The wicked TV movie Satan's School for Girls helped launch the career of two Angels
Aaron Spelling produced this unforgettable 1973 flick with Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd.
Image: Spelling-Goldberg Productions / ABC
Horror had its heyday in the 1970s. Chilling films like The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, Jaws and Deliverance were bona fide blockbusters. Marvel introduced dark antiheroes like Morbius the Living Vampire, Blade and Werewolf by Night in comics with titles like Tomb of Dracula. Stephen King paperbacks stuffed the racks in stores. Heck, even vampires and ghosts became breakfast food when General Mills launched its "Monster cereals."
But the true reach of horror into popular culture could be found on television. While series such as Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker became cult favorites, made-for-TV movies truly took a turn towards the macabre. Network productions like Bad Ronald (1974) and Trilogy of Terror (1975) kept us up at night. The scares were not just reserved for Halloween, either, as evidenced by Home for the Holidays (1972), a Sally Field slasher Christmas special.
In what other era could you expect to find a title like Satan's School for Girls slotted into an ABC evening schedule in September?
Even more surprising, 1973's Satan's School for Girls was a production of Aaron Spelling. After all, this is the man, the pioneering producer, who would go on to make The Love Boat and 7th Heaven hits.
And Satan's School for Girls helped introduce two future stars of another Spelling classic, Charlie's Angels.
At the time, Cheryl Ladd was known and billed as Cheryl Stoppelmoor. The 22-year-old actress had a few credits under her belt, yet her most notable role was likely a secret to audiences, as she provided the singing voice to Melody on the cartoon Josie and the Pussycats. Between her Saturday morning breakthrough and Satan's School, Cheryl "Stoppelmoor" had popped in bit parts in episodes of The Rookies, Harry O and Ironside. This witchy role, at last, gave the blonde more to chew on.
Ladd plays a student at the exclusive Salem Academy for Women. She is one of several students in the thrall of Dr. Joseph Clampett (Roy Thinnes), whom they believe to be Satan incarnate. Turns out, his followers are not too wrong, as Clampett reveals demonic powers in the climax.
Ladd certainly stands out amongst the band of young actresses in the cult, but her role is secondary to that of Kate Jackson, her future Charlie's Angels costar. Jackson's brief career to that point had been in eerie television — she made her screen debut in a recurring role on Dark Shadows. Perhaps that is why she was cast to play Roberta, the seemingly friendly student who helps the protagonist, Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin), investigate the mysterious death of her sister. Spoiler alert: Roberta is not who she seems.
With its academic setting, wicked headmistress (Jo Van Fleet) and Seventies fashion, Satan's School for Girls is somewhat of a network-friendly spin on Suspiria, one that is safe enough sit next to Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law on the TV Guide lineup. The New York Times would dub it "one of the most memorable made-for-TV horror films of the 1970s," which led to a remake in 2000.
Kate Jackson returned for the remake, this time filling the role of Jo Van Fleet as the Dean. It was a reminder to her fans that before she was an Angel, she dabbled on the dark side.