Wicked Wednesday: Satan’s School for Girls (1973)

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I have to say, Satan’s School for Girls is one of those films where the superb title exceeds the content of the film itself. That, I think, is mostly the fault of being a made-for-TV movie. Can’t get too crazy when it’s on ABC.

Though it’s only expected that you’ll be disappointed when you go into something like this with expectations. I had imagined, in my mind, that this might be Carrie meets Russ Meyer meets, I dunno, Slaughter High. That’s definitely not this movie – though I’ll write it since it sounds badass anyway.

The heroine of the film is Elizabeth: a girl in her early twenties living in one of the most obscenely well-decorated houses for an orphan. Her sister, Martha, had been meaning to visit after leaving her school, Salem Academy.

Though Martha seems to be running away from something a lot more than she’s running to. When Martha arrives at Elizabeth’s house, she’s told that her sister went away. Clearly being followed by someone, she begins to panic, but is let into her sister’s rooms. Despite locking the doors from the inside, who ever was following her has got in.

When Elizabeth returns to her house, she finds the police waiting. They arrived because of a call about a woman screaming. When Elizabeth gets into her rooms (thanks to the police expertly shooting the door chain), they discover Martha has hung herself…

OR HAS SHE?

Though Elizabeth is a smart little girl and knows that her sister wouldn’t commit suicide (something about how someone wouldn’t travel to the other side of the country just to die). She decides to investigate and goes to interview her sister’s old roommate, Lucy.

Lucy seems nice, if nervous, but completely derails when Elizabeth says she’s going to the academy. Lucy warns Elizabeth not to mention her name and to act like they’ve never met.

Somehow not disturbed by her meeting with Lucy, Elizabeth goes to the academy anyway under the surname Morgan (no idea how you can get into a college with a false name mid-way through term and with… no transcripts?).

Elizabeth is immediately greeted by a chipper group of girls, who make her welcome. They take her to meet “the Dragon Lady,” who is the school’s headmistress. During her meeting, Mrs Williams gives Elizabeth an old-fashioned kerosene lamp because of all the power outages the school experiences.

Somehow, Elizabeth only seems to attend two classes: an art class and a psychology course. In her art class, she sees an image of her sister painted by a a fellow student named Debbie. Though Debbie is just about as weird as Lucy. When the girls leave their psych class (in which they are studying rats in a maze), Debbie begins to have an outburst, though promptly forgets what happens.

Elizabeth resumes her investigation after the students learn that Lucy has committed suicide as well.

OR HAS SHE??

She begins to pester Debbie about the painting she made of Martha. There’s a room in the background of the painting that appears to be in a cellar. Debbie claims not to know where it is, but Elizabeth conveniently finds the door under the school. Though she gets scared off by the psych teacher, Professor Delacroix.

When Elizabeth tells Debbie she found the room in the painting, Debbie is definitely NOT happy. When Elizabeth brings up the room to the other girls in the school, they tell her the story about a group of witches who were killed in a cellar during the Salem Witch Trials – and several people believe it was in the cellar under the school.

After hearing the story, Elizabeth brings Roberta with her back to the door she found. But while the girls explore, they discover Debbie’s corpse, which appears as though she has killed herself…

OR HAS SHE? (Okay. Enough.)

They tell Mrs Williams, but when she “calls the police” her hand is seen resting on the hook. Though Elizabeth and Roberta can’t see this, they begin to get suspicious about the school. They realise that none of the girls who have died have families. Then they discover that the files on the girls are missing.

Roberta and Elizabeth find the files in Professor Delacroix’s room, and he becomes suspect number one. But when Delacroix finds them, he runs away instead of attacking them. The silly man runs off campus and falls into a river, where he is then drown by his students (who just poke him with these long sticks over and over again).

The girls all appear to be working with Mr Clampett, the arts teacher. He’s the real mastermind behind the business going on at the school, but this teacher didn’t have a moustache! Ha ha. Fooled you! 

Clampett sends Roberta and Elizabeth to stay in his classroom while he tries to further manipulate Mrs Williams, and Elizabeth decides to reveal her real identity to Roberta.

The girls are too busy chatting to realise that Clampett has convinced Williams to send the other students away from the school. When Elizabeth finally realises, she only sees the taillights of the last van-full of students fade away.

When Elizabeth tries to get answers from the headmistress, she discovers that Mrs Williams has gone insane with guilt and only rants about “Miss Abigail.” Taking matters into their own hands, Elizabeth and Roberta go into the cellar to grab a revolver for protection.

But just when Elizabeth thinks she’s safe, she discovers Clampett with a group of girls. They are all a part of a cult to worship Clampett, whom they believe is Satan. Calmpett wants to sacrifice eight girls to restore the eight he lost (referencing the witches from the witch trials story). The seven students are obsessed with their professor, completely believing he is Satan.

Shockingly, Elizabeth doesn’t go along with the game. Instead, she decides to set the cellar on fire. She runs to rescue the still-babbling Mrs Williams before setting the rest of the school on fire with the old-fashioned lamps.

The rest of the eight remain as scarifies. And Clampett? Well, he enters the fire himself, but is later seen watching the school burn from the outside. He then fades away – almost certainly confirming that he’s supernatural.

Satan’s School for Girls is a little like a beginner level version of Suspiria. Both are built around a similar sort of “conspiracy in the school” premise, but Suspiria is allowed to get away with a lot more – the perks of not being shown on television.

The mystery is pretty good, but the bait and switch of the villain is easy to call from a mile away. Really, this is all you can want from a made-for-television film: it’s silly, it’s not exactly “air tight” on the plot, but it’s strangely watchable nevertheless.

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