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Satan's School for Girls

a/k/a Satan's Angels

     "What the devil's going on here?"

-- Professor Clampett's little inside joke    





Movie of the Week




Satan's Angels?

( Sorry, Charlie... )


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Sights &
For Girls
 Original Air Date:
  September 19, 1973 (ABC)
Watch 'Em
Jiggle, See
'Em Wiggle:
More Spelling /
Goldberg MFTV

No Place to Run

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Satan's School for Girls

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Death at Love House

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble


Our film opens on a lonely road, where a speeding car erratically makes its way along the asphalt. Behind the wheel we spy Martha Sanders (Terry Lumley), frantically checking the rear-view mirror to make sure no one is following her. The dissonant soundtrack stings clues us in that something is very amiss, and these repeating chords mean something sinister is definitely afoot as the girl passes a derelict gas station with a pay phone and quickly applies the brakes. The girl tries to make a collect call to her sister, Elizabeth, and while the operator tries to connect her she worriedly keeps her eyes back down the road. There's still no one there but the mood doesn't improve as the phone rings and rings. Her sister was supposed to be home but there is no answer. Then, when Martha spots a scruffy looking character coming out of the gas station toward her, she panics and screams at him, and then gets back in the car and roars off. Once she's well and gone, the bum only picks up her discarded cigarette and finishes it off. 

Quite obviously, whatever it is that's chasing her has Martha scared beyond rationality. She makes it to Liz's house, whose snuck into town for some groceries. After the creepy gardener let's her inside, locking the door behind her, Martha quickly moves around the house and closes all the blinds. Once that's done, for only a brief moment, the girl feels safe -- until realizing she's not alone in the house. And then Martha screams, and screams and screams...

The prolific TV production tandem of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg have produced us another doozy. The same duo that brought us the 1970's kitsch staples Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, also had a hand in kitschy action programs like S.W.A.T., Starsky & Hutch and T.J. Hooker before turning to kitschy teen soap-operas in the '90s with Beverly Hills 90210. Throughout their careers, the tandem had a knack for plugging in episodes that dealt with pressing and relevant social ills and issues facing whatever program was on the air at the time: from drugs, to gang violence, to the homeless. But before they really got into the TV series swing, Spelling-Goldberg co-produced several made-for-TV exploitation pieces like the kidnapping caper Snatched, and the invitation only Death Cruise. They also had a hand in a couple of supernatural thrillers, including Chill Factor and this little number. Truthfully, Satan's School for Girls is no different than their TV shows. Hiding the moral with a lot of jiggling and wiggling, if you know what I mean, the film serves as a warning to impressionable young women against the dangers of falling blindly for the minions of evil. Or something...

The script was penned by Arthur Ross, whose résumé goes back to the 1950's and bookends with such luminous titles as Creature from the Black Lagoon and Brubaker. In between those films, Ross mostly stuck with television, with his longest stint being The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. To bring that script to screen they turned to prolific TV-director David Lowell Rich, who we haven't had the pleasure of encountering since The Horror at 37000 Feet. And if Satan's School for Girls turns out just half as bat-shit insane as that movie, then we're in for a real treat here -- he typed ominously, as we rejoin our movie already in progress with elder sister Liz (Pamela Franklin) returning home to find a patrol car waiting for her. Seems the gardener heard Martha's screams and tried to help, but found the house locked, and so, called the police when Martha didn't respond. When Liz unlocks the door they discover it's also chained from the inside. Asking the police to knock it open, instead of just kicking the door in, Patrolmen Smith and Wesson blow the chain away. When the cordite clears, they find Martha hanging from the ceiling.

