Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kate Jackson provides chills in
'Satan's School for Girls'

Satan's School for Girls (1973)
Starring: Pamela Franklin, Kate Jackson, Jamie Smith-Jackson, Lloyd Bochner, Cheryl Ladd, Jo Van Fleet, and Roy Thinnes
Director: David Lowell Rich
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

While searching for the truth about her sister's suicide, Elizabeth (Franklin) enrolls as a student at the all-girl boarding school she attended. The faculty and girls all seem friendly enough--especially insta-best-friend-on-campus Roberta (Jackson)--but with a title like "Satan's School for Girls", you gotta know there's witchcraft, evil rites, and guest lectures by the Horned One himself going on.

"Satan's School for Girls" is a better-than-average made-for-TV movie from the mid-1970s. Although uneven in its pacing (partly due to the constricting nature of broadcast TV and the habitual, barely veiled recapping of what's happened to catch up those who tuned in late), there is a nice aura of unease that hangs over the whole film, and it even manages to envoke a real sense of dread at several points. (The best of these is when Elizabeth heads into the main building's cavernous basement in search of clues.)

This could possibly have been a 7-Star film if not for the fact that it starts to fall apart in the third act. Up to that point, the filmmakers play a nice game of "maybe it is, maybe it isn't"... as in, maybe Satan WON'T be making an appearance in this film, despite the title. But then there's a really lame murder scene (where the victim could easily have simply reached up and grabbed at the girls who were poking at him with sticks, and thus made his escape), lots of over-the-top melodramatic acting, and an ending that is flat and unsatisfactory, because it's exactly what we expect it to be all along.

Despite its flaws, I think this film is enjoyable for those who like suspense and horror movies that are driven more by atmosphere than sex and gore. Fans of Kate Jackson (like yours truly) will also enjoy it, because she gives a fine performance.

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