Cast & Crew
Edward L. Bernds
On the first day of high school, new student Joyce Martin is confronted by Connie Harris, the brutish leader of a high school all-girl gang known as the Hellcats. Connie advises Joyce that despite the dress-code rules, all the girls will be wearing slacks the following day. Joyce hesitantly agrees and the next day, over the protest of her parents Roger and Linda, goes to school dressed in pants, only to discover that she has been the victim of Connie's prank. Deeply embarrassed, Joyce cuts class and wanders into a local coffee shop where she meets counter attendant Mike Landers, who is sympathetic to her predicament. Mike confides he is an orphan, going to night school to study engineering and envies her family life. Although Joyce laments that her parents never pay attention to her, Mike insists that she is lucky. That evening Connie telephones Joyce and invites her to a meeting of the Hellcats at their secret hideaway in the balcony of an abandoned movie house across town. At the meeting Connie informs Joyce that she is being considered for gang membership and outlines group rules, which include not dating, not studying and defying all teachers except the amiable home economics teacher Trudy Davis. The next day, Connie and her deputy, Dolly Crane, order Joyce to steal from a five and dime store as an initiation into the Hellcats. Later at the coffee shop, Mike is dismayed to see Joyce with Connie and Dolly. He notices the stolen earrings, but Joyce feigns indifference to him, then secretly promises to meet him later. Later, Joyce and Mike drive out to the river and Mike expresses concern over Joyce socializing with Connie and warns her that the Hellcats are no good. When Mike accuses her of stealing the earrings, Joyce explains that unknown to the others, she left behind money to pay for them. Joyce admits she is desperate to be accepted at school and that the unhappiness she is experiencing at home has led her to become a member of the Hellcats. Mike then confesses his attraction to Joyce and hopes she will eventually have no need for the Hellcats. The following day at school, Connie orders Joyce to ask a local boy, Rip, to a party the gang is sponsoring that night. When Joyce complies and Connie is pleased, Dolly grows jealous. After school, Mike picks up Joyce but is dismayed when she states that she must return early for a party with the Hellcats that night. That evening, Rip takes Joyce to the party, but when she grows uncomfortable with the drinking and his amorous attentions, abandons her for another girl. Later, Fred, Connie's date, suggests that everyone play a game in the dark. In the midst of the game there is a terrifying shriek and the revelers discover that Connie is dead, having fallen down the basement steps. Rip orders everyone to leave and confesses to the bewildered Joyce that they cannot call the police as they have broken into the house for the party. After Rip drops Joyce at home, he worries that she will talk about the party. When Mike arrives at Joyce's shortly thereafter, Rip and Fred follow them and beat up Mike. Joyce insists that Mike not report them and then tells him a little about the party without mentioning Connie's death. Later, Roger is furious that Joyce has remained out so late, and despite Linda's protests, upbraids her severely when she returns home. Joyce insists her father has no reason to distrust her and Linda agrees. On Monday at school, Dolly notifies the Hellcats that she has taken over the gang and that they must agree on a story regarding Connie. The girls are confused, however, when Dolly reveals that she believes someone pushed Connie down the stairs and that she intends to learn his or her identity. Later, gang member Meg warns Joyce that Dolly can be dangerous. In school that afternoon Miss Davis is summoned to meet police lieutenant Manners, who informs her that Connie has been reported missing. Manners asks to meet with the girls one by one, but upon questioning them, finds that all of their stories are similar. Joyce admits that Dolly is Connie's best friend, which infuriates Dolly. That evening Mike and Joyce hear the radio news report that Connie's body has been found when the owners of the house returned from vacation. Distressed, Joyce goes to see Miss Davis, but cannot bring herself to divulge the truth. The next day at school, Joyce finds Dolly leaving her a note announcing an emergency meeting of the Hellcats that night at the movie theater. Joyce tells Dolly that she intends to quit the gang, but Dolly insists that she must formally do so at the meeting. Mike is pleased to hear Joyce intends to leave the gang and drives her to the meeting that night. Meanwhile Meg and another gang member visit Miss Davis to relate that they found Dolly's note to Joyce and are concerned as no other members were invited. Miss Davis contacts Manners and he agrees to send a police car to the movie theater. Upon arriving at the theater, Joyce is alarmed to find only Dolly, who confesses that she pushed Connie to her death because she was jealous of Joyce. When Dolly attempts to attack Joyce with a knife, she falls over the balcony ledge to her death just as the police and Mike arrive inside. After Miss Davis telephones the Martins to explain everything, Joyce and Mike are greeted warmly when Joyce returns home.
Edward L. Bernds
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Bartlett A. Carré
Ferde Grofe Jr.
James H. Nicholson
James H. Nicholson
Charles "buddy" Rogers
Edward Sampson Jr.
Josef Von Stroheim
High School Hellcats
Oddly, AIP's love affair with making pure JD films was fairly short-lived and didn't seem as dedicated as its other exploitation efforts. The indie studio had struck gold incorporating teen angst in sci-fi and horror films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), so doing a straight study of misunderstood kids acting out and breaking the law seemed a bit mundane by comparison. However, they did dip their toes in with titles like Daddy-O, Female Jungle, Reform School Girl, Girls in Prison, and Runaway Daughters, all made cheaply and quickly. However, they seemed more interested in giving the formula a spin--literally in the case of a string of hot rod titles with kids burning rubber around California.
In fact, it was one of those autosploitation films, Hot Rod Gang, that played as the initial double feature companion to this film, a fast-paced, 69-minute look at a female gang called the Hellcats who control a local high school. Into the mix comes new girl Joyce (future orphan philanthropist Yvonne Lime), who goes through the Hellcats initiation process in a string of increasingly transgressive rituals.
Cast as Joyce's romantic interest is the biggest name in the film, Brett Halsey, a busy actor who was in the beginning phase of his career at the time mostly appearing in TV shows like Mackenzie's Raiders. After this film he moved to big studio work with Fox, appearing in such films as Return of the Fly (1958), The Best of Everything (1959), and Return to Peyton Place (1961). He would go on to alternate between European productions and American TV and exploitation film roles for the bulk of his career and remains busy as of this writing.
For classic Hollywood fans, the most surprising name involved with this film is surely its producer, Buddy Rogers, an actor since the silent era (including a starring role in 1927's Wings). However, he's best known as the third husband of screen legend Mary Pickford, to whom he was married from 1937 until her death. He was also an executive producer of Hot Rod Gang (which likely explains their big screen pairing), and this would be his last narrative feature producer credit after a brief but oddly varied slate of films including Douglas Sirk's Sleep, My Love (1948).
A special mention for this film also has to go to its composer, Ronald Stein, one of AIP's busiest in-house musical talents. His effective work here is no less than one of no less than eight titles he scored in succession that year, also including Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Bonnie Parker Story. Though often overlooked in the shadow of AIP's most famous composer, Les Baxter, he's no less significant and contributed a great deal to the atmosphere and impact of the drive-in scene in the '50s and '60s. Speaking of music, this film went on to inspire the climactic musical number ("High School Hellcats") of none other than John Waters' 1990 ode to juvenile delinquency, Cry-Baby!
High School Hellcats
The Hollywood Reporter reviewer noted that High School Hellcats was an exception to the standard Hollywood formula which assumed that teen audiences required films filled with criminal violence. In the onscreen credits, executive producer Charles "Buddy" Rogers' name does not appear, as it usually did onscreen, with quotation marks around "Buddy."