An apparent suicide, Liz can't believe what she sees: her sister would never have killed herself. Sure, Martha was depressed when their parents died but that was several years ago, and she'd been getting better. Needing some answers, Liz tells the Detective in charge to ask around the Salem Academy for Women -- the school Martha was attending -- to find out why she would kill herself. But, citing confidentiality, the school refuses to cooperate. Being alone in a locked house, though Liz remains suspicious, as far as the cops are concerned the case is closed as an official suicide. Unable to accept this, Liz decides to look into it further on her own by enrolling in the Academy under an assumed name so she can investigate more freely. Before hitting the campus, Liz tracks down Lucy Dembrow (Gwynn Gilfred), Martha's old roommate. Asked if she noticed any changes in Martha's behavior, or perhaps if she kept a diary, Lucy appears just as nervous and jumpy as Martha was. And though she claims to know nothing, Lucy does her best to warn Liz away from Salem Academy. When she refuses to be swayed, in another odd twist, Lucy makes her swear that they've never met and this talk never happened.

Arriving on campus, Liz meets the welcoming committee: Roberta (Kate Jackson), Debbie (Jamie Jackson) and Jody (Cheryl Stoppelmoor -- soon destined to become Cheryl Ladd. So, e'yup, we've got two of Charlie's Angels attending good old Satan U.) Everyone seems nice enough as Roberta gives Liz a shot of liquid courage before ushering her into the main office to meet Mrs. Williams (Jo Van Fleet), a/k/a The Dragon Lady, the headmistress of the school. And as Williams goes on and on about the traditions of the Salem Academy -- that I assume includes Cauldron Churning and Advanced Spell Casting in its varied curriculum, Liz is probably wishing she'd drank the whole bottle. But, as the headmistress drones on and on we do get two very relevant plot points: One, the campus is very isolated and miles from civilization, and two, the power is unreliable, so blackouts are not uncommon, explaining why each student is issued a kerosene lantern. After the orientation is finally completed and Liz leaves, Williams gets a phone call where she sinisterly confirms that the new student has arrived.

Liz's first class is Painting Interpretation and Theory 101 (-- man, gotta love those liberal arts colleges --) with Professor Clampett (Roy Thinnes; that guy from The Invaders again, last scene fighting evil spirits with The Shatner in The Horror at 37000 Feet), who challenges his students to look beyond the normal, to embrace illusions as reality, and to blink your mind as well as your eyes. When it's time to critique everyone's paintings, Liz is startled to see Debbie's canvas: a morbid portrait of Martha, alone in a dark room in front of a large wooden door. The next class finds our spunky heroine in Professor Delecroix's Behavioral Psychology class. Delecroix's (Lloyd Bochner) is another quack whose classroom is dominated by a huge wooden maze, where several mice screech and scurry about. The Professor then maniacally describes how they will manipulate, train and torment the mice by moving their cheesy reward to different points in the maze, driving the rodents into a frenzy. (And I have to pause and point out that they keep referring to these critters as rats, but they're most definitely mice, leading me to believe that Delecroix probably lied on his résumé.) When he asks his class why they would condition the mice that way Liz answers, saying it will make them more passive. Happy that somebody's been paying attention, Delecroix is impressed as he explains to the others how a broken mind is more susceptible to manipulation and brainwashing, making the twitchy Professor our prime suspect as old Beelzebub, himself, as the title would imply.

Class is soon dismissed but carries over into the hall, where Debbie pitches some kind of spastic fit, babbling about rats, mazes and mind control, and then collapses. When she recovers, the girl has no recollection of what happened and quickly gathers herself back together so they can all get to the very popular Professor Clampett's wine tasting party. By the time they arrive, the party is in full swing. (And is wine supposed to foam like that?) But things come to a screeching halt when Jody bursts in crying, saying Lucy's dead, another suicide. To which Debbie brings the evening's festivities to a close when she ominously states "That's two of us."

