From left, Amanda Grace Cooper stars as Hanna Popkin, Brooke Butler as Tracy Bingham, Reanin Johannink as Martha Popkin and Caitlin Stasey as Maddy Killian in the horror comedy "All Cheerleaders Die," an Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment release.
With a name like "All Cheerleaders Die," it's evident that this new Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainment release - scheduled for VOD and limited theatrical release June 13 - is meant for a niche market.
That very specific demographic of hardcore horror aficionados may be pleasantly surprised by this little cinematic gem. "All Cheerleaders Die" is sloppy - its plot choppy and its CGI lackluster - but it's still darkly funny, inventive and occasionally scary - well, mildly unsettling, anyway.
First, let's have a quick look at a number of horror flicks that have exploited cheerleaders:
• "Satan's Cheerleaders" - Even stars John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo and John Carradine couldn't earn this 1977 comedy-horror flick a single Oscar nomination.
• "Cheerleader Camp" - Also known as "Bloody Pom Poms," this one was released in 1988 and featured 1970s teen idol Leif Garrett in a starring role.
• "Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader" - This 2000 "Slumber Party Massacre" copycat slasher flick starred Tasha Biering who went on to have an uncredited role as a guest at Lord Cornwallis' ball in the Mel Gibson historical actioner "The Patriot."
• "Cheerleader Massacre" - This 2003 slasher film is actually a sequel to the "Slumber Party Massacre" franchise.
Most of these films have one thing in common: Female characters are objectified and generally portrayed as helpless, often unable or unwilling to fight back. Female characters in such films also are traditionally stereotyped as ignorant.
The women in "All Cheerleaders Die" are fiercely independent. They fight. They are problem-solvers. They have strong, intelligent dialogue. Though some of them are victimized, they do not revert to the conventional victim persona.
"All Cheerleaders Die," billed as a comedy-horror, challenges sexploitation horror with a satirical tale of high-school revenge.
The filmmakers - writer/directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson - conjure up as much feminist ideology as black magic as they tackle issues of teenage romance, loyalty and popularity.
The story opens with a Maddy, a teenage outsider, filming her high school's cheerleading squad. She captures a shocking accident on film. Three months later, Maddy is trying out for the squad. She's also hiding some dark secrets and harboring a serious grudge.
After Maddy is embraced by the school's elite and powerful cheerleading squad, she quickly - and clandestinely - involves them in her plot to inflict revenge. Unfortunately, Maddy's plans are derailed and she and her new besties find themselves in a rather grave situation. Leena, a loner who's crushing on Maddy, employs some supernatural skills to reanimate the bunch of them and send them off on a mission of bloody retribution.
"'All Cheerleaders Die' is a cross pollination of teen horror, sex comedies, action, non-ironic romance and straight up fantasy," said the filmmakers in the directors' statement provided by Image Entertainment/RLJ Entertainmen. "We feel this mixture of tones and emotions encapsulates what it's like to be a teenager in the modern world what with the barrage of media, information, and an overload of instant communication."
Despite its aspirations, "All Cheerleaders Die" has serious problems. The build-up to the action is slow and perplexing. The plot is a mixed-up mess that frequently loses its momentum. The film relies primarily on eye-candy and repeatedly abandons comprehensible storytelling. Too often, the viewer is left wondering what just transpired - and how the scene fits in to the overall story. Too often, the very female characters that are supposed to be the antithesis of the archetypal horror movie victim suddenly - and inexplicably - collapse into brainless, powerless airheads.
What is innovative here is the fact that "All Cheerleaders Die" strives to make a feminist statement by lampooning genre exploitation and delivering smart, determined butt-kicking cheerleaders out for vengeance. What is sad is that the film belittles that aim by cluttering the screen with the very stereotypical aspects it seeks to satirize.
On the plus side, the film features a zombie kitty cat.
Even with its flaws, and although it lacks the mainstream cultural appeal of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "All Cheerleaders Die" is an engaging, creative genre film that frequently has the power to charm its niche audience. Considering the film's ending, a sequel is possible. Perhaps McKee and Sivertson will manage to smooth the rough edges for the second round.