You got it! Roll call: Claudia, the sultry brunette team captain (Denise Dillaway, the sexiest of them all), Debbie, a redheaded gum-chewing tease, Patty, a blonde pot-smoking lesbian, Bonnie, the sassy black chick, Suzy, the comic relief, and Jeannie, the new virginal addition to the squad (Stephanie Fondue with a Jane Fonda KLUTE haircut!). And all look no older than 17, surprisingly! In-between trying to get Jeannie laid (from making her shower in the boys' locker room to conducting an orgy at her sleepover), the girls focus on having as much sex as humanly possible. Don't worry, they're all on the pill! When they accidentally wear out the entire football team the night before the big game, they make sure they "sock it to" the opposing team to even the odds. That's about it. Lots and lots of sex and goofy humor keeps THE CHEERLEADERS from dragging too much in the story department, with the girls being the sexual initiators (this being the time of Women's Lib). Claudia has sex with the head coach (beefy exploitation stud Patrick Wright, whose wife and frequent co-star Tallie Cochrane was the film's hairstylist!), there's sex in a car going through a car wash, a lesbian scene on an exercise bike, Debbie has sex so intense she swallows her gum (this scene is almost porno!), Jeannie's bespectacled father gets a piece, Jeannie squeezes into an outfit worn by her teddy bear, a girl faints at the sight of a dildo, and many, many more sexy surprises are in store for the viewer. It's no surprise the film was originally rated X, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more graphic 70s sex comedy that wasn't made by Harry Novak or Russ Meyer! None of the girls can act, but who cares? They know how to smile and look like they're having a blast in every one of their scenes, and that's what makes THE CHEERLEADERS such a goofy fun experience, in addition to being one of the most erotic drive-in films you'll ever see.
Reportedly taken from the original negative, THE CHEERLEADERS looks mighty fine for a film of its vintage and one that played drive-ins for years. Despite overwhelming grain in many sequences and a few speckles of dirt near the finish of the film, the colors are very bold and good-looking. Now, it's presented in the widescreen format (1.85:1), but the transfer is hard-matted, matting out several instances of full-frontal nudity that can be seen in the fullscreen version. Only those who are obsessed with pubic hair will really miss these brief shots, because otherwise the film is presented completely uncut in comparison to the popular R-rated cut. There's plenty more nudity that IS on display than ISN'T, so even though the fact that the hard matting isn't appropriate, the film is still surprising in its nudity by the pound. The mono audio isn't very strong, but is serviceable to the dialogue and cheesy music (including a superb theme song!).
Who would have thought THE CHEERLEADERS would be treated to a full-blown special edition? In addition to the alluring theatrical trailer and a radio spot (pairing the film with its follow-up REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS), there are four separate galleries, all provided by Paul Glickler. The first gallery is an extensive production stills section, the second spotlights posters and advertising (including video sleeves and one poster calling the film THE CORRUPTORS!), the third offers behind-the-scenes shots, with all the actresses looking very cute posing for the camera, and the fourth is appropriately entitled "Cheerleader Cheesecake," with lots more nudity-filled stills and behind-the-scenes photos of all your favorite girls! The star extra is the audio commentary by director Paul Glickler and writer Ace Baandige (he still has to use a pseudonym, as he was a union writer working on a non-union picture). They discuss the actresses (all using pseudonyms), the various familiar exploitation cast members, shooting on-location at a real high school, and various other exploitation names, including Jerry Gross and Russ Meyer. It is one of those rare commentaries that never slows down, they continue talking even when it isn't about the film itself (their Russ Meyer tangent is great!). Recommended listening!
THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (1975)
Director: Jack Hill
Jack Hill is one of the most underrated directors of the exploitation genre. Every single one of his films is entertaining, filled with sex, violence, and enough of his personal politics to make them each a product only he could produce. His take on the "cheerleader" subgenre is probably the best and most accomplished cheerleader film ever made, funny, sexy, and insightful, and with a cast to die for! Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, and the dearly departed Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith are the head cheerleaders at Mesa University. Camp is the spoiled little rich girl, Katon the streetwise black chick, and Smith the virginal sweetie-pie. New to the squad is undercover reporter Jo Johnston, trying to expose the sexist attitudes of cheerleading for her journalism paper. The quartet discover an even darker cover-up on the football team and fight to expose the injustice. Just like other cheerleader films, the plot is pretty flimsy, but it's a lovely clothesline for the three cult icon leading ladies to strut their stuff. Camp plays the haughty-taughty bitch routine to the hilt, though strangely doesn't disrobe. Katon is given little to do, but her sassy cheering routine is a hoot and her smile as radiant as ever. "Rainbeaux" starts to show her pregnancy with son Justin Sterling (whom she gave birth to during production of REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS), with breasts filling out and a bit of a tummy, and her comic abilities are on full display here. Transforming from a naive virgin to an insatiable horn dog, she's compelling in every one of her scenes. There's a very well-done sex scene with Johnston and Ron Hajek (both providing equal opportunity nudity), a suspenseful and alarming confrontation between Katon and the wife of the married professor she's sleeping with ("I ought to carve my name on that tit!"), an awesome rock 'em-sock 'em fight between Smith's beefy boyfriend and a man who besmirched her honor, 70s sexploitation queen Sandy Dempsey, one of my very favorites, as Margaret, an enthusiastic wanna-be cheerleader at the tryouts, Bob Minor as a corrupt cop, plenty of great 70s costumes (dig those black bell-bottoms on Camp!), and an exciting finale. But the film really hangs on the glowing personalities of the star actresses, all of whom prove why they each have their own individual followings in the cult community.