Later that night a storm is a brewing: ominous winds blow, and purple lighting strikes (-- never a good sign). Wanting to question Debbie about her painting and what she said at the party, Liz takes up her lantern since the wind knocked the power out and heads out into the worsening storm ... After Debbie admits the girl in her painting was Martha, Liz asks why she painted such a gloomy picture. [MASSIVE LIGHTNING CRASH!] Debbie's answer is cryptic, once more claiming to be one of Delecroix's rats stuck in a maze and refuses to answer anymore questions. [MASSIVE LIGHTNING CRASH!] Undaunted, when Liz asks what the girl is so afraid of, Debbie grudgingly admits it's actually what's behind the massive black door in her painting. Unsure if it's a dream, or a vague memory, she's been in that dreadful place. Asked where it is [MASSIVE MASSIVE LIGHTNING CRASH!], Debbie isn't sure but feels it's close -- maybe in this very building. With more questions than answers, Liz heads back out into the storm. The rain hasn't broken yet, but the lightning is intensifying as she sneaks across campus to the art studio, where she pilfers the painting of her sister. And on her way out, she passes Delecroix's classroom and hears the mice happily squeaking away. (Well, that's subtle.) Hustling back to the dorms -- and you'd think she could have used a smaller canvas, sheesh! -- Liz heads down into the bowels of the building, where a mere cursory search quickly turns up the ominous door. Summoning up some courage, Liz opens it and sticks the lantern in. Slowly illuminating the corners, one by one, the room appears empty -- except for that last corner. Someone's there -- and that someone appears to have a serpent for a hand! Naturally, Liz doesn't stick around for a closer look. Bursting into Debbie's room, the agitated girl relates what she found. Debbie freaks at the news and adamantly denies everything she said before, saying it was all a load of crap. Roused by the commotion, Roberta and Jody overhear all this and manage to calm Debbie down and tell Liz that their friend is scared of an old Academy legend: seems back during the Salem Witch Hunt, eight students were accused of witchcraft and hung in one of the campus cellars. Thinking it's another piece to the puzzle, Liz insists there's something to it but Roberta counter-insists it's just an old urban legend.

The next day, kooky Delecroix is at it again, discussing what triggers psychotic behavior in rats (-- or in this case, mice). He says terror is the best trigger to make a rat go bonkers -- and can even force them to kill. He then extrapolates, saying humans are exactly the same way and will react violently, and kill, when threatened with the unknown. Asking the class what this all means to their mind control experiments, since no one else will answer, he picks on Liz again, who answers with an amazing leap in logic, replying that the test subjects can be scared into passivity. Satisfied that someone did their homework, Delecroix twitches by an empty desk and bemoans his regret that Debbie missed today's lesson.

Now I know what you're thinking, but methinks Delecroix's rants aren't rants at all but some kind of warning to his students. Meaning our suspicions of Delecroix were all wrong. I've never seen a bigger red-herring in my entire cinematic life.

Later that night, the absent Debbie sneaks out of the dorm. As she stealthily runs from tree to tree, looking around wildly to make sure no one is following her, she then bolts past the Academy gate and runs into the night, cackling like a goober. Later still, Liz suspects Delecroix is behind the dubious goings on at the Academy and convinces Roberta that the dormitory basement is just like one of his mind-control mazes -- only they're the rats (MICE!). Roberta doesn't need much convincing that that kook is up to no good, so they decide to explore the room in the basement together ... Slowly they illuminate the corners again, only this time, they find Debbie's dead body; her head encased in a plastic bag. After another quick retreat, they wake up Mrs. Williams and tell her what they found. Thinking it's another suicide, Williams says to remain calm and she'll call the sheriff. Then, things turn even more sinister when she dials up the sheriff but secretly holds the receiver down with her thumb. Talking into a dead line, she tells no one in particular to send the cops to the Academy right away. To prevent a panic, she also tells the girls to not let anyone else know about Debbie and to let the authorities handle it. 

Roberta is happy to do just that but Liz changes her mind: it's got to be more than a mere coincidence that three girls from the Academy have committed suicide, under such mysterious circumstances, in such a short time. Suspecting Delecroix somehow drove them to suicide, they decide to raid the school's files and find out where he came from. They break into the personnel office and start rifling through the filing cabinets, but Delecroix's file is missing. While checking for the dead girl's files, Liz learns from Roberta that all of them were orphans. Roberta admits that she's one, too, but promises not to kill herself over it. (Uh-oh. I guess we know whose next. And aren't Liz's parents dead, too? Double-uh-oh.) Turns out Lucy's, Martha's, and even Debbie's files are all missing too. But how could Debbie's be missing already? She just died, right? Well, our amateur snoops quickly deduce that Mrs. Williams must be in collusion with Delecroix.

Despite all the new evidence, the call of red-herring on Delecroix still stands.

