Color, 1974, 91m.
Directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel
Starring Jo Johnston, Rainbeaux Smith, Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, Jack Denton, Ron Hajek
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK/US R0 HD/R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Neither as exploitative as its title would suggest nor quite as blazingly feminist as its champions claim, The Swinging Cheerleaders is director Jack Hill's above average entry in the '70s cycle of liberated girls who use their jobs (well, okay, cheerleading isn't exactly a job) as a means of obtaining personal fulfillment and sexual pleasure. After successfully tackling the horror and women in prison genres, Hill brings his usual directorial strengths to this one: fast pacing, bizarre supporting characters, ridiculous action, and funky dialogue. Drive-in fans should be plenty amused.
Kate (Johnston), a reporter for an underground student newspaper at Mesa University, joins the cheerleading squad to expose... well, something about exploitation of women, though she never really makes her goals all that clear. Her radical editor boyfriend disapproves when she moves into the dorm to get closer to her story, and he really gets ticked when she winds up sleeping with Buck (Hajek), the star quarterback. Unfortunately, he reveals some nasty traits of his own when he humiliates fellow cheerleader Andrea (Caged Heat's Smith, cast against type as a naive virgin). Buck's fiance, rich blonde cheerleader Mary Ann (Camp, who has way too little screen time and, oddly enough, does no nudity), doesn't believe Kate's claims that the coach, a local store owner, and a math teacher are rigging all of the football games in the season to make themselves rich. Kate decides to expose the story, even though the married math teacher is sleeping with yet another cheerleader, Lisa (Katon, one of the first black Playmates). Got all that? After many double crosses and over-the-top dramatic moments, it all ends with a big nonsensical brawl in a warehouse before the strangely abrupt final scene.
One of the earliest exploitation titles to hit DVD in 1999 courtesy of Anchor Bay's early dive into the Jack Hill library, the film has always looked quite nice on home video; in fact, the source material has been kept so clean and sharp that the stock footage inserted during the football sequences is even more obvious now. The vivid '70s colors look rich and distortion-free, while the audio is... well, as clear as it will ever sound. Incidentally, composer Bill Loose also wrote the music for most of Russ Meyer's late '60s and '70s films. Incidentally, one earlier VHS version of this film was released under the title H.O.T.S. 2, though the original H.O.T.S. came out several years later. The DVD also includes two TV spots and a surprisingly subpar audio commentary with Hill and a scattered Johnny Legend in which Hill does a noble job of trying to talk about his guerilla filmmaking techniques from the period. In 2003, the same disc was included in a three-film Anchor Bay set with The Cheerleaders and Revenge of the Cheerleaders.
In 2016, Arrow Video revisited the title after years of its unavailability, complete with a nice new 2K transfer that looks as good as the source material will allow, i.e., gorgeous and colorful except for those grainy stock shots. The DTS-HD MA English mono track (with optional English subtitles) is excellent but not terribly challenged by the original recording. Fortunately the original Hill commentary has been chucked out here in favor of a new exclusive one moderated by Elijah Drenner, with far more structure and useful material. Hill goes into making this just after his tenure at AIP and making Foxy Brown (turning down Rape Squad in the interim), the scripting process, the odd jokes in the background like the Nixon dartboard, and the varying degrees of shyness on the part of the actresses.
Hill, Katon, and Camp are reunited for a 2007 Grindhouse Film Festival Screening at the New Beverly Cinema, running 19 minutes and full of amusing stories about Smith's pregnancy at the time (which Hill didn't notice but all the actresses did), the real cheerleader brought in to coach the stars, and the much racier nature of other cheerleader films around that time. You also get a bit of Hill and Legend rapport with an archival 10-minute video interview offering a thumbnail sketch of how the film came about, while late cinematographer Alfred Taylor gets his due in a 2006 10-minute interview originally recorded for the Dark Sky DVD of Spider Baby, excerpted for a making-of doc. It's a pretty informative discussion ranging from his own handy inventions for his cameras through his most recognized work including Killer Klowns from Outer Space. A new 8-minute interview with Hill covers more general ground as he covers his movie and music-influenced childhood and his segue into filmmaking outside the studio system and how he barely saved this film from cinematic extinction. Finally you get a pair of TV spots and, as usual, reversible sleeve options with the poster art and a new design by Graham Humphreys; obviously, it's definitely a release to cheer about.