Color, 1976, 89m.
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Starring Robert Carradine, Jennifer Ashley, Michael Mullins, Rainbeaux Smith, Lisa Reeves, Bill Adler, James Gammon, Susan Player, Diane Lee Hart
Scorpion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Mill Creek, BCI/Eclipse (DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Based on the title, you'd expect this drive-in perennial from Crown International Pictures to be another jiggly, silly cash-in on the cheerleader mania gripping America throughout the '70s, ranging from the early '70s with titles like The Cheerleaders to the late '70s pop culture takeover of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and a certain infamous adult film they inspired. What you get here instead is a modest but amiable little coming-of-age film, closer in tone to American Graffiti with a little R-rated skin thrown in.
Smack in the middle of the same unforgettable year as his turns in Massacre at Central High, Jackson County Jail,and Cannonball, Robert Carradine stars here as Johnnie, an immature football player whose coach (Silver Bullet's Gammon) is an overbearing, reactionary jerk with some deep personal issues. Johnnie spends his time hanging out with fellow soon-to-be graduates including Jesse (Mullins) and chasing after cheerleader Laurie (Inseminoid's Ashley), whose jock boyfriend, Duane (Adler), isn't amused. Meanwhile Jesse has the hots for Sally (Reeves), and along with the other pom pom girls, they get involved with various hijinks like taking a joyride on a fire truck, racing dirt bikes, and running around on the beach, not to mention occasionally getting into each other's pants. The actual football games and cheerleading routines only take up about 1% of the movie, which instead careens to a chicken race climax straight out of a '50s juvenile delinquent movie.
Perhaps the most surprising name involved with The Pom Pom Girls is its director, Joseph Ruben, who had just made his debut with Crown's The Sister-in-Law and would team up with Carradine again one year later with the more mainstream Joyride. However, greener pastures awaited Ruben in the '80s, first with the cult favorite Dreamscape and then with one of the decade's finest shockers, The Stepfather. The '90s got much sillier with the ridiculous Sleeping with the Enemy and The Good Son, but still, he certainly made his mark. Also noteworthy here is a small but eye-catching role for the late Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith, who made this back to back with Drum, Revenge of the Cheerleaders, and, of course, Massacre at Central High. It's a shame she's given little to do here, but she's a welcome presence in any capacity.
Not surprisingly, The Pom Pom Girls has had a long life on home video, though not always in finest of presentations. It debuted on VHS from Prism and went through the usual channels for Crown titles on DVD, debuting from Rhino in a dated transfer from an ancient master and then moving over to BCI, who gave it a pretty respectable showcase as a "Starlite Drive-in Theater" double feature with The Van. Sadly this version went out of print very quickly, and subsequent reissues have been disastrous, culled from a scratchy and truly ugly source (presumably a TV print) with all of the nudity completely excised. That means the BCI School Dazed box set and the later 12-film Too Cool for School Collection from Mill Creek in particular, which treated their other films fairly well but failed to deliver this one in anything close to a watchable edition.
Fortunately the best was still to come with the 2013 reissue from Scorpion, which reinstates the missing R-rated footage (which is nice to have, but don't expect anything too extreme here). More importantly, the picture quality is easily the best to date. Colors look healthy and fresh, print damage is almost nonexistent, and it all has that bright, sunny, slightly unreal veneer common to SoCal '70s drive-in fare. Enthusiastic label hostess Katarina Leigh Waters appears in an optional "Kat's Meow" segment to offer facts and figures about the film, and you only get one guess for the kind of outfit she's wearing. Yes, you get a bouncy pom pom routine in there, too. The theatrical trailer is also included along with bonus trailers for House on Sorority Row, Tomboy, and My Tutor.
Reviewed on October 20, 2013.