Schoolgirls In Chains

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Cheap, sleazy, offensive, and a little creepy; Schoolgirls In Chains (1973) is a classic exploitation film. It bridges the gap between Psycho (1960) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) in its depiction of oedipal dementia run amok. Schoolgirls In Chains was director Don Jones’ debut feature and establishes the filmmaker’s interests and style. In fact, a few of the cast members who appear in Schoolgirls In Chains would go on to feature in some of Don Jones’ later films.

Schoolgirls In Chains is essentially a juvenile heterosexual male fantasy as nightmare. The adult brothers Frank (Gary Kent) and John (John Parker) live in a state of arrested development brought on not only by genetic developmental disorders but also by a sexually abusive mother. The “games” the brothers play with their female victims infantilize the predator and degrade the victim. Where Tobe Hooper mined this premise for horror, Don Jones opts for a misplaced sense of comedy.

Indeed, Schoolgirls In Chains thinks it is scarier than it is and compensates that with an offbeat sense of humor which ultimately comes across as an exercise in bad taste. The performance of Parker is pitiful and creepy, but neither attribute is accentuated by Jones’ camera. Jones’ preference for wider, hand-held shots make Parker’s broad Jerry Lewis inspired gestures seem like overacting rather than a specific choice.

In this complex of misogynistic fantasies the captive women represent the promise of autonomy and the resourcefulness of maturity. The brothers’ Norman Bates-esque obsession with their mother locates the maternal female as the only legitimate expression of authoritative adulthood. The captive women are therefore equated with toys or naughty pets. The suspense in Schoolgirls In Chains is entirely derived from the escape attempts of these women.

Suzanne Lund’s performance as Ginger is the dramatic highlight of Schoolgirls In Chains. In the scene where she is raped by Frank and then attempts to manipulate him emotionally after he fails to climax is a veritable tour de force. On Lund’s highly expressive face the camera locates every thought and fear as it passes through Ginger’s mind as she makes her one and only power play after weeks of abuse. It’s this scene that gives Schoolgirls In Chains all of its dramatic stakes and establishes an empathetic connection of depth with the spectator. Cheryl Waters, Merrie Lynn Ross, and Mady Maguire are all decent enough, but they never exceed what’s written on the page with their performances.

In the end, Frank commits suicide when one of the girl’s boyfriends (Stafford Morgan) comes to the rescue. It’s about the most uninventive ending that the film could have. Opting at the last minute for some degree of pathos was a mistake, resulting in yet another tonal shift so extreme that it causes a kind of whiplash. Schoolgirls In Chains, though not a particularly good exploitation film, will have value to those interested in the history of this particular sub-genre of horror film.