Again, a big thanks to Temple of Schlock for holding this Claudia Jennings Blog-a-thon!
This awesome proto-slasher has two things going for it. One: It’s a grindhouse flick that plays like a made for television movie (and yeah, I do not think that’s a negative) and two: It’s got one of the greatest drive-in queens of all time, Claudia Jennings.
Claudia was never really a household name. Although she did have her share of infamy – she was the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1970 and posed one more time in 1979. She made a slew of films in that nine year time span, mostly B level genre fare that required little more than some hot T&A to get it produced. But what they got when Claudia signed onto a project was not just stunning eye candy. Claudia was a formidable actress, guaranteeing that whatever film she appeared in would be raised up at least a notch just but letting her take up some celluloid. She was a rare beast – a woman who was just as talented as she was beautiful.
Claudia starred in some great B movies, my favorite being Unholy Rollers, where she takes on the roller derby and takes no prisoners in the process! Kind of ironic that Drew Barrymore’s newest film, Whip It, another flick about the trials and tribulations of the derby, would come out October 2nd, because October 3rd marks the 30th anniversary of Claudia’s untimely death. Claudia died in a car accident when she was just 29 years old.
The chronicle of her short life shows a lot of major ups and downs. She struggled to be taken seriously as a talented actress, forever looked at as a Playmate. She had a couple of opportunities to shed her saucy image, her biggest being a shot to replace Kate Jackson on Charlie’s Angels. Claudia was high up on the list of potential actresses, but the executives (and Aaron Spelling) were nervous about her work as a Bunny and ultimately they went with the lovely Shelly Hack.
It’s hard not to wonder where life would have gone for Claudia if she’d gotten the part. Television would have been a perfect move. It was a place where no nudity was required and it was during a decade when television was full of incredibly choice programming. Claudia did dip her feet a bit in television waters, even appearing in one of the most un-sexy shows of the era, The Brady Bunch. She’s is the famous episode Adios, Johnny Bravo. Need I say more? Well, yeah I did need to say more. Check out Claudia on the Brady Bunch in this blog post.
Claudia had a kind of beauty that lingers in the mind’s eye. It’s an honest kind of perfection - A sort of untouched quality that allowed her to look both devilish and innocent at the same time. It was something that would come in handy as she grew as an actress, and one of her most underrated films, Sisters of Death (which was shot in 72 but not released until 1977) shows the burgeoning of a wonderful artist.
The movie itself is one of those B movies you go into thinking it will be full of salacious doings. I mean, it’s about a group of sorority sisters playing Russian Roulette as part of an initiation. Gun goes BOOM and girl goes dead. Seven years later, the remaining sisters are called to a desolate house in Paso Robles where they find the dead girl’s father, who is just slightly bent on revenge. That is when he’s not playing the flute. Seriously, this guy is a multitasker! See, you just know this movie is going to be full of blood and guts and nudity and just about everything else you paid to see. You really don’t get any of that, but depending on your disposition, you still end up with a really good film. A great whodunit premise, with a wonderful last minute twist, Sisters of Death is what we call a slow-burn potboiler. So, if you like the recipe, you’re sure to love the servings!
Claudia is Judy, the most successful of the sisters, and the most fearless of them as well. She bursts in on the dead girl’s pop in one scene, giving him her where-for-art-thous. It gets her nowhere, but you know, points for trying! At any rate, she’s the character you remember.
Also appearing in Sisters is Joe E. Tata, who you may know best as Nat on Beverly Hills 90210 (the original and redux – Go Nat!). He was in one other Jennings flick, the aforementioned Unholy Rollers. I always thought I’d like to meet him just to ask him about Claudia. Well, and because I adore him!
But I digress, this movie has it all, a great looking, creepy house, girls in the desert in heavy polyester, some nice creepy set-pieces, a bit of a Ten Little Indians feel, a spider that sticks to stomachs, Nat from 90210, Claudia and a twist. Seriously, what are you waiting for?!?