Next, they check out Delecroix's lab and find all the missing files (-- that are a little too conveniently laid out in plain sight). They also make the grisly discovery that all of his mice (-- yes, mice --) have been killed. Whodunit? Who knows. But maybe it's the twitchy, sweaty guy over in the corner holding the gun ...  Delecroix appears to have run his maze just one too many times and has finally cracked. He denies killing the mice, but claims to know who did and babbles it wasn't a person at all. Knowing who's really behind the evil goings on at the Academy, Delecroix is also aware that he knows too much but insists they won't get him, and then promptly chucks himself out a window and runs away. The girls, meanwhile, beat feet in the opposite direction and run right into Clampett. Told Delecroix has gone bonkers, Clampett says he'll take care of it and not to tell anyone else -- not to cause a panic. (And our satanic suspicions lock and target squarely on Clampett. I knew he was too nice a guy.) Outside and out of his mind, Delecroix is still running -- or is he being chased? -- until he falls into a pond and finds himself surrounded by six of his students, including Jody. Swearing he won't reveal their secrets, he tries to climb out of the water, but the girls, armed with long poles, keep poking him under the murky ichor until he drowns. (Okay, they're in the middle of Massachusetts, right? So where in the heck did all those bamboo poles come from?)

Back in the dorms, Roberta is worried about Clampett, while Liz can't believe the cops haven't shown up yet. (And they ain't gonna, sister.) When Liz comments that Roberta seems very fond of Clampett, Roberta says the teacher gave her confidence and the power to really live. Apparently, his charms were overwhelming with introverted girls like Lucy, Debbie -- and Martha. (Oh, yeah, he's old Scratch alright, and frankly, I think Roberta is already in cahoots with him.) At this point, Liz confesses that she's really Martha's sister -- right before Clampett comes back, and Roberta tells him Liz's secret. Clampett says he couldn't find Delecroix and, fearing he might come back after the girls, tells them to go to the painting studio and lock themselves in until the police arrive. They do just that as the power -- very conveniently, picks that time to conk out again.

Our suspicions of Clampett are quickly confirmed when our next scene finds him ordering an enthralled Mrs. Williams to evacuate the campus. At first she refuses, but he promises that after tonight it will all finally be over. Williams swoons and sways and appears to be fighting his influence but all for not. Alerting the entire campus that the power outage is causing a fire hazard, Williams announces that the students will be evacuated to town by bus. Clampett oversees the caravan, and as the last girl in tells him everyone's out -- except for eight girls and Mrs. Williams, he offers that he'll drive the rest out personally and sends the others on. In the studio, when the girls hear the buses leaving, Roberta wants to wait for Clampett but Liz runs after the buses in vain. Changing course, she runs to her car to go after them but finds Delecroix's soggy corpse propped up in the driver's seat. Retreating back into the dorm Liz runs right into Roberta. Together, they head to the main office and find Mrs. Williams in la-la land, having mentally regressed back to her days as a student, and from her mumbling, we deduce she's had a few sessions in the big black room with old snake-hand herself. Thinking the best course of action is to walk into town -- three miles away, Roberta feels they'll need some protection and remembers the janitors keep a couple of rifles and a handgun locked in the basement. (For those really nasty floor stains.) Liz agrees that they should get a gun first before venturing out into the dark. But Williams warns that it will do no good. He'll find out. He always does. (Who? Could it be ... SATAN!)

Taking a lantern, they head into the basement and break into the locker. The rifles are gone but they find the pistol and some ammunition. They also hear noises coming from the dreaded black room. Roberta wants to amscray, but Liz insists they make sure no other girls are left behind. So, while Roberta covers the door with the gun Liz cautiously opens it -- to reveal six girls dressed in white robes and one man cloaked in black. Roberta then shows her true colors, shoving Liz inside at gun point, and then takes her place beside the other girls. The man in black pulls back his hood, revealing that our satanic figure is, indeed, Professor Clampett. With the whole gang finally in place, the Cloven One announces that 300 years ago eight of his disciples were killed in this basement, and he's been trying to even the score with eight clean souls ever since. But something always mucked up the works: 300 years of trying and he still can't get it done? Hah! Some Prince of Darkness this clown is ... Having been pegged as the eighth sacrifice, the other girls urge Liz to willingly submit, but she refuses and pleads with the others not to give in. When they won't listen, she gets more drastic and chucks her lantern at Clampett. The projectile misses its target but breaks open, and soon the small room is engulfed in flames but the other girls still refuse to move.

