Paul Glickler – The Cheerleaders (1973)
Is it art or is it porn? While this question may be bandied about for years to come in regards to The Night Porter and Salon Kitty, answering that question for a movie like The Cheerleaders should take about as much time as it would take for a chorus of people to shout out in unison, “It’s porn!” Where The Night Porter represents the tendency in the 1970s of filmmakers to try and blur the lines between art and exploitation, The Cheerleaders represents the same decade’s commitment to movies that just want to give you something to jerk off to in the grindhouse. There is nary a single shred of artistic value or even common decency, not a single glimmer of aspirations to something greater. The Cheerleaders is unrelenting and indefensible sleaze. And predictably enough, to that we say, “Rah rah rah!”
Now I think the biggest complaint that you can lodge against this film isn’t that it features gratuitous nudity or horrible acting, or that the characters we see giving blowjobs and having gangbangs are supposed to be fifteen or sixteen years old. No, the biggest flaw in this film is that the cheerleading is really quite bad. Nothing rhymes. None of the cheers are catchy. The cheerleaders aren’t even performing in unison. How can the team go on to win the big game when the cheerleading is so shoddy? Opening narration explains how the Amorosa High football team is on a winning streak and school spirit is at an all-time high. What could be causing this is a mystery. And though the film implies it’s all thanks to the cheerleaders, when you actually see them cheer, you’ll realize that the upturn in school spirit is still a mystery.
So you know, what with the cheering being so bad and all, it just sort of shattered the illusion of reality for me that this film could have otherwise created. Everything else is pretty true to life, after all, like how the cheerleaders drive around in their convertible sports car all the time in their cheerleader outfits and still doing cheers, even when they’re just going to eat hotdogs, or how the cheerleaders are always having naked slumber parties, or how they always save the day – usually by employing sex. These parts of the film take on an almost cinema verite reflection of real life which is undermined whenever we’re asked to believe that these are the greatest cheerleaders in all the land.
The plot is pretty complex and along the same lines as the plots to the various Girls Gone Wild films. Young Jeannie has a problem: at fifteen years of age, she is still, tragically, a virgin. She figures the best way to lick this problem is by taking the advice of a couple friends and trying out for the cheerleading squad. She makes it, but her efforts to deflower herself at the hands of some virile young lad continue to be stymied when the squad captain Claudia has made a bet that she can foil Jeannie’s noble plans for the entire season. Wacky hijinks ensue and require the cheerleaders to take off all their clothes as often as possible, all in the name of sexual liberation and freedom and America!
Oh yeah, the sleazy janitor is also planning to fix the next game, because someone always has to be fixing the game in these cheerleader movies. Unfortunately for him, the cheerleaders have their own plan to help the team by sapping the opponents of all their strength. Can you guess how? Remember, this was back in the days when football players were dedicated gridiron gladiators who never fooled around before the game and could have their strength instantly sapped by them by having sex the night before. Too bad the cheerleaders also had a big orgy with their own players, making everyone on the field so very sleepy! But wait! Is that a fourth string runningback the other team has? The cheerleaders missed him! Can anyone but Jeannie come to the rescue and save Amorosa from the shame of losing a high school football game?
Needless to say, this is very much a “what you see is what you get” type of film, and believe me you see a lot. As I said when I reviewed two previous cheerleader exploitation films, Revenge of the Cheerleaders and The Swinging Cheerleaders, these films are a prime example of what you could get away with in the carefree and easy 70s that would get you locked up in today’s more conservative and timid atmosphere. Consider, first of all, that the crisis presented to us is that a fifteen-year-old girl hasn’t gotten laid yet. No one leaps up and says, “Well, you should wait until you get older anyway.” Nah, the general reaction is more along the lines of, “Freaky! Let’s get you some sex!” In addition, you have older teachers, male and female, both getting it on with underage (according to the script, remember) girls, and that’s cool, too. And then you have Jeannie’s own dad who leers at his naked daughter from time to time before also having sex with one of the cheerleaders. And then you have the scene in which Jeannie’s initiation to the squad involves her having to shower in the boys’ locker room, just when the team comes running in with their minds on a gangbang. Har har har! And then Claudia teaches Jeannie that the best way to seduce thugs is to pretend you want to be treated rough. These are all valuable lessons for young girls to learn, of course.
