Color, 1979, 86m.
Directed by Jeff Werner
Starring Jason Williams, Kristine DeBell, Lenka Novak, Marilyn Joi, Anthony Lewis, Robert Houston, Courtney Sands, Leon Isacc Kennedy, Janie Squire
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Scorpion (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Well, there certainly are a lot of cheerleaders, and they do spend a wild weekend -- getting kidnapped! A bus load of pom-pommers from rival high schools gets hijacked by some male criminals including down-and-out former footballer Wayne (Williams, also the film's co-writer), who strikes up an odd rapport with one of the pluckiest of the cheerleaders, Debbie (DeBell). The ransom demands from the kidnappers set up an elaborate police plan involving a reluctant DJ named Joyful Jerome (Kennedy, using the name "Lee Curtis"). Meanwhile the girls must contend with tensions between themselves and the demands of the kidnappers, who stage a strip beauty contest and find their plan quickly derailing as the cheerleaders finally figure out how to fight back involving the resourceful use of all the girls' underwear.
A raucous and completely schizoid experience, Cheerleaders' Wild Weekend was originally shot under the more appropriate title of The Great American Girl Robbery (the title used on the print here) and apparently also circulated as Bus 17 Is Missing, though its most catchy, commercial name is the one that stuck. The film fires in numerous directions at commercial targets right from the opening scenes featuring female cast members doing perky glamour poses accompanied by funky main title music, and the plot skids wildly from leering T&A fantasy to broad comedy to violent roughie melodrama, finally culminating in wild heist antics right out of a '70s Disney caper. Director Werner (who later helmed the weirdest Robbie Benson vehicle, Die Laughing) certainly never allows the place to flag, but the brutal tonal shifts nearly knock the film off the rails over and over again. What keeps the whole enterprise together is the game cast with the enormously engaging DeBell making a solid female lead and her Alice in Wonderland co-star, Williams (best known for Flesh Gordon), holding his own as the most sympathetic of the kidnappers. Also noteworthy is Robert "Bobby" Houston, best known for his whiny turn in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes before he turned director with the Americanization of Shogun Assassin, ultimately even earning an Oscar for his documentary direction. He also shares one of the most memorable sequences in the film spying on a lesbian bathtub scene, which is not easily forgotten. Gorgeous drive-in actress Marilyn Joi also appears here under the name Tracy King as one of the cheerleaders; best remembered as Cleopatra Schwartz from Kentucky Fried Movie, she also enlivened plenty of classic trash films like Candy Tangerine Man, Black Samurai, and Nurse Sherri. Other familiar faces include Lenka Novak (Vampire Hookers), and Janie Squire (Piranha).
Originally released by GNC's Dimension Pictures, this film changed hands many times over the years and was even issued as a Leon Isaac Kennedy vehicle at one point to cash in on the success of Penitentiary. It still works pretty well as an exploitation time waster, with enough creative editorial touches and eccentric grace notes to keep viewers on their toes. Scorpion's 2009 DVD release (now out of print and pretty pricey) is taken from a solid print with several battered moments, looking a bit the worse for wear with inconsistent colors but certainly watchable. The extensive extras offer a wide range of viewpoints about the film including two audio commentaries. The first features Werner, Joi, editor Greg McClatchy, and Marc Edward Heuck discussing the film along with yours truly (so don't expect an objective appraisal!) along with an uncredited, mid-film appearance by Williams. Oddly enough, no one can seem to shed any light on the identity of Anthony Lewis, an actor playing one of the kidnappers under a fake name. The second commentary boasts the first special features appearance by DeBell who is prompted with a series of questions about her career. She doesn't remember a whole lot, but she does explain why she was the only female cast member to stay clothed and offers only a single, fleeting mention of her most infamous film. DeBell also appears for an interesting half-hour video interview in which she discusses most of the rest of her career including roles in Meatballs, The Big Brawl, The Main Event and TV's Night Court. The vivacious Joi returns for a 14-minute interview in which she recollects her very colorful career including memories of working with the likes of Sam Sherman and Al Adamson. Finally Kennedy turns up for a long 27-minute discussion of his entire career, ranging from this early film (a part he landed because of his real-life DJ experience as "Leon the Lover") to the Penitentiary series to the heartbreak of Knights of the City, a reportedly excellent genre-breaking musical mangled beyond recognition by New World when they diced out all of the music numbers! Other extras include the original trailer, the reissue title sequence, a hidden bonus interview with Williams (8 mins.) about his entire career, and a hefty still gallery with plenty of salacious and interesting shots including a rape scene cut from the final film for reasons discussed in the first commentary.
In 2016, Code Red returned to the title for a limited Blu-ray release sold exclusively through Diabolik DVD and the label's online store. The roster of special features shuffles around a bit, with a new 4-minute intro by vivacious hostess Katarina Leigh Waters adopting a southern accent and a cheerleader accent to share some history about the project. Carried over are the first commentary, the trailer, and the featurettes with DeBell, Williams (no longer hidden away), Joi, and Kennedy, so hang on to the old DVD if you want the alternate titles, gallery, or second commentary. Of course the real reason to upgrade here is the image quality, which is a massive jump over the standard def release from a much clear source with fresher colors, deeper blacks, and far stronger detail; apart from a little on-and-off hairline scratch in the reel, it's in nearly immaculate shape and quite a difference from start to finish. The DTS-HD MA mono audio is also cleaner and punchier, though the boost isn't quite as obvious as the video front.
Updated review on June 9, 2016.