That Shannen Doherty would enjoy a career revival by playing a witch on series television might have seemed like the punch line to a bad joke a couple of years ago, but in the spirit of sticking with what works, the star of the WB’s “Charmed” headlines the remake of the supernatural horror film “Satan’s School for Girls,” which first aired on the Alphabet web in 1973. This updated version, from director Christopher Leitch (“China Beach”) confirms the old adage that as much as things change, they stay the same — at least when it comes to TV movies. In fact, seen-it-all horror fans won’t find anything new or particularly shocking here, but there is camp fun to be had, and therein lies the appeal.
Writer Michael Hitchcock’s idea of a remake, based on the teleplay written by A.A. Ross, means “Scream”-like rip-offs, steamy sex scenes, lots of smoke-and-mirrors special effects and a few pop culture references to bring pic into the new millennium. Mostly, however, Hitchcock sticks to the basis premise of an underlying evil at an all-girl school.
“The Five,” a secret society, is a controlling force behind the scenes of New England’s Fallbridge Women’s College. When the younger sister of Beth Hammersmith (Doherty) mysteriously dies in what is ruled a suicide, Beth enrolls at the college under an assumed name to try to uncover the truth.
Of course, all is not what it seems at Fallbridge, and Beth must rely on her own telekinetic skills to protect her from the danger lurking behind the ivy-covered walls.
Even if viewers aren’t familiar with the original, it doesn’t take much to guess who is behind all of the deaths at the school. But what the pic lacks in mystery is made up for in catty stereotypes of college students. In most cases, Hitchcock and Leitch lay them on thick. The Goth girls make for the usual suspects, the Sorority girls are elitists and the comely coeds are very possessive of their boyfriends.
What really dates the film, however, is the underlying notion of “The Five.” Perhaps in 1973 it seemed like the only way a woman could become successful was by making a pact with the devil, but the promise of attaining anything you want by such alternative means has lost some of its validity today. Women have come a long way, baby, and they didn’t need Satan’s help to get there.
Although some would argue that point in terms of the humorless Doherty, here the notorious star plays the role of the maudlin and confused Beth convincingly. If she had added scared to her repertoire, it would have been a near dead-on performance.
Victoria Sanchez does a nice turn as the scary Goth student Lisa, although Julie Benz in a Jekyll-and-Hyde role manages to drain all menace from the horror scenes by chanting “Hail Satan,” in her Chipmunklike voice. Kate Jackson, who appeared in the original as a student, is commanding in her few scenes as Olivia Burtis, the dean of the school who may or may not be in on the shenanigans.
Very little blood is shed, and when it is, it’s shown in black and white. Still, pic has enough gruesome images to warrant a TV-14 guideline. Leitch also makes use of negative images and spooky sets that more than anything add to the camp feel. Perri Garrara’s production is appropriately spooky even though Sergei Kozlov’s shots of a bright and arid landscape make for a poor replica of New England.