‘Revenge of the Cheerleaders’ (1976): Rewinding Back to a Simpler Time

Revenge of the Cheerleaders, filmed in 1974 and released in 1976, is evocative of a time that was considerably looser and freer than today. For one thing, there was far less of a negative stigma against the portrayal of sex/nudity in film. In fact, many popular film genres of that time included such depictions. There was also less of a societal preoccupation with today’s pervasive elements of competition, general political unrest, and excessive worrying about one’s own public reputation. The early 1970s was well before the popularity explosion of the Internet and development of social media. Society certainly had its problems, but life overall seemed far less complicated and, in many respects, far less challenging.  

Despite the fact that Revenge of the Cheerleaders was low-budget and independently produced, with somewhat disappointing box office results at the time of its original United States release, it has become something of a cult classic from that period. This is if, for nothing else, due to the fact that it was the very first film featuring renowned actor David Hasselhoff. It is one of Quentin Tarantino’s personal favorites – important enough for him to showcase his own print in his first festival in 1997 in Austin, TX, as well as featuring it at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, CA. Apart from its quality of sheer innocence, the film is brilliantly shot and edited, has numerous comedic elements, is fast paced with a well-developed plot, visually stimulating and interesting, and has a great music score by John Sterling, with singing and dance scenes featured throughout. 

Vintage poster designed by Neon Park & used by Corinth Films, the non-theatrical distributor for “Revenge of the Cheerleaders”
Image courtesy of Richard Lerner

Revenge of the Cheerleaders was the brainchild of friends Richard Lerner and Nathaniel “Nick” Dorsky. Lerner was previously the cinematographer for The Cheerleaders (1973) co-produced by Paul Glickler with Lerner and directed by Glickler. It was written on and off over a period of a few months by Dorsky, Lerner, Ted Greenwald (a New York-based poet who wrote some catchy lines and phrases for the film) and Ace Baandige (the latter having also worked on the screenplay for The Cheerleaders). The plot revolved around Walter Hartlander, a conservative-minded, wealthy golf-playing realtor who owned over one hundred shopping malls (collectively called “Park ‘N Lark”) and was president of the local school board trying to shut down the fictional Aloha High School. Aloha was a carefree, disorganized mess of a school, influenced by five sex-minded dancing cheerleaders.  Hartlander, humorously corrupt and an enemy of the cheerleaders, wanted to merge Aloha with the much-hated Lincoln Vocational, so that he and his business partner could use its space to build another mall to further fatten their own pockets. These main elements were largely written by Dorsky, having been inspired by the Russ Meyer film The Seven Minutes (1971). Dorsky describes the personality of realtor Hartlander as “a tip of the hat to the prediction of Donald Trump.”

Casting began in early 1974, a few months before filming commenced.  Lerner has mentioned that a good part of the casting took place at the office of Patrick Wayne (John Wayne’s son) on Sunset Boulevard. Dorsky once explained, “Cheerleaders were hard to find because many young women feared that the required nudity would tarnish their reputations. The adults in the film were easier to hire because we were able to find character actors we were familiar with from our younger years.”  Lerner further explained, “Casting director Bill Kenney got us good people. He’d go through his book for us – you could just ask for this person and that person and you could easily get them.  Today that is almost impossible for a low budget film. Nathaniel and I picked the actors out of his book that we wanted.” One of the high school’s main cheerleaders was Patrice Rohmer, a blonde, Southern California ‘surfer girl’ who had already been in the entertainment business for about a year.  During the interview for the part, Rohmer was asked if she was adventurous, spontaneous, and able to play a role that required nudity. Having been raised in an environment that viewed nudity as being natural and innocent, this certainly did not present a problem for Rohmer, and she was hired to play a character named Sesame.

