Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of Grease 2, the much-maligned sequel to one of the most successful movie musicals of all time, and the biggest box office hit of 1978, Grease. Released theatrically in the US on June 11th 1982, which happened to be the very same day as a little movie called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Grease 2 was directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch, who had choreographed both the original stage show and first movie.
With Travolta and Newton-John having moved on to other projects, the sequel is set in 1961—two years after the original began—with a number of supporting cast reprising their roles, including Didi Conn as beauty school drop-out Frenchie, who still hasn’t graduated Rydell High. Among her fellow Pink Ladies is Michelle Pfeiffer in her first starring big screen role as Stephanie Zinone, the coolest girl at Rydell, who’s become weary of just being “someone’s chick” and being limited to the dating pool of the T-Birds. In a gender reversal of the original film’s plot, Sandy’s British cousin, the sensible-sweater-wearing, hopelessly square but Matinée-idol-handsome Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), immediately falls hard for Stephanie and commits to becoming a leather-clad biker, the Cool Rider of Stephanie’s dreams. Having starred opposite Divine in John Waters’ Polyester the previous year, 50s and 60s hearthrob, gay movie star Tab Hunter appeared as substitute teacher Mr. Stuart, along with a Hollywood star from the same era, Connie Stevens, in a memorable role as the flirtatious English teacher Miss Mason.
Grease 2 currently holds a 37% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but critical derision is a badge of honour for any cult movie, and along with the film’s many detractors there is a vocal movement of admirers, with particularly strong support from the LGBTQ community (including yours truly, who had childhood dreams of owning a Pink Lady jacket and had “drives, lustful drives” for Maxwell Caulfield as Michael). In 2014 there was a sell-out run of a concert tribute show in London’s West End, Cool Rider, and even triple Oscar-nominee Pfeiffer now celebrates her role in the film, posting a sequence from Grease 2’s opening number on her newly minted Instagram account back in 2019.
Furthering the sequel’s cult status, Grease 2 will air as part of Turner Classic Movies’ virtual TCM Classic Film Festival 2021, on Friday May 7th at 11pm ET, presented by TCM Underground, marking the film’s premiere on the network. Ahead of the broadcast, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive video chat with Millie De Chirico, who has been programming TCM Underground since its inception 15 years ago, along with her TCM colleagues, Programming Coordinator Ben Cheaves, Digital Content Coordinator Matthew Ownby, and Editorial Manager Quatoyiah Murry to discuss why Grease 2 is a perfect fit for TCM’s home for celluloid curiosities, both the obsessed-over and the obscure. During the pandemic, De Chirico and co formed TCM Slumberground, with the fab four posting monthly panel video discussions on the TCM YouTube channel.
“TCM Underground is our cult movie franchise, it comes on pretty late on a Friday night,” says De Chirico. “Essentially, we’re a landing house for all of the weird films that would not play during normal hours on TCM. We see it as, once you’ve crossed over to us this is maybe a different experience than what you’re used to. The films that we’ve played on there are kind of a bit of everything, but they’re all united by the idea that they’re weird, or offbeat, or classic midnight movies sometimes, but also just bizarre.”
“Millie does a great job of expanding what’s traditionally thought of cult”, adds Cheaves, “bringing in a lot of newer 80s movies that maybe aren’t thought of as cult yet, but are movies that have been lost to the VHS era, and never made it onto DVD. I think it’s a fun way to look at it.”
Matthew Ownby concurs, commenting, “Millie does a great job of pulling in things that you can’t see in any other format. There are so many movies over the years that I’ve been able to watch just because Millie’s programmed them. I’m thinking about Alan Rudolph’s Remember My Name from 1978, the only place you can see that is TCM.”
When tuning into TCM Underground, viewers can expect “everything from Blaxploitation, to B movies, to experimental, to Grease 2” adds Quatoyiah Murry.
