The Swinging Cheerleaders

| July 5, 2016

Director Jack Hill is one of the all-time greats—and I’m not just saying that because he was kind enough to let me pick his brain about filmmaking the Philippines during the early 1970s for nearly an hour one time (the fanboy inside me still squeals at the thought of having done that!). Hill got his start in the industry working under Roger Corman alongside former classmate Francis Ford Coppola as well as Monte Hellman who, for the record, is also on my shortlist of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. And it was Hill’s work for Corman and AIP that made him a legend. A pioneer of exploitation pictures, Jack Hill’s women in prison movies, The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972), defined this exploitation subgenre. His Blaxploitation pictures, Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), made Pam Grier a star and showed audiences that not only could black women be heroes on film, they downright should be! Add to that Switchblade Sisters (1975); his racing drama masterpiece, Pit Stop (1969); and the tragically underappreciated horror-comedy, Spider Baby, of the Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) and you have a body of work that’s reel-for-reel more exciting than most any other filmmaker you could think of.

Those films listed above, minus Pit Stop, are without a doubt his most widely discussed efforts among fans. But one film that’s virtually never talked about, in my experience anyways, is Hill’s 1974 cheerleader exploitation feature, The Swinging Cheerleaders. And that’s a travesty, really, as The Swinging Cheerleaders is every bit the shining example of its subgenre as those listed above are of theirs. Cheerleaders manages to provide the nudity and sex you’d expect of this sort of film (though minimally so and therefore, I’d argue, a bit more tastefully than you’d imagine), yet Hill does so while telling a compelling enough story, filled with surprisingly sympathetic characters.

In short the film follows journalism student Kate (Jo Johnston) as she infiltrates Mesa University’s cheerleading team with the intention of writing an expose on the exploitation of women therein. Instead she finds a group of friends in her fellow cheerleaders and a lover in the football team’s star quarterback. But her transition from free-minded intellectual to cheerleader is complicated by a petty ex-boyfriend and the corrupt school authorities who Kate struggles to expose before the reputation of the team is tarnished by greed.

I’ve always found the narrative of the film to be quite compelling in its doubling back on the initial premise that cheerleading is exploitative (hell, the whole cheerleader exploitation subgenre is centered on this notion, right?). The film begins with a struggle between intellectualism and the exploitation of women in the sports world, but that a narrative’s quickly sidelined by the obviously far more imperative issue of the football team’s public image when it becomes apparent the coach is conspiring to throw the big game. What fascinates me about the turn is how Hill’s able to accomplish it so seamlessly. And it’s a feat that can only be achieved by having Kate’s journalistic boyfriend transform into a grizzled, depraved narcissist while the sexually predatory football players’ images shift to a distinctly sympathetic one.

Though a stellar example of the cheerleader exploitation movie, I do have one minor complaint about the picture, and no, I’m not talking about the fact that the football stadium’s parking lots are clearly empty during the packed big games! The one thing the film’s sorely lacking is Jack Hill’s longtime collaborator Sid Haig. This is hardly the film’s fault of course, as it’s a complaint more tied to my expectations than anything else, but I still recall the disappointment during my first viewing, getting all the way to the credits without so much as a cameo from Sid Haig. But oh well, other Jack Hill films lack Sid Haig too!

The Swinging Cheerleaders is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Arrow Video. Arrow’s transfer is gorgeous and puts the previous, Anchor Bay DVD to shame in pretty much every way. The aspect ratio is accurately maintained, the grain structure beautifully preserved. The only films of Jack Hill’s that look this good on Blu-ray are those Arrow has already released: Pit Stop, Spider Baby and Blood Bath (1966)!

Bonus features include:
– Audio commentary by writer-director Jack Hill, recorded exclusively for this release
– Brand new interview with Jack Hill
– Archive interview with cinematographer Alfred Taylor
– Archive interview with Hill and Johnny Legend
– Q&A with Hill, and actors Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon recorded at the New Beverly Cinema in 2012
– TV spots
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
– Illustrated booklet containing new writing by Cullen Gallagher (first pressing only)

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: Video and DVD
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