Horror and exploitation director Jack Hill has without question been responsible for some great cult classics in his time. Starting with the proto-horror comedy Spider Baby and cashing in on the hot rod car racing movies of the late 60s with Pit Stop, Hill continued on to invent the “women in prison” film with 1972’s The Big Bird Cage. Three out of his next four films are outstanding representations of the genre and are known around the world…Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Switchblade Sisters. This review isn’t about any of those, however. Today we’re going to look at the oftentimes forgotten “middle child” in Hill’s filmography, 1974’s The Swinging Cheerleaders, recently released from Arrow Video.
The Movie Itself (3/5)
The story begins with Mesa College co-ed Kate wanting to write an expose article for the college newspaper about how being a cheerleader demeans women. Her plan is simple enough; join the cheerleading squad and write about her experiences from the inside. The only problem with her plan is that there doesn’t seem to be that much exploiting of the girls going on, but Kate’s efforts aren’t in vain. Not long after she joins the squad, she learns of a plan by the football coach and Alumni Association President to rig the undefeated Mesa College football season for huge profits.
The Swinging Cheerleaders is a flawed and disjointed film. It can’t decide if it wants to be a raunchy teen comedy, a drive-in exploitation movie, or a coming of age film. Part of this comes from viewing a film from 1974, which is very much a product of its time, in 2016. The plot itself is serviceable, and so long as one doesn’t go in expecting high art it’s mildly entertaining, but the film obviously wanted to be more than the sum of its parts.
It’s readily apparent that Jack Hill wanted the audience to see Kate as a strong willed, independent woman on par with the men in the film. However, aside from a few philosophical diatribes about exploited cheerleaders and a passionate speech about her ability to choose sex partners early in the film, she never manages to stop being the idea of an “Independent Woman” and actually become one. Case in point: After joining the cheerleaders for lunch, the seemingly uninterested and as of yet not introduced to Kate is shocked to find young football stud Buck’s hand between her legs making its way to her nether-regions. Instead of donkey punching him in the back of the skull like any woman today would at such an intrusion, the film wants us to see Kate as “sexually liberated” and lets it happen, setting up a creepy subplot that only begins because men can’t keep their hands to themselves and are rewarded for it.
Several other characters also make questionable choices, making it almost impossible to really like any of them, aside from these choices being presented as flaws and on the page that were designed to help the character grow. Or, in an absolute extreme case, such as Kate’s ex-boyfriend Ron, turn him into a complete monster (a turn which itself speaks volumes about director Hill’s feelings about the counterculture movement. Ron might as well have been credited in the film as “Dirty Hippie.”). Football jock Buck even makes a heel/face turn, but his delivery of his lines sound so forced that you spend the remainder of the film wondering if he’s actually cheating on head cheerleader Mary Ann in pursuit of Kate and doesn’t care about the consequences.
Loaded with gratuitous nudity and a 70’s mindset about sexuality and the dynamic interplay of the genders, The Swinging Cheerleaders doesn’t manage to escape the mediocrity it was trying to separate itself from. I can only recommend this film based on any nostalgia the viewer might have.
Visuals/Picture Quality (3/5)
The Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow offers up a 2K restoration from original film elements…and I must say I wasn’t impressed with the transfer. At times heavy grain was visible, and the obvious switches from stock footage for football scenes and the film itself were sometimes jarring. Towards the end of the film, gate scratches became visible onscreen. Nothing to ruin the experience of the film, and I understand going for a very base transfer, but don’t go in expecting a visual orgasm.
Score/Audio Quality (4/5)
The mono English track is surprisingly well done. It wasn’t overpowering and sounded well balanced throughout the feature. From main feature to menu screen the base volume changes rather abruptly, so be prepared to throttle down the audio pretty quickly.
Special Features (4/5)
- An Interview with writer/director Jack Hill. Hill gives a brief introduction to his career and his influences on film making.
- Archival interview with Alfred Taylor. Not exactly my taste, but the cinematographer explains various camera housings and rigs he built over his career, including ones used on The Swinging Cheerleaders.
- Archival interview with Jack Hill and John Legend. Some of this you’ll have heard from the earlier introduction, but this focuses more on his body of work and Hill’s contribution to film. Watchable once, maybe.
- Q&A with Jack Hill and actors Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon. Very dull and long winded, but admittedly by this time I was ready to be finished with the film. A few anecdotes are shared, nothing you couldn’t live without.
- Audio Commentary with director Jack Hill. Pretty informative if not a little dry. For hardcore fans only.
- TV Spots
- Reversible sleeve artwork
- An insert booklet with an essay by Cullen Gallagher
- Two disc clear case. If you’re familiar with Arrow Releases, this one is no different.
- Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
- Mono 1.0
- English SDH
Runtime 91 Mins
Not deserving enough to be the grand opus it wants to be, but better than it needs to be, viewers should be far more inclined to find something elsewhere unless the intent is a case study on the career of Jack Hill. Arrow Video has given a stellar treatment to a sub-par release, and while I commend them for it, I question the choice to bring this out. The world isn’t missing much if this film languishes in obscurity.
Note: This Blu Ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.