On why she decided to program Grease 2 De Chirico says, “Quite honestly, it’s like the definition of a cult movie. I mean, it’s a studio flop, if you will, and it was rediscovered by people and they love it. We play Grease a lot on the network and we’ve actually never played Grease 2. Growing up I definitely saw it on VHS many times at my friend’s house, but it had been a while since I’d seen it. When I rewatched it recently, I sort of loved it again, but in a different way as an older person. As a kid I watched it and I just liked to see the dancing and the music, I was singing along to Let’s Do It For Our Country, which I did not understand the nuance of! But when I watched it recently, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this movie is super fun. I like that it’s different than the first Grease, or it seems to be in a different headspace.”
Cheaves also grew up watching the movie frequently, “I had it taped off the TV, and it was on cable all the time, so I probably saw it 200 times growing up. I know it by heart and I know it better than Grease because that wasn’t on TV as much and I just didn’t like it. I like this movie more. So my entire Grease world is Grease 2! Me and my sister would watch it together. I know all the songs, we had routines to it!”
Quatoyiah Murry and Matthew Ownby are both new to the film, but had heard about it long before they first watched it. “This was actually my first time seeing it”, says Murry, “but it definitely is a cult movie because I’ve known about it for half my life. All of my good friends are movie buffs and we all have different tastes, but I trust their opinions. For years they have been saying, ‘You’ve got to watch Grease 2!’, ‘You’ve never seen Grease 2?!’, ‘Grease 2 was the one!’ I was just like, ‘Wait, there’s a sequel? Like, what?! I never knew there was a sequel! Why?!’ So it was one of those movies that I knew about, but never watched up until now. It was definitely an interesting experience. I’m excited to rewatch it and to hear what other people think about it after we air it.”
“I never watched it until recently, but my first encounter with it was not even the movie itself”, adds Ownby, “it was hearing people singing that Reproduction song non-stop in school! I didn’t even know what it was from, people would just sing it. I found out many years later that it was from Grease 2! It’s funny that that song struck a chord with middle schoolers!”
Considering the themes of the Grease 2 songbook, Cheaves muses, “I think the songwriters took Greased Lightning and just ran with that! They were like, let’s make every single song about sex in this one. I think maybe Charades is not about sex, but otherwise they’re all about doing it!” On his favouriite performance in the film he adds, “I love Lorna Luft, I think she’s so great in it. Whenever she has a line in a song she gives it 110%, like in Score Tonight when she comes out singing to Johnny. You can see her Broadway background and where she got her set of lungs from—Judy Garland—because she just comes out belting those lines and she’s great in it.”
For De Chirico it’s all about Michelle Pfeiffer, “Her character is awesome! Stephanie is my favorite character in the movie. I lover her kind of tomboyish energy, and the idea that she’s doing the thing where she doesn’t want to affiliate with this group where there are all these rigid rules for who she can date and what she can do. I love that she wears pants and doesn’t want to wear skirts, and that she’s eating giant hamburgers in front of hot guys. She just doesn’t care, it’s great!”
“A common thread that people have is that Grease 2 is more feminist than the first one” adds Murry, “and my argument with the first one is that Sandy didn’t do it just for for Danny. I feel like she wanted to be an edgy person. Then Danny also changes for her, so it feels balanced, at least in my opinion. Unfortunately, the timing just wasn’t right for Grease 2 to be successful at the time. But then I think, in the perfect cult fashion, the timing was just right, because it became what it became. Then of course it’s become what it is now, it’s completely blown up, and I think it’s going to continue to get bigger.”
Watch the full conversation below, with more Grease 2 talk, and the Slumberground panel on their TCM Underground and queer cinema favourites:
By James Kleinmann
TCM Underground Presents: Grease 2 (1982) directed by Patricia Birch at 11pm ET on Friday May 7th 2021 as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, with on air intro and outro, and dedicated TCM Slumberground YouTube episode.
For more on this year’s virtual TCM Classic Film Festival head to filmfestival.tcm.com and for TCM Slumberground videos and more, subscribe to Turner Classic Movies on YouTube. Follow @TCM and @TCMUnderground on Twitter.