Review: ‘Rebel Highway: Reform School Girls’

The girls aren't the only things wayward in this uninspired reworking of the AIP cult fave, "Reform School Girls," as the telefilm veers too close to parody and strays too far to be believable.

The girls aren’t the only things wayward in this uninspired reworking of the AIP cult fave, “Reform School Girls,” as the telefilm veers too close to parody and strays too far to be believable.

Not only does this final installment of the cable channel’s “Rebel Highway” series lack the campy wit of the original, but it also fails to have much of the new-found seriousness these updated versions of drive-in classics have been injected with from the top-notch lensers and scripters.

Script writer Bruce Meade updates the original pic with an incestuous uncle who cares for Donna and her baby sister, requisite prison nudity and a brief seg of lesbianism, seemingly used to honor the A.I.P mandate of representing the racing hormones of pic’s characters in each of its offerings.

Aimee Graham, as the wanna-be bad girl Donna, who gets hooked and booked for being involved in a hit-and-run and sent to reform school, succeeds in eking out a worth-watching perf despite story’s obvious limitations.

Likewise for Eleanor O’Brien, as the delightfully demented kleptomaniac Dink, until a plot device cuts her onscreen time in favor of the developing relationship between Donna and street-tough Carmen (Teresa DiSpina).

Framed by the promise that Donna’s one-year sentence could be reduced if she runs on the reform school’s track team, as the wickedly slick headmistress Mrs. Turnbull (Carolyn Seymour) offers, Donna embarks on a training program that reduces her stress and aids her self-esteem.

But by show’s end, Donna heeds Carmen’s advice not to take favors because of the payback, and chooses not to be a pawn in Turnbull’s game.

DiSpina’s work is first-rate, believably alternating between worldly thug and sensitive teen, fraught with sexual tension.

Helmer Jonathan Kaplan taps his expertise in guiding female leads into delivering strong perfs, clearly giving Graham, DiSpina and Seymour plenty of creative leash that belies the otherwise lackluster scripting.

Rebel Highway: Reform School Girls

(Fri. (23), 10-11:15 p.m., Showtime)


Filmed in Southern California by Drive-In Classics Cinema. Producers, Debra Hill, Lou Arkoff, David Giler, Willie Kutner, Llewellyn Wells; director, Jonathan Kaplan; writer, Bruce Meade; story, Edward Bernds; director of photography, James Chressanthis; production designers, Debra Raymond, Dorian Vernacchio.


Editor, Michael Ornstein; sound, John Sutton; music, Hummie Mann.


Cast: Aimee Graham, Teresa DiSpina, Harry Northrop, Matt LeBlanc, Bill Calvert, Carolyn Seymour, Diane Robin, Ashley Lister, Chuck Bennett, Eleanor O'Brien, Vanna O'Brien, Nick Chinlund, Samaria Graham, Erin Leshan Wiley, Dino Anello, Lynn Eastman, Catherine Paolone, Alix Koromzay, Marisa Ribisi, Curt Boulware.
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