Patrice Rohmer from a magazine in the 1970’s
Patrice Rohmer from a magazine in the 1970s.
Image courtesy of Patrice Rohmer

Lerner asked Rohmer if she knew of anyone else who could play cheerleaders in the film, and she suggested her friend Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith who, apart from acting with Rohmer in Phantom of the Paradise (1974), had also appeared in Caged Heat (today considered a 1970’s cult movie classic) and The Swinging Cheerleaders, both released in 1974. Of the 6 women cast, two were let go after seven days of filming, in part because they changed their mind and refused to do the required nudity. 21-year-old Hasselhoff was hired to play Rohmer’s love interest, a character named Boner, in Revenge of the Cheerleaders. Filming began in May 1974 and lasted a total of approximately twenty-two days. After the first seven days of filming, Cheryl Linde and Deirdre Cowden were let go, and production was halted for a brief period due to problems with financing. As it turned out, some of the guaranteed cash for the movie had been aborted when shooting began, leaving Lerner and Dorsky with insufficient funds. During this time off, Rohmer recalls that she and Hasselhoff had moved into a commune on Santa Monica Beach and were living together along with about eleven other people. Most of the actual shooting of the film was very spontaneous with little-to-no rehearsals. One of the few scenes, apart from the dance numbers and cheers, that Lerner recalls needed to be rehearsed was the dinosaur scene (shot outside in about 105-degree desert heat in Cabazon, CA) with the five main cheerleaders, because that scene simply wasn’t delivered spontaneously. The spirited dance numbers throughout were also rehearsed and were choreographed by the talented Xavier Chatman. In many of these dance sequences, Smith was reduced to playing a minimal role, as it became known that she was well into a pregnancy after she had been hired for the part. 

Editing the film took about eight to nine months. Chores began with assembling a rough cut from Dorsky’s camera rushes by editing certain key sequences of the film, including some of the music sequences in the high drama footage at the end of the movie which was reminiscent of the scores  heard in old Universal Pictures film serials. Feeling the film needed additional changes, Joseph Ancore, Jr. was brought in to edit some sequences. Through Joseph, Lerner and Dorsky then hired Norman Gay, one of the three editors on 1973’s The Exorcist, who had earlier edited one of the key sequences in William Friedkin’s classic The French Connection (1971). Gay was not familiar with movies containing comedic elements as opposed to those with a  more dramatic nature. This prompted Lerner and Dorsky to bring in Richard S. “Dick” Brummer, who had previously edited and sound recorded many of the Russ Meyer films. When editing was almost complete, an additional scene was filmed of Smith, who had by then given birth, now returning to wave at a crowd while holding her and John Sterling’s now 6-month-old son, Justin. 

Patrice Rohmer’s professional acting resume from the 1970’s
Patrice Rohmer’s professional acting resume in the 1970s.
Image courtesy of Patrice Rohmer

The next major task was to find a distributor, which was difficult due to the film’s raunchiness. Although Revenge of the Cheerleaders was almost picked up by Columbia, the film wound up being theatrically distributed in the United States by Allan Shackleton’s Monarch Releasing Corporation, and first released in U.S. theaters in May 1976. Rated R due to the film’s sex and nudity, Lerner has recalled that some theaters at the time showed a slightly censored print of the movie that cut out the showing of pubic hair.  Non-theatrical distribution of the film (for example in colleges, universities, and other such institutions) was handled by Corinth Films. Of disappointment was the fact that Revenge of the Cheerleaders received negative reviews from film critics at the time. Lerner also had a foreign distributor which he used for theatrical distribution overseas. He was able to secure Gold Key Entertainment to distribute the film to TV in 1980. This TV version cut out all the drugs, sex and nude scenes, and Lerner and Dorsky added additional scenes from their original outtakes that were not seen in the 1976 theatrical release, including an extended fight scene in a locker room and a swimming pool scene. The movie also appeared on subscription television channels including Showtime, SelecTV and ON TV. A release on Shout! Factory, according to Lerner, is forthcoming. 

The author wishes to thank Richard Lerner, Nathaniel Dorsky, Patrice Rohmer, and Vanessa Theme Ament for all their time and assistance.