In 1974, exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill was on a roll. With The Big Doll House in 1970, the Tarantino-inspiring auteur began a successful four-year run that included The Big Bird Cage and Foxy Brown. That run ended all too quickly in 1975, with Hill having virtually retired by the end of the decade, but prior to that he released arguably the film that most signifies his personal vision.
An unusually dark comedy/drama, The Swinging Cheerleaders is a film that selects the choicest clichés from the exploitation buffet and combines them with a flourish to produce a film that is inherently fun while still striving to satisfy the feminist agenda so symptomatic of Hill’s better films. How much it succeeds at the latter is open to interpretation, but undoubtedly this is not a film quite as subversive as some from the era.
In order to write an exposé of their world, Kate (Jo Johnston) poses as a cheerleader for the college football team. As she investigates, she discovers a corrupted betting ring run by the school principle while embarking on an affair with the star quarterback.
At its core, The Swinging Cheerleaders is everything you would expect from a 1970s exploitation film, and more-so from Hill. There is plenty of sex and nudity, with sporadic bouts of violence and overly dramatic campness, but there are some notable differences. The strong female characters that populate Hill’s films are here, but in this instance initially principled heroine Kate quickly moves on from the studious journalist boyfriend to the hunky jock without so much as an ironic nod to camera. Said journalist then turns into the misogynist of the piece when he drugs the “innocent” virgin cheerleader and casually invites some friends over for a gangbang. Instead of being shocking, Hill’s film comes across as simply good fun, with the good guys, and gals, getting the best of the bad guys in the end. The gangbanger gets a good slap, the gangbangee falls back into the arms of her true love, and the betting ring all get their comeuppance. A little bit of darkness, but everything turns out fine.
By modern standards, much of what happens in The Swinging Cheerleaders may seem surprising, but that is in essence the point of an exploitation film. These are films of a time, films that tap into the extreme trends of the period and push the boundaries of taste through lurid, and often offensive content. Approached in the right frame of mind, though, there is great fun to be had and Jack Hill is one of the greatest exponents of the genre.
Special Features: Audio commentary with Jack Hill / Interviews / Q&A / TV spots
THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JACK HILL / SCREENPLAY: JACK HILL, DAVID KIDD / STARRING: JO JOHNSTON, CHERYL SMITH, COLLEEN CAMP, ROSANNE KATON, RON HAJAK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW