Cheerleaders go with b-movies as well as macaroni with cheese. This was my introduction to the subgenre that has a number of entries following The Cheerleaders in 1973. As Jack Hill is in the director's chair, The Swinging Cheerleaders is an exploitation flick that also features some interesting female characters that have more going on than shaking their pom-poms despite the sexist attitudes of the time. In particular, the film focuses on a college student/journalist who aims to uncover what happens in the college football subculture including the various relationships and problems that are encountered. Although this can be seen as an early entry in the sex comedy subgenre, I feel that sex comedies of the 70s tend to have a serious tone underlying the surface shenanigans and this is no exception. Characters struggle with infidelity, virginity, gang rape, and a gambling ring as opposed to fart jokes and shower scenes although there are still humorous moments sprinkled throughout.
Jo Johnston stars as Kate, a college student with an activist boyfriend who decides to apply for the cheerleader squad so that she can get an inside look as to what happens off the field and how cheerleading exploits women. She is successful and soon attracts the interest of the star quarterback named Buck (Ron Hajak) who is in a relationship with the head cheerleader named Mary Ann (Colleen Camp) who happens to be the daughter of the college dean. As we get to know the girls, we learn that one of them (Rosanne Katon) in a relationship with a married teacher and another one (Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith) is still a virgin and having trouble giving herself to her football player boyfriend. It is also revealed that the coach of the the football team is deliberately fixing the outcomes of games as he is making bets with the dean and the adulterous teacher and they are making a lot of money by influencing the scores of the games. Eventually greed gets the better of them and the stakes get higher as the final game of the season approaches. Meanwhile, Kate starts to put together what is happening but the demise of her relationship with her hippie boyfriend leads to jealously and betrayal as well as him showing what a sleazy scumbag he is when presented with her naive virginal friend.
Although this was initially marketed as a sexploitation film, I found the characters to be more compelling than a gaggle of vapid caricatures. The focus of the film is on Kate and her struggle with exposing the secrets of the girls while getting to know them and seeing that her intentions may have been misguided. Johnston is fantastic in this role and delivers a natural performance that carries the movie. It's a real drag that this is her only film as she clearly could have had a decent acting career had she chosen to do so but this is surprisingly her only credited role and there is no information as to what happened to her or why she left the business. The movie shifts to darker territory when Kate dumps her creepy boyfriend who proceeds to take the virginity of her friend and then call his buddies so that they can have a turn. This is not to say that the film is a complete downer as there are still some funny moments but it certainly does delve into areas you would not see in Porky's or Private School. That being said, there are some silly sequences including a fight between football players and cops that borders on ridiculous with old-time Keystone Kops music blaring and Katon yelling a cheer with her pom-poms in the middle of the fracas. Overall, this is a pretty good flick that I'd recommend for fans of 70s cult movies.
There are a lot of familiar faces that pop up including veteran stuntman/actor Bob Minor as one of the corrupt cops and John Quade (Every Which Way But Loose) as the other one. B-movie fans know Rainbeaux Smith from a number of flicks including Caged Heat and she returned to the cheerleader genre two more times in Revenge of the Cheerleaders and The Pom Pom Girls. She had a troubled life and struggled with drug abuse for many years up until her death in 2002 at the age of 47. Camp and Katon reunited in Ebony, Ivory and Jade in 1976 as ass-kicking track stars. (Josh Pasnak, 9/3/16)
Directed By: Jack Hill.
Written By: Jack Hill, David Kidd.
Starring: Jo Johnston, Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith, Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon.