The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

The credits for The Swinging Cheerleaders list Betty Conklin and Jane Witherspoon as the screenwriters, although in the commentary, director Jack Hill admits that he and the producer cobbled the screenplay together themselves. It's a bit easier to imagine that than to envision "Betty" and "Jane" huddled over a typewriter, writing sexploitation scenes that seem especially creepy thirty years later. Perhaps the worst is the gang-bang deflowering of "Rainbeaux" Smith's character, who is later pressed by her girlfriends for the juicy details. The character contradictions within Kate, a student journalist who infiltrates the campus cheerleading squad to write an expose on women's exploitation but then encourages a friend to wear transparent clothing for the sake of getting laid, are mind-boggling, to say the least.

I get ahead of myself, and the story, which is sheer simplicity: Kate (Jo Johnston) secures a place for herself on the cheerleading squad and begins work on a term paper she calls "The Swinging Cheerleaders," but soon she uncovers the football coach's scheme to make himself rich by controlling the point spread totals on his unbeatable team. Having fallen in love with the star quarterback and now friends with most of the cheerleaders, Kate finds herself abandoning her paper and putting her radical ideals on hold to help put a stop to the plans.

It is a credit to "Betty" and "Jane" that the subplots dovetail nicely into the film's climax; hardly a scene or character is wasted, despite what seems like a leisurely pace. There's a whole lotta storytelling going on in these ninety minutes, and the seams only show once or twice. Fortunately, the cinematography is lush and the acting is more than competent, especially in the principal roles. Most amusing (and typical of the '70s) is Ian Sander as Ron, the campus radical. He puts me in mind of Donald's Sutherland's turn in Animal House, although Ron's actions later in the film will not endear him to viewers.

The mention of Animal House, which came four years later, is not coincidental. With the exception Cheerleaders' inclusion of a bit more nudity and violence only slightly less cartoonish, the two films are very much in the same vein. The Swinging Cheerleaders deals with themes quite a bit more serious and is not nearly as well funded as its more famous kin. This is not to say that Jack Hill's cheerleader picture is nearly as funny or enduring as Animal House, but the similarities are there.

Films from the '70s lend themselves well to DVD; by that time the film stock had advanced to the point that even budget pictures shot in twelve days (yes, twelve days!) would last long enough to see a pristine transfer to digital media. (Many thanks to Alfred Taylor for some amazing photography.) The Swinging Cheerleaders is a prime example, with vibrant colors and ony the occasional scratches or washout. The sound is unremarkable but clear. Anchor Bay always does nice work, even on budget discs like this one.

Some TV spots and a quick text bio of Hill are included on the disc, but the gem here is a feature-length commentary by film historian Johnny Legend and Jack Hill himself. Legend sometimes oversteps his bounds but he does spur Hill into some fairly detailed comments about the film and its actors -- not to mention some candid revelations. At one point he calls The Swinging Cheerleaders a "tissue of cliches," but Hill obviously has great fondness for the film and the people who made it with him. As a sexploitation flick it's rather tame, but for exploitation movie fans, the chance to hear Hill hold court on the subject of filmmaking in the '70s is alone worth the cost of the disc.

Chris Holland, 12/01/2002