Satan’s Cheerleaders: Field of screams

by Mark Burger

The cheerleaders at Benedict High School are off to a big game, but they’re not going to make it in time for kick-off “¦ Instead of cheering and rooting for their team, they’ll be screaming and fleeing for their lives – pursued by a cult of Satan worshipers led by John Ireland a sleazy sheriff, Yvonne De Carlo as his wife, and Jack Kruschen Benedict High’s pervert janitor, Billy.

Welcome to the weird and wacky world of Satan’s Cheerleaders, the low-budget 1977 horror send-up directed by B-movie maestro Greydon Clark and written and produced by Clark and partner Alvin L. Fast. VCI Entertainment has released a widescreen DVD that includes Clark’s audio commentary. (See review, Page 27.)

(This marks Clark’s third time being interviewed by this writer for YES! Weekly, having previously covered the 2009 release of VCI’s DVD double-feature Hi-Riders/The Bad Bunch and last Halloween’s cover story regarding Scream Factory/Shout! Factory’s special edition of 1980’s Without Warning. He’s always been a fun, forthcoming interview — and he didn’t hesitate for another go-’round.)

“Your interviews are very thoughtful and cut to the point,” he says. “Your questions are always unique and show someone who has done his homework. I’m always happy to hear what’s on your mind.” (Thanks, Greydon. I’m grateful.)

Clark took note of the box-office success of such supernatural shockers as The Exorcist (1973), Beyond the Door (1975), The Omen (1976) and Race With the Devil (1975) – “very perceptive of you to note Race With the Devil,” he says – and decided to make his own, but with a twist. Or two. Maybe three …

“The occult cycle was booming and I loved the idea of making a comedy/horror film combining the cheerleaders’ cycle with horror,” he explains. “I liked the ad line: ‘Funner than The Omen “¦ Scarier than Silent Movie.’ One critic missed the point and thought we misprinted the ad line!” Like many of Clark’s films, younger actors – Kerry Sherman, Hillary Horan, Alisa Powell and Sherry Marks as the cheerleaders, and Clark’s wife Jacqueline Cole (billed as “Jacqulin Cole”) as their chaperone Ms. Johnson – were paired with veteran stars whose box-office luster might have dimmed but whose professionalism had not.

For Satan’s Cheerleaders, Clark secured the services of De Carlo (of The Ten Commandments and “The Munsters” fame), Ireland (Oscar nominee for All the King’s Men ), Kruschen (Oscar nominee for The Apartment), Sydney Chaplin (son of the legendary Charlie), and Hollywood veteran John Carradine, whose career encompassed some 300 feature films (including John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath and multiple turns as Count Dracula).

“The budget was $75,000 – $25,000 for cast,” Clark reveals. “I only had two weeks to make the picture, (and) luckily the veterans and rookies got along really well.

“I have been very lucky with all my casts and crews throughout my career,” he says. “Satan’s Cheerleaders was the second of five films I made with Dean Cundey (who later shot Halloween, The Thing, Apollo 13) – a remarkable cinematographer and a wonderful guy to work with. It was the first of two with Debra Hill (who later produced Halloween, The Dead Zone, The Fisher King). Debra was the best script supervisor I ever worked with.”

Although the DVD includes a still from the film showing the cheerleaders showering in the altogether, the print itself bears a PG rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The VCI DVD of Satan’s Cheerleaders is the “best available cut,” says Clark. “Since I actually cut the film myself, every cut is the ‘director’s cut.'” The film played in theatrical release in both PG- and R-rated versions because “at that time multiplex theaters were reluctant to show independent R-rated films,” which required “some very minor trims.”

Critics might have laughed at Satan’s Cheerleaders but that didn’t dissuade audiences. The film played for two years then was re-released as a double-feature with Clark’s drag-race thriller Hi-Riders in 1979.

“I was my own distributor on Satan’s Cheerleaders,” he notes. “We played in most cities around the country. When I had Dimension Pictures release Hi-Riders, I let them finish the distribution on Satan’s Cheerleaders.”

Clark’s last feature was 1998’s Star Games but he’s hardly been inactive. “I’m busy doing conventions and meeting fans, (and) I have interest from an important distributor in making a remake of Without Warning, (so) who knows?” In his 2013 autobiography On the Cheap:

My Life in Low Budget Filmmaking, Clark shares affectionate memories of moviemaking and his relationship with Cole (who passed away in 2003) and their sons.

“My boys are doing well,” Clark says.

“Travis is a television sports commentator and Trevor is studying economics and environmental solutions. Who knows? He may solve global climate change!” Clark states that Satan’s Cheerleaders is one of his personal favorites “because Jacqulin Cole had an important part and was very good in the film, (and) another reason is the review in the Los Angeles Times that liked the film and mentioned her performance as exceptionally good.”

Satan’s Cheerleaders was also Clark’s first film that allowed him to indulge his love for comedy. Later he made Wacko (1980), one of the first slasher spoofs, and the videogame farce Joy Sticks (1983), which rivals Satan’s Cheerleaders as perhaps Clark’s most memorable title.

“I always intended the picture to be a fun send-up of all the horror pictures at the time,” he says. “I hoped I could put some scares and laughs at the same time. I’m pleased that a two-week picture done almost 40 years ago still finds new fans and is supported by old ones.”

The official Greydon Clark website is: !