Tasteless doesn’t even begin to describe The Cheerleaders. It gleefully does things with supposed high school girls that most modern films won’t even do with adult characters. But like most oddball skin flicks from the 1970s, there’s such an exuberantâ€¦innocence certainly isn’t the word I’m looking forâ€¦such a joyously perverse celebration of all things tawdry that I can’t imagine being truly offended by the sexual content. But that’s just me, and I’m perverted in many ways. If you are going to be offended, then you’re better off being offended by the lack of a plot or the amazing absence of acting skill from every performer. But at the same time, you should just be ashamed of yourself if you sit down to watch The Cheerleaders and expect taut plotting, engrossing characters, and stand-out performances. If that’s the case, then frankly, you deserve to have sat through a scene of a fat guy in a jock strap crawling around on the floor while a cheerleader licks a baseball bat.
Since this is technically supposed to be a sex comedy, the movie does have to take time out from all the nudity – and there is a ton of it, more than in any other cheerleader movie and more than in most 70s sexploitation films in general – for crude humor the likes of which would make even Benny Hill shake his head in embarrassment. Ho ho ho! The janitor is a peeping tom! Oh, the hilarity! Jeannie’s dad is willing to let the cheerleading team stay over for a slumber party, and he offers them grilled wieners! And, ummmâ€¦well, really that’s about it. Even Revenge of the Cheerleaders had more gags than this film, even if most of them involved cheerleaders eating phallic shaped food items. The only way I can think of to describe the comedy in The Cheerleaders is to say it ranks somewhere below watching someone get hit in the balls, but only slightly above getting hit in the balls yourself.
As a skin flick, though, you’d really have a hard time beating The Cheerleaders. Or maybe, you wouldn’t have a hard time beating it, but that is a joke I’m just not going to make. Aww, crap. Too late. Some of the girls are kind of homely in a Pippi Longstocking way, but this was the 1970s and everyone was hot as long as they took off their clothes and weren’t fat. The cheerleading outfits are tiny, but that’s not of much concern since they come off in almost every scene. Stephanie Fondue as Jeannie has that “friend’s cute little sister” thing going, which of course, is creepy and sleazy just like everything else in this film. Denise Dilliway’s captain Claudia is the more developed, experienced, and kinky of the girls, while Jovita Bush’s Bonnie is the best looking. Everyone gets naked all the time, and sex is had in cheesy bachelor pads, fast food restaurants (nothing turns you on like have sex on a dirty deep fryer), car washes, locker rooms, trophy rooms, gardens, and well eventually you just loose track. The guys in the movies are either sleazy old dudes or meatheaded jocks.
Curiously, almost no one form this cast went on to bigger and better things. In fact, most of them never went on to anything, period, and this remains the sole entry in their filmography. The only familiar face, if you can call it that, is Pat Wright as the football team’s coach. He starred in a stack of films including Revenge of the Cheerleaders, the hillbilly sexploitation comedy Sassy Sue, Caged Heat, I Spit on Your Corpse (yes, the sleazy follow-up to I Spit on Your Grave!), Candy Tangerine Man, and Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. In 1992, he got back to his roots with a part in The Bikini Car Wash Company. Curiously, almost all his roles cast him as a coach, a cop, or a creepy in-law. Cheerleader Kimbery Hyde went on to star in a couple of those naughty nurse movies as well.
So if cheap guilty titillation, sleazy and morally disgusting situations, and near-constant nudity are all you are looking for, The Cheerleaders deliver with a tremendously spirited holler. If, however, you are looking for world-class cheerleader routines, then yeah, you better watch Bring it On.
Am I finished with cheerleader movies? Well, almost. For a genre I said I didn’t like, I sure do seem to like it a lot. Well, we have HOTS and The Pom Pom Girls to get through, and then I think we’ll just about be done and ready to move on to mor eimportant genres, like naughty nurse movies. You know, I figured if I was going to write about cheerleader films, then I should at least do it in a way that allows me to put “The authority in sleazy cheerleader movies” under the Teleport City name.
Keith, Teleport City, 3rd September, 2004