The cable channel takes B movies of the past and adds a little '90s twist

By Bruce Fretts
July 29, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

The titles aren’t subtle: Confessions of a Sorority Girl. Motorcycle Gang. Girls in Prison. The new Showtime anthology, Rebel Highway, borrows the names of these ’50s teen-angst B movies but injects their stories of greasers and sweater girls with a dose of ’90s-style sex and violence. ”[We wondered] what it would be like if you made Rebel Without a Cause today. It would be more lurid, sexier, and much more dangerous,” says Highway producer Lou Arkoff, whose dad, Samuel Z. Arkoff, produced the movies on which the 10-part series is loosely based. ”And you definitely would have had Natalie Wood’s top off.”

The concept attracted an eclectic list of big-screen directors (The Exorcist‘s William Friedkin, El Mariachi‘s Robert Rodriguez) as well as enough telegenic talent (Shannen Doherty, Antonio Sabato Jr.) to fill a fleet of heavy Chevys. Says Sorority Girl‘s Alyssa Milano, ”I thought it would be fun to dress up in ’50s clothes and play one of those repressed, happy people.” But Fritz the Cat animator Ralph Bakshi, who directed Cool and the Crazy for the series, thinks there’s one key element missing from these films: the Cold War. ”What pervaded the [old] movies was this screaming inside that at any moment you could be dead because the atom bomb went off. That was the hidden factor in James Dean,” Bakshi says. ”That ain’t happening anymore. And that’s a good thing.”