Friday, March 25, 2011

Satan’s School for Girls (1973) & The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

          Two of Hollywood’s favorite lowbrow fascinations intersect in these craptastic telefilms, both of which depict the troubles that befall coeds whose dorms are fronts for Satan-worshipping cults. College girls and cultists: Two great tastes that taste great together. Produced by schlockmeister Aaron Spelling, Satan’s School for Girls is the real howler of the pair, cramming all sorts of shock-cinema gimmicks and gobs of kitschy ’70s-ness into a runtime that barely reaches 80 minutes; everything about the movie is so goofy that Satan’s School for Girls is a hoot from start to finish. Unlucky student Elizabeth Sayers (Pamela Franklin) enrolls in a private school under an assumed name so she can investigate why her sister killed herself while attending the school, only to discover that sis was a victim of the headmistress and students, who, as the title suggests, shill for Satan. Two of Spelling’s most famous protégés, future Charlie’s Angels beauties Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, are among the students enthralled by the Prince of Darkness, so despite shlocky production values, Satan’s School for Girls offers plenty of eye candy. The ending is also hilariously overwrought, going all the way down the bad-cinema rabbit hole.
          A few years later came The Initiation of Sarah, the story for which was co-written by future Fright Night guy Tom Holland. In this one, pretty coed Patty Goodwin (Morgan Brittany) and her “plain” adopted sister, Sarah (portrayed by the not-plain hottie Kay Lenz), get picked for different sororities, which have been locked in a bitter feud for decades. Patty joins the stuck-up babes at Alpha Nu Sigma, while Sarah ends up with the misfits at Psi Epsilon Delta. Copping plot devices from Stephen King’s then-recent novel Carrie, the story depicts Sarah’s discovery of telekinetic superpowers, then shows what happens when the beeyotches at Alpha Nu push Sarah too far. Meanwhile, PED’s housemistress, Erica Hunter (Shelley Winters), reveals her true identity as a nutjob cultist trying to use Sarah’s powers for revenge against Alpha Nu.
          Lenz’s sad-eyed sexiness and Winters’ gorgon routine are fun to watch, plus it’s enjoyable to see actor/producer Tony Bill and Airplane! guy Robert Hays in early roles. Icy sexpot Morgan Fairchild steals the show, however, with her villainous turn as the queen bee of Alpha Nu. A vision of uptight late-’70s comeliness with her feathered Farrah hairstyle and perfect alabaster skin, she’s entertainingly conniving. Both of these telefilms are unapologetically silly, but that’s exactly why they’re so watchable—and it’s probably why both got remade. The redux of Satan’s School for Girls (with Shannen Doherty!) hit the tube in 2000, and The Initiation of Sarah v.2.0 aired in 2006.

Satan’s School for Girls: FUNKY
The Initiation of Sarah: FUNKY

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