High School Hellcats (1958)

What Must a Good Girl Say to Belong?

Poster image for 1958's High School Hell Cats

Joyce (Yvonne Lime) is the new girl in school and eager to make friends. Unfortunately for her, the girl gang known as the Hellcats set their sights on her early, and once they’ve got their sights on you, they’ll stop at nothing to get their claws into you, too. Joyce is put through the initiation process and quickly earns the favor of gang leader Connie (Jana Lund, FRANKENSTEIN 1970 [1958]), much to the dismay of her unstable Right Hand Gal Dolly (Susanne Sidney). The expected juvenile delinquent antics ensue, but when they spiral out of control and end in tragedy, Joyce finds herself in way over her head.

The girl gang from 1958's High School Hellcats

This juvenile delinquent film may have been salacious back in the day, but it feels charmingly quaint to today’s audience. It has major performances by many minor actors, but they give it their all, for better or for worse. It’s not quite as sleazy as much of its ilk, which doesn’t make it a great exploitation film but does serve to make it a better movie overall. There’s a cool score by Ronald Stein that adds to the hip and retro fun, making it a solid little time capsule that probably shows less of what society was actually like and more of what society was afraid of. It was originally double-billed with HOT ROD GANG, so get ‘em both and make a night out of it!

This film from genre kings AIP came in towards the end of the 1950s when J.D. flicks were all the rage on the drive-in circuit, but the old warhorse still had a few good years left in her yet. It’s easy to imagine the contemporary audience reacting to what unfolded: the good girls living vicariously through their onscreen avatars: the bad girls hooting and hollering; the boys fantasizing about the bedroom antics implied but not supplied; and the parents, if any were present, clutching their pearls and mopping their furrowed brows. What a sight it must have been.

Viewed through a modern lens, however, it all feels a bit weak. The first part of Joyce’s initiation, for instance, involves her being tricked into wearing slacks to school instead of a dress, which is strictly forbidden. The humiliation is so great that she flees the campus entirely. Other initiation rites involve stealing costume jewelry (which she secretly pays for) and asking a boy out on a date in front of his girlfriend. The gang rules that she must follow also include dating only approved boys—the coffee-slinging college boy, Mike (Brett Halsey, THE GIRL IN LOVERS LANE), that she has her eyes on is off limits—and not getting any grades higher than a D, as anything more is just showing off.

The salacious slip scene from 1958's High School Hellcats

It’s heavily implied that Joyce falls in with the wrong crowd because of her home life, which doesn’t initially seem all that bad. Her father (Don Shelton) works too much and her mother (Viola Harris) is too often out socializing with the other bored housewives. But as the movie continues, we see the tension start to rise between all three of them, culminating in the father slapping Joyce across the face for parading around the house in her slip. Some have ascribed a creepier and more unsettling cause to his insistence of maintaining Joyce’s absolutely chasteness, but to me he just seems an old-fashioned man who is out of touch with the changing world and losing control of his teenage daughter.

Aside from Joyce’s parents, there are a few other authority figures present that are of importance to the story. Ms. Davis (Rhoda Williams) is the young and pretty health teacher, and the only member of the faculty that the girls trust. She wants to help the girls through caring and understanding, whereas Lieutenant Manners (Robert Anderson), the officer investigating a crime that the Hellcats may be involved in, wants to set them straight through force and discipline. The fact that neither of them seem to have a great success rate, and they only truly prove effective when they team up towards the end of the film, must say something.

HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS was written by husband and wife team Robert Lowell and Jan Englund under the names Mark and Jan Lowell. The two also collaborated on the scripts for THE DIARY OF A HIGH SCHOOL BRIDE (1959) and HIS AND HERS (1961), but both were otherwise known as actors. They sometimes appeared in the same films, often in smaller roles, such as THE OTHER WOMAN (1954), EMERGENCY HOSPITAL (1956), and THE HUMAN FACTOR (1975).

It was directed by THREE STOOGES, BOWERY BOYS and BLONDIE alumnus Edward Bernds, who also gave us science fiction films WORLD WITHOUT END (1956), SPACE MASTER X-7 (1958), and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), as well as horror sequel RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) and J.D. films REFORM SCHOOL GIRL (1957) and JOY RIDE (1958). Talk about range!

Joyce from 1958's High School Hellcats

Our leading lady Yvonne Lime can also be found in similar youth drama UNTAMED YOUTH (1957), I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), and DRAGSTRIP RIOT (1958). She married Don Fedderson, executive producer of A FAMILY AFFAIR and MY THREE SONS, in 1969, and she founded the charitable organization International Orphans Inc.—now known as Childhelp—with fellow actress Sara O’Meara in 1959. Their efforts have won them much recognition, including 5 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Which is likely one or two more than the other cast members have been nominated for.


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