Joyce Martin (Yvonne Lime) is the new girl in town, and when she starts up at her new high school she attracts the attention of the Hellcats (Jana Lund, Susanne Sidney, et al), a rowdy gang of classmates who like to pretend they’re all bad-asses.
Even though Joyce finds the girls to be rude after they pull an initiation prank on her, she is desperate to fit in at her new school so she continues to go along with the gang’s plans.
Her “bad” deeds start out pretty mild, like asking a guy she doesn’t know to be her date to a party, but eventually things escalate to deadly measures.
Joyce must decide whether to continue going along with the gang, or to obey the wishes of her parents (Don Shelton and Viola Harris) and boyfriend Mike (Brett Halsey) by returning to her former “good girl” lifestyle.
High School Hellcats is a real classic of the juvenile delinquency genre. Released in 1958, the film was directed by Edward Bernds for American International Pictures.
An opening scene of brash “bad girls” plotting with each other followed by a high-energy song over the credits instantly sets a mood of excitement and a fast pace for the film. This pace never lets up. The film is highly entertaining, and for all of its silliness there are some portions of great tension here.
High School Hellcats is a film that completely buys into the conventions of its genre. A good girl is corrupted by a rowdy group who she wants to fit in with, and meanwhile her stuffy parents are consumed with worry.
This makes the film somewhat predictable, but the delinquent genre as a whole is always fun to watch, so the film’s conventionality isn’t bothersome for fans of this type of film.
As expected, some of the “bad behavior” of these girls is very tame by today’s standards. Delinquency in this 1958 film means wearing too much lipstick, wearing slacks to class, jokingly asking a guy on a date when he already has a girlfriend and the like. Oh, the horror!
But the overblown reactions to this type of “delinquency” is part of what makes the genre so enjoyable, and for all of its silliness the film does strike a nerve in terms of the pressure to fit in, which always has been and probably always will be relevant to young people.
In terms of performance, the cast of the film is effective. Overdramatic tendencies crop up in abundance, but these actors are still quite believable as crude and smarmy teens. As much as I’d like to blame that smarminess on overblown performance, I’ve observed my peers enough to know that people can, in fact, be this crazy and obnoxious. What are teenagers/young adults if not melodramatic beings?
Lund and Sidney are stand-outs as Connie and Dolly, the most evil of the Hellcat bunch. Few maniacal laughs could match that of Dolly, the serious nutcase who plays right hand man to the group’s leader of Connie. It is Dolly who escalates the story from petty pranks to true crimes.
High School Hellcats is one of the best of its genre. It’s got a cutesy romance with a man who acts as a moral compass, plenty of silly “deplorable” behavior, and some actual tension in its more serious moments. It’s just one of those films that I find impossible not to love, despite its flaws. Corny Cliff Scale Score: 4/5