It's too late for them, but Liz runs away, and out of the basement, with Clampett hot on her heels. At the top of the stairs, she finds Williams stumbling around, begging anyone who'll listen not to tell that she's been in the black room. Taking the loony's lantern Liz tosses it into the basement, where it explodes on impact, cutting Clampett off, and soon the entire dormitory is burning. Outside, Clampett hears sirens approaching and returns to the black room, now a raging inferno. He smiles and walks into the conflagration, but he doesn't burn. Meanwhile, Liz and Williams make it outside just as several patrol cars pull up. Seems the evacuated students were worried when the others didn't show up and called the cops. When the Sheriff asks if everyone got out safely Liz says no, seven girls are still trapped in side. Asked about Professor Clampett, Liz turns to the conflagration and says he's right where he belongs -- well, no he isn't. He's right over there, by that tree, smoking a cigarette. No, wait, he's fading out, leaving only smoldering foot prints in his wake. (OooOoooOoooOOooOOoo...)

The great Satan, ladies and gentlemen. He'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress, and try the veal. 

The End

I'd hate to call Satan's School for Girls a good film, but there really isn't anything wrong with it. There are some effective and creepy moments lost in the cheese -- especially the scenes of Liz sneaking around the campus grounds at night, her white robe flowing and illuminated whenever the lightning strikes. Beyond that, the plot isn't anything new. Delecroix is an interesting character that should have been featured more. He's a weirdo, but an interesting weirdo, with sufficiently whacko theories. And these theories are important to the story, but the screenplay just skims along the surface, refusing to get into the guts of something that could have proven interesting and given this by-the-numbers film an original twist. Instead, its content to just toddle along, just sufficiently spooky enough, and just engaging enough, to keep us interested but it could have been a lot better. The script is so blasé about Satan's presence -- or whoever the hell Thinnes is supposed to be, that one scratches one's head wondering why they didn't just stick with the brainwashing idea and make Satan s Macguffin. And it also falls into the familiar cheese-dick ending cliché that dominated any movie from the '70s that concerned themselves with the Cloven One. The protagonists would score a symbolic victory only to reveal Satan still lurking in the background, ultimately victorious by default or treachery. (See The Devil's Rain -- that I swear we will review here one of these days.)

Kate Jackson was just coming off of her stint on Dark Shadows and a supporting roll as Officer Danko's wife on The Rookies -- another Spelling and Goldberg production. Combine that with Ladd's appearance and that's the reason why the film is sometimes called Satan's Angels. The video box I have prominently shows Ladd on the front, but her screen time barely breaks two minutes. Lead star Pamela Franklin would continue on exploring the supernatural in The Legend of Hell House the very next year. And as much as I despise bell bottoms and most '70s fashions, all of these gals look quite fetching in them there hip-huggers. Wowsers. The film was remade in 2000, starring another Spelling protégé, Shannon Dougherty. Jackson returned as well, this time playing the headmistress of the school.

In the end, the biggest problem facing Satan's School for Girls is that, even though it isn't all that great, it's still too good for it's own good. It's overall lackluster-ness just can't live up to that lurid title, and the inevitable expectations of crap that come with it, which is why the film is, ultimately, a bit of a disappointment. 

Satan's School for Girls (1973) Spelling-Goldberg Productions :: American Broadcasting Company (ABC) / P: Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling / AP: Peter Dunne / D: David Lowell Rich / W: Arthur A. Ross / C: Tim Southcott / E: Brian Brunette, Allan Jacobs / M: Laurence Rosenthal / S: Pamela Franklin, Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd, Roy Thinnes, Lloyd Bochner, Jo Van Fleet

Originally Posted: 07/09/02 :: Rehashed: 03/16/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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