Valium High & The Swinging Cheerleaders

How two drive-in flicks help save a man's life!

On the surface, our July 26th combo looks like any other Tuesday Grindhouse show. Two movies in college settings with beautiful starlets and sexy antics are not exactly novel. But this particular double feature has historical significance. Because at one previous pairing, these two movies didn’t just help hundreds of lusty fans get off, years later they helped an innocent man get off Death Row! Like a Casey Kasem teaser, details are coming up!

Our first film may have VALIUM HIGH on the 35mm print, but it is actually THE STUDENT BODY from 1976 (and released later as CLASSROOM TEASERS). Three troublemaking prisoners (Jillian Kesner, Janice Heiden, June Fairchild) agree to participate in an experimental drug study that will grant them early release and college access. The questionable ethics of this program come into stark evidence as the drugs unlock different inhibitions in the girls, unleashing side effects that won’t stay in the lab, and will leave a lot of physical and personal damage. As such, we kind of agree VALIUM HIGH is not really a proper alternate title, since these characters are way past twelfth grade, and they’re not getting mellow, they’re getting hyper.

STUDENT BODY screenwriter and former actor Hugh Smith once described producer Ed Carlin’s favorite hit-movie structure as “Three Girls Inherit Something,” quoting him as saying, “I want entertainment value on every tenth page…[T&A], violence, or humor.” And all three of those elements abound in this film. Carlin, with director Gus Trikonis, had previously used this formula on THE SWINGING BARMAIDS with William Smith, and the three of them would use it again on MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS with John Saxon and Claudia Jennings.

Two of the now departed stars of STUDENT BODY were not just frequently on our screen in movies, but frequently in our seats as well, graciously meeting fans and supporting the theatre. Jillian Kesner starred in RAW FORCE and was the devoted wife of director/cameraman Gary Graver, both regular guests until their passing. June Fairchild was one of the unforgettable supporting players of Roger Vadim’s PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, and had striking cameos in THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT and HEAD with The Monkees. You’ll also see incredibly young appearances by Judith Roberts from “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” and DONNIE DARKO’s daddy Holmes Osbourne.

Our second feature is a bonafide favorite of both the Bev and our boss, Jack Hill’s 1974 classic THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS. An ambitious college newspaper reporter infiltrates her school’s cheer squad, hoping to find and expose female exploitation. Instead she finds real friendship with the girls (Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith), and that it’s the football team that’s getting exploited, courtesy of an elaborate fix that’s lining the dean’s and the coach’s pockets. With a combination of skill and spirit, this girl squad is gonna pom-pom-pommel the forces of corruption!

Director Jack Hill’s resume is a primer of the greatest moments of ‘70’s genre filmmaking and strong female characters, be they in prison (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE), street gangs (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), or on justice quests (COFFY). And co-screenwriter David Kidd would himself go on to create two more neo-feminist drive-in favorites, the molestation revenge drama ACT OF VENGEANCE and the golddigger comedy SIX PACK ANNIE.

The truly cheery trio that lead this film have also achieved a status of grindhouse royalty. September 1978 Playboy playmate Rosanne Katon has stood out in THE MUTHERS, MOTEL HELL, and LUNCH WAGON w/ Missing Persons lead singer Dale Bozzio. Colleen Camp quickly advanced from films like DEATH GAME and EBONY IVORY AND JADE (where she reunited with Katon) to cult hits VALLEY GIRL and CLUE, and has added producing to her great body of work, shepherding AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY with Scarlett Johannsen and SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY for frequent collaborator Peter Bogdanovich. And while she’s not around to enjoy our love in person, we will never forget Rainbeaux Smith and her beatific appearances in LEMORA, CAGED HEAT, and UP IN SMOKE, where she shared a scene with June Fairchild.

On November 28th, 1976, in Dallas, Texas, a sixteen year old in a stolen car picked up a hitchhiker, and after some carousing, took him to a drive-in double feature of THE STUDENT BODY and THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS, but left early when the hitchhiker didn’t care for the sex scenes. The juvenile was David Harris, who later that evening shot and killed a police officer. The hitchhiker was Randall Dale Adams, the man wrongly convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. Both men cited their attendance as an alibi for their whereabouts that night. And it was filmmaker Errol Morris who, in his masterpiece, THE THIN BLUE LINE, presented the details of that night which ultimately led to Adams’ release and exoneration, right down to including clips from CHEERLEADERS in the documentary. Who says grindhouse has no redeeming social value?

Additional Posts