Satan ran the early 70s. I first learned about Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan as a child by reading the TV Guide Book of Lists. They asked him what the most Satanic TV shows were and he replied with a list that included so many of my favorite shows. It scared me as a twelve year old — could I be taken by devil worshippers and be made to celebrate the Black Mass?
Made for TV movies reflected the Satanic bent of the early 70s. This Aaron Spelling produced, David Lowell Rich (Eye of the Cat, Airport 79 – The Concorde) directed affair brings the devil to the boarding school, along with plenty of attractive girls ready to give their souls to the Son of the Morning Star.
Martha Sayers is running from a mysterious stranger who may or may not be related to Torgo from Manos: the Hands of Fate. She locks herself in her sister Elizabeth’s (Pamela Franklin, Necromancy, The Legend of Hell House, The Food of the Gods) house and hangs herself. Of course, the police just think it’s a suicide. But we know better — The Salem Academy for Women had to have something to do with it. Martha’s roommate tells Elizabeth to stay away, but she is having none of it.
She takes the name of Elizabeth Morgan and enrolls at the school where she’s welcomed by Roberta (Kate Jackson!), Jody Keller (Cherly Ladd!) and Debbie Jones (Jamie Smith-Jackson from Go Ask Alice, who is married to Michael Ontkean, Sheriff Harry S. Truman from Twin Peaks). The fact that Alice and two of Charlie’s Angels (Sabrina Duncan and Kris Munroe, I’ll have you know) playing devils in a movie thrills me to no end. And throw in Alice and we have a movie!
Debbie keeps having outbursts in class and another girl commits suicide, prompted headmistress Williams to start worrying about the influence of the new girl. Then there’s that painting of Martha in a dungeon that Debbie painted, but is now terrified of. Just imagine — Elizabeth snoops and finds that room on campus but is chased away by a man with a knife!
Roberta is now on Elizabeth’s side. After all, there are some crazy teachers, like the professor who makes them run a rat through a maze. And when Debbie tries to leave, her body shows up. Finally, Liz can’t take any more and bursts into Professor Delacroix’s (Lloyd Bochner, who played Walter Thornton in The Lonely Lady) office. He screams that something is stalking him, so he jumps out a window, gun in hand. He runs through a swamp before being beaten to death with sticks by several students. Turns out that the popular Dr. Joseph Clampett (Roy Thinnes, David Vincent from The Invaders, The Norliss Tapes) is the real killer.
He’s leading a Satanic cult who believes that he’s the devil. Only Elizabeth and the headmistress survive as the rest of the girls sacrifice themselves to the flames. And Clampett? He survives the fire and then promptly walks outside and disappears.
Interesting Wiki story: In the synopsis of the film, whoever wrote it states that “the other girls stay behind to sacrifice themselves to their leader (But are saved by God and Jesus offscreen as they were forced).” How do they know? That certainly didn’t happen in the version of the movie that I saw!
This was remade in 2000, with Kate Jackson playing the dean of the school and Shannen Doherty. That version is unreviewed. Why pick 2000 when you can choose 1973? If only all schools could be as ridiculous as the Salem Academy for Women! If only all rooms had shag carpeting and there were constant wine mixers and murders and 70s garish fashions! My world is so boring by comparison!