David Lowell Rich, 1973
Starring: Pamela Franklin, Kate Jackson, Lloyd Bochner, Jamie Smith Jackson, Cheryl Ladd
A pretty young student, Martha, is on the run from something unseen and leaves her exclusive boarding school, the Salem Academy for Women, to flee to her sister Elizabeth’s apartment. Elizabeth and the police find her dead and hanging, but Elizabeth refuses to believe it’s a suicide. When the police won’t help her, she enrolls in Martha’s school to learn more. She immediately notices odd things: Martha’s old roommate warns her not to go, one of the girls at the Academy has a breakdown, and soon commits suicide. She finds a strange room in the school and convinces another girl, Roberta, that something is going on and they believe the strange psychology professor may be responsible. Elizabeth doesn’t realize that she is in far over her head and the conspiracy is more malevolent than she fears.
Produced by television schlockmeister Aaron Spelling, Satan’s School for Girls has an almost equal balance between chills and cheesiness. In many ways, this is the poor man’s made-for-TV version of Dario Argento’s Suspiria mixed with a hefty dose of Brotherhood of Satan. As with Suspiria, there’s a girls boarding school, though focused on art instead of dance, a girl who runs away from school to her sister’s apartment and is hanged by a mysterious intruder, a death in a creepy attic, and more. There’s some nice imagery in the school, including cluttered basements and attics, candlelight, storms, blackouts, and a heavy Gothic feel, though this is obviously nowhere near the same level as Suspiria in terms of visuals.
The early ‘70s was a great time for TV horror, including the two Kolchak films, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Bad Ronald, Trilogy of Terror, and others, as well as a bevy of successful horror-influenced shows like Twilight Zone and Dark Shadows. As with the other acclaimed horror TV productions of the ‘70s, Satan’s School for Girls has no nudity and little on-screen violence, but there are several murder-suicides, a satanic plot, and cult full of ‘70s babes.
There is some average, TV-quality cinematography and lousy editing, but there are surprisingly good performances and a very entertaining conclusion. Yes, there are some cheesy and unintentionally hilarious moments, but that just adds to the charm of Satan’s School for Girls. Though the title is outrageous and wonderful, it does sort of give away the direction in which the film is heading, but isn’t quite as Russ Meyer-like as I would have hoped.
Lovely British horror actress Pamela Franklin (And Soon the Darkness, Legend of Hell House) stars and gives a solid performance as the curious and driven, though innocent Elizabeth. She’s accompanies by Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson (also Dark Shadows) and Cheryl Ladd, who are both lovely to look upon and convincing in their roles as somewhat naughty school girls. Lloyd Bochner (Point Blank) and Roy Thinnes (Dark Shadows) co-star as the two professors with opposing philosophies.
Director David Lowell Rich does a competent, if workmanlike job and also directed Eye of the Cat (1969), A Lovely Way to Die (1968), The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973), etc. Interestingly, the film was written by Arthur A. Ross (Creature from the Black Lagoon), who introduces some intriguing plot points that aren’t really played out to the fullest, such as the fact that none of the girls admitted to the school have any real family members. Something about this and the suicides feel a little like the superior Seventh Victim — a masterpiece of female isolation and suicide — and should have been further explored.
Satan’s School for Girls is available on DVD in two different editions. Though it doesn’t completely succeed as a work of ‘70s satanic horror, it’s still a worthwhile entry in the ‘70s TV horror canon and comes recommended. The film was also remade in 2000 with Shannon Doherty, adding another layer to the strange Aaron Spelling connection.