Aaron Spelling and David Goldberg were behind this campy horror TV movie that marks an early teaming for their Charlie’s Angels stars Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd. In an opening very similar to that of Suspiria (1977) - in concept, if not execution - terrified art student Martha Sayers (Terry Lumley) flees school for the safety of her sister’s house, only to find she isn’t home. Killed by some mysterious unseen force, her body is found hanging from the ceiling. Police rule it suicide but Elisabeth Sayers (Pamela Franklin) is determined to prove otherwise. She enrols at the same art school where three vivacious, appealing girls - Roberta (Kate Jackson), Debbie (Jamie Smith-Jackson) and Jodi (Cheryl Ladd) provide a warm welcome and hip art teacher Dr. Clampett (The Invaders’ Roy Thinnes) dispenses helpful advice like: “Let your mind hang loose.” Jittery headmistress Jessica Williams (Jo Van Fleet) is clearly hiding something and how about creepy Professor Delacroix (Lloyd Bochner) who sticks torments mice in his maze as a way of demonstrating how to mould minds to his will? With Roberta’s help, Elisabeth gets to the bottom of some devilish goings on.
Scripted by prolific television writer Arthur A. Ross - father of Pleasantville (1998) and Seabiscuit (2003) writer-director Gary Ross - Satan’s School for Girls dawdles for ages on its way to revealing something already obvious from its title. It nestles comfortably amidst such spooky Seventies TV movies as The Devil’s Daughter (1973), Cruise Into Terror (1978) and The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973), wherein the key is always to beware any smooth-talking, seemingly nice young men. Everybody suspects grumpy Professor Delacroix, but seasoned viewers know better. “What the devil’s going?” says Clampett at one point. Ho, ho.
With Aaron Spelling producing, this was never going to jangle the nerves like say, Trilogy of Terror (1975), but it is a reasonably atmospheric production with images drawn straight from pulp horror paperback covers: Pamela Franklin wandering dark corridors by lamplight; something spooky in the cellar; a cloaked Satanist surrounded by white-robed virgins. It harks back to Scooby-Doo and juvenile horror comics but the ending is anticlimactic to say the least and suggests this was meant to be a TV pilot. As usual the devil’s motives are unfathomable, a convenient way to excuse why his scheme does not make a lick of sense.
As anyone who has seen The Innocents (1961), The Third Secret (1963) or Our Mother’s House (1967) can attest, Pamela Franklin was a very good actress though later, sadly typecast. Her career gradually lapsed from classy horror movies (And Soon the Darkness (1970), The Legend of Hell House (1973) to trashier fare like this and the Bert I. Gordon schlock duo: Necromancy (1972) (later re-edited and re-released with extra nudity as The Coming (1981)) and The Food of the Gods (1976). Jo Van Fleet, an Oscar-winner for East of Eden (1955) and memorably nasty in The Tenant (1976), is rather wasted as the oppressed headmistress, though she does have a nice bit where she regresses into a meek schoolgirl. Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd’s star quality shines through the lacklustre material, though sadly the possibility of Charlie’s Angels battling Satan-worshippers (preferably in Hawaii!) was something Aaron Spelling never chose to explore. He did remake Satan’s School for Girls though, in 2000 with Shannon Doherty, Julie Benz and Kate Jackson back - this time as headmistress.