Warning: if you’re not a Kate Jackson fan, today’s column may not work in your favor. Plus, we probably shouldn’t hang out. I first fell in love with Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty) when I was six. At the time, she was starring on Charlie’s Angels, along with Farrah Blah-Blah and Jaclyn What’s Her Name, but I think maybe I liked Kate best. Her long black hair, radiant smile, and raspy sing song drawl mesmerized me for the remainder of that show’s run. But for fans of horror, Kate worked with Dan Curtis on Dark Shadows, before landing one of the leads in Satan’s School for Girls (1973), producer Aaron Spelling’s venture into one of the ‘70s greatest capitalist ventures, Satanic Panic. It’s a fun romp; and spoiler alert - Kate is great in it. (She’s just the most, don’t you think?)
SSfG originally aired on Wednesday, September 19th on ABC. (It was a Spelling/Goldberg Production, and that was their turf.) Going against NBC’s Wednesday Mystery Movie, and NBC’s Cannon, ABC’s Movie of the Week was always a hit, and SSfG dug into their specialty, horror. Add in the red hot satanic angle, and they came up with another winner.
Let’s head over to Spelling manor, where I’m sure Aaron had every TV GUIDE catalogued and stored, and see what’s up:
SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (Wednesday, 8:30pm, ABC)
A young woman enrols at her dead sister’s school when she suspects that her suicide was no accident. Pamela Franklin, The Amazing Kate Jackson star.
The telefilm opens with said sister Martha (Terry Lumley – The Rookies) driving down a stretch of road, frantically looking in her rear view mirror. She thinks she’s being followed. She’s let in to her sister Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin – The Legend of Hell House)’s house by the handyman, as Liz has stepped out to the store. While alone Martha is approached by someone or thing off camera, and screams. When Liz arrives, the police are there. They break down the door and see that Martha has hung herself. Not believing that her sister would willingly take her own life, she secretly enrols at Martha’s school, the Salem Academy for Women.
Liz quickly befriends Roberta (Kate Jackson – goddess among mortals, Scarecrow and Mrs. King), and meets some of the other students, including Jody (Cheryl Ladd – Charlie’s Angels) and Debbie (Jamie Smith-Jackson – Bug). After a meeting with the headmistress, played by Jo Van Fleet (The Tenant), classes start, including Art with Professor Clampett (Roy Thinnes – Black Noon) and Social with Professor Delacroix (Lloyd Bochner – Mission Impossible). When more and more girls turn up dead from apparent suicides, Liz and Roberta edge closer to the shocking truth about their hallowed institute.
Which, in true Spelling subtlety, is right there in the title. But that’s how a lot of TV horror rolled back in the day; no time for nuance, I mean they’re TV watchers – how much attention are they paying anyway, right? True and false. Horror lovers toggle back and forth from the big to small screen all the time; except back then there was no cable, so everything was filtered through network production companies, with varying results. With a Spelling/Goldberg production, you were guaranteed a few things: a) a solid cast; b) slick production values; and c) a tidy resolution. SSfG certainly doesn’t break any taboos or even step on any toes; the film plays one step removed from a Scooby-Doo mystery, except, you know, involves satanic cults.
And this is what makes it a blast. Listen, I have a soft spot for the ‘70s and its fascination with Lucifer. Who knew that the metropolitan mystique of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) would eventually transform into the warm smell of colitas and decadence in L.A.? I can’t say that anyone was surprised that Satan would settle down for a beach front in Malibu – it’s more his climate. If you didn’t know the title of this program, you would have no idea that Satanism was involved until the last few minutes. And before that, you hear a cult mentioned here and there, but again, welcome to California. However, going in with that knowledge gives it a low key charm that’s hard to resist.
And it does make some interesting stops before the resolution. Martha’s opening scenes are tense due to her unknown assailant, and there’s a very effective (and unique) drowning late in the game. If you go in not expecting a lot of hooves and hellfire you’ll be fine. Let’s be honest, it’s some kind of miracle these kinds of shows even made it to air, from the lurid title on down.
Aaron Spelling always raided his TV show stables to fill his TV movies, and this was no exception. The breathtaking Jackson came from The Rookies, as did Ladd, and others would appear in future projects of his. As to be expected, not everyone carries their weight; but I will say that Thinnes, Van Fleet, and Bochner ground the proceedings in a way that keeps it this side of soapy. And then we have the radiant Kate Jackson, an actress who could melt a heart with a sigh. In all seriousness, she’s very good as Roberta, Liz’s cohort in cracking the mystery. Let’s just say that Satan’s School for Girls would not resonate as well as it does without her. She has a twinkle in her eye some people may describe as devilish. But I call it love.Next: It Came From The Tube: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)