Even Satan himself would have to grudgingly admit that the whole sordid affair he was spearheading at the Salem Academy for Women turned into one of the more embarrassing episodes of his foul existence.
From having to take a job as an art teacher, being unable to convince at least 4 vulnerable women to pledge their souls to him (though he does mesmerize future Charlie’s Angels star Kate Jackson which is nothing to sneeze at) to being defeated by a woman posing as a student who kills almost twice as many people as he does, he doesn’t resemble so much the all powerful ruler of hell as a cool teacher turned failed cult leader.
Elizabeth Sayers discovers her sister dead from an apparent suicide but is certain that all is not as it seems. When a police officer says its just a regular old boring suicide because people said her sister was “melancholy”, Elizabeth retorts that if her sister was going to kill herself, there were times that made more sense like when their parents died or when they were miles apart at different schools. Obviously, the competition between Elizabeth and the cop as to who has the least understanding of grief, depression and mental illness is a dead heat.
No matter though because Elizabeth does the only sensible thing and enrolls at her sister’s school under an assumed name! Though it seems counterintuitive that any school would have an interest in killing off its students and thus deprive itself of that sweet cheddar known as federally funded student financial aid, she is of course right that something strange is going at the school.
With Elizabeth in deep cover at such a prestigious institution as Salem Academy for Women, will she even have the time to conduct her investigation what with the rigorous academic load she surely must carry? All those credit hours, work study and various other campus commitments needed to maintain the illusion that she’s a simple transfer student can’t help but slow her efforts down, right?
Nah. She’s only got two classes. And one is taught by Satan. And one of her new classmates just happened to paint a creepy portrait of her dead sister in a spooky room! If she could only find that room, then she’ll know what’s really going on! Which makes almost as much sense as Satan taking an entire semester to turn a bunch of art students into witches.
When Elizabeth isn’t focusing on terrible paintings by crazy undergrads in her art class, she’s hard at work being suspicious of the teacher of her other class. It’s some sort of behavioral psych deal where every class session involves rats in a maze while the professor treats the students like the braindead morons they are. He instantly becomes the prime suspect for whatever blame it is Elizabeth is trying to pin her sister’s suicide on since he’s such a big meanie.
Sadly though just being an arrogant prick with tenure isn’t sufficient to contact law enforcement, so Liz waits until the night gets good and stormy to go investigate Nancy Drew style. Prowling around the basement of some building or other, she finds the room she believes was in the painting of her sister only to discover someone down there! Was it the psych professor? Or could it be connected to the old legend about those witches that were killed in that cellar hundreds of years ago!
Well dang! All that witch murdering never made into the slick college brochures SAW sent to prospective students! But even if it was, would anything even matter to you beyond the whole “two course curriculum” the college offers. Sure, the dead witches thing is a bit icky and might lead to some supernatural nonsense that could threaten my life, but you’re also telling me that my two course schedule allows me to have a four day weekend? Who do I make my registration fee out to?
All of this schoolgirl snooping around with lanterns and accompanied by appropriately spooky music feels like a Disney movie up until the climax when Liz is confronted with the truth and does the only sensible thing, burning several of her classmates alive! And if you are inclined to write off her chucking a lantern to make her escape as just so much panic, she later throws a second lantern in a different part of the building when rescuing the brainwashed headmistress! Damn Liz, is that shot of Satan at the end of the movie standing in a nearby field watching everything burn and smoking a cigarette his way of showing you respect?
Despite the tantalizingly tasteless premise the film’s title promises, it really doesn’t deliver all that much, the low key action amounting to nothing more than a succession of scenes of Liz and then her and her friend walking around dark halls and rooms, looking for clues of the “here’s a dead body!” and “there’s a light under this door!” variety while the impassive Roy Thinnes as the art teacher makes a decidedly uncharsimatic Satan leaving you to wonder how he even got a job teaching art there let alone seducing entire classes of co-eds. You also have to question how smart Liz was for going undercover at a school called Salem Academy for Women and not having the slightest idea of any connection to witchcraft.
For his part, the Devil must have been playing down to his competition because even though he had Kate Jackson under his control, he didn’t manage to use that in any meaningful way except to lead Liz right to his coven where she then just smoked them all like so many bewitched blunts. Damn dude, I think you just got signed up to teach another semester of art!
Anytime you’re dealing with Old Scratch himself though, you never escaped completely unscathed. Satan did manage to get one sick burn in on Liz when he stowed the corpse of the psych teacher in the front seat of her beautiful new white Dodge Charger! You may have foiled my scheme to raise an army of witches, but try getting the smell of that dead guy out of your sweet muscle car, sister!
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