The widescreen transfer (1.66:1) is probably the best-looking of the collection, which is strange considering it's also the oldest. It's still non-Anamorphic, but the grain is very minimal and colors are bold and lovely. It still could have done with a new remastering, though, as it has a fuzzy look to it. The mono sound is just OK, it delivers music loud and clear but some dialogue isn't pumped enough.
The extras on the disc were great for 1999, but like the transfer, could have done with a revisiting. Other than two TV spots (one :30, one :60), there is an excellent audio commentary by Jack Hill moderated by Johnny Legend. They discuss the low-budget shoot of the film, the cheerleader genre in general, the multiple cast members and their relationships with Hill, and the release of the film. Hill discusses Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith several times in glowing terms, and it's a shame she wasn't able to contribute to the DVD release of this film. However, both Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon are both very active in Hollywood. Both were interviewed for E!'s "Dorothy Stratten True Hollywood Story" and still look gorgeous, so a new featurette a la VAMPYRES would have been nice.
REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS
Director: Richard Lerner
The director of photography of THE CHEERLEADERS, Richard Lerner, struck back 3 years later with REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS, his follow-up to that popular drive-in hit. It's certainly one of the wackiest drive-in flicks ever put on celluloid, packed with surprises and ludicrous plot twists aplenty! The plot, what little there is, surrounds an outrageous cheerleader squad at Aloha High, a high school on the verge of shutting down that threatens to merge with their bitter rivals Lincoln Vocational. A mere plot summary of REVENGE can't sell the film, it has to be experienced to understand how wild and zany it is! You've got racist jokes, Patrice Rohmer spending more time naked than in clothes, a pregnant Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith strutting her stuff and proudly displaying her newborn son Justin Sterling after the closing credits, zippy dialogue ("Can I borrow your powder? Can't have shiny tits!"), two cheerleaders who appear in only one scene each and then promptly disappear, David Hasselhoff in a pre-stardom turn as Boner, the star basketball player (celebrity skin Web sites have plenty of his nude shower pics!), an awesome theme song written by Smith's boyfriend John Sterling, Jerri Woods from Jack Hill's SWITCHBLADE SISTERS as the streetwise black cheerleader, a hold-up with a fire extinguisher, Susie Elene as Tishi the Asian cheerleader giving her boyfriend a rimjob on the job at the ice cream parlor, a handful of outta sight musical numbers, an unconscious basketball player coming to from the scent of girls' panties, a magician principal, sex with a Boy Scout, an exploding school, beefy Patrick Wright back from THE CHEERLEADERS, the little old lady from MITCHELL, an incredible chase all over California, and the only drug-induced cafeteria food fight to hit the movies! And I didn't even mention Nurse Beam, the overweight villainess of the piece! Exclusive to the CHEERLEADER box, it's the star disc of the box due to the sheer outrageous factor of this warped drive-in relic.
The presentation of REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS opens with a disclaimer: "This presentation of REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS is complete and uncut, and was created from two different film elements of varying quality. We hope any inconsistencies in the picture that you may observe will not detract from your enjoyment." Well, the fact that the film is so off-the-wall made sure nothing detracted from my enjoyment, but both prints used for the transfer are of mediocre quality. They are of course better than any previous video version, but the film seems bound to never look that hot. Colors are acceptably bold, but the grain is pretty much nonstop. The 1.85:1 framing seems, like THE CHEERLEADERS, to be inaccurately hard-matted, eliminating information from the top and bottom. It doesn't seem to do any damage, but some scenes are more "boxed-in" than they should look. The mono audio is once again acceptable.
Another surprisingly loaded special edition disc, the disc kicks off with two trailers, a TV spot, a handful of radio spots, and the really interesting inclusion, eight minutes of behind-the-scenes footage! It mainly consists of dance rehearsals for the musical numbers, and some 8mm home movie footage between takes. Fans of Cheryl Smith will be disappointed to learn she doesn't make any big appearance in the footage (she's seen dancing in the background next to Patrice Rohmer and is in a less advanced state of pregnancy), but this brief extra provides a look into the making of a movie that must have been a hell of a lot of fun to make! The waste of space on the disc is the audio commentary, by real-life ex-cheerleaders Heather Swanson and Lisa Webber. Since they had nothing to do with the movie, they spend a lot of time mentioning the various cast members' credits (or lack thereof) and actually are quite mocking to the film at times. I would have rather heard director Richard Lerner and editor Richard Brummer (who edited for Russ Meyer, too!) do a joint commentary, as they are both still around. But for what it's worth, the women at least are fans of the exploitation genre, discuss "Rainbeaux" Smith at length throughout, mention Mobius Home Video Forum (one of my favorite on-line hangouts), and have a good time with the movie, as they should.
As a package, THE CHEERLEADER
COLLECTION offers enough exploitation for your buck, tons of nudity and sex,
and even though at times the set could have used tweaks in quality and extras,
it will please fans of the films and should do a good job converting the curious.
Pick up your pom-poms, girls, we've got some cheering to do! (Casey
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