Sometimes, in American culture, there seems to be nothing more terrifying that the politics of high school. The jocks, the hotties, the freaks and the geeks; it is an environment dominated by cultural stereotypes, in particularly rigid gender stereotypes. Girls should aspire to be cheerleaders, and guys should aim to be football stars. The space in between is rejected, where the outsiders and oddities are left to mull their fate. Following his previous horror standouts, May and The Woman, two dark and often uncomfortable pictures precisely centered upon women in the outside or in-between space, who have been rejected (or in the case of The Woman, have rejected) the conventional Americana ruled by a patriarchy that demands subservience and adulation; a space in which the other is abhorrent…and nothing is more abhorrent than a woman who challenges male authority with her own identity; Lucky Mckee has teamed with Chris Siverton to remake their first film, All Cheerleaders Die. The result is a film that, on the surface, couldn’t be further from the darkness and discomfort of May and The Woman, but in fact, continues to explore the same ideas of female identity, male evil and the threat of the woman unleashed; only this time, the tone is high camp and in its own way uses the contrast between style and content to create a memorable, if flawed black comedy.

The mayhem begins when Lexi, captain of the cheerleading squad, dies unexpectedly, leaving her friends school in shock and mourning…except new captain Tracy, who is already dating the deceased’s star football player boyfriend. Enter Maddy, a girl on the outside, who decides this is the perfect opportunity to make the cheerleading squad pay for their shallow ways, and her strange, loner neighbor Leena,who claims to practice the Dark Arts; claims that take on a frightening reality when another shocking turn of events lead to resurrection and revenge. First, it has to be noted just how much fun this film is. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of finding the balance between horror and comedy in a good black comedy, and while it can be argued the tone and narrative aren’t in perfect harmony throughout, the film’s stand out moments are born from Mckee and Siverton’s blend of the absurd, interesting characterization, and a visual style that is bold, bright and brilliant; this is a film alive with character and charisma. It’s got the feeling of John Hughes meets Sam Raimi, with it’s own twisted, knowing sensibilities thrown in.

This is a film that rests heavily on convention, and while to some that may make certain elements predictable or feel lazy, Mckee and Siverton utilize these conventions with the aim to subvert and challenge; they focus on the high school as a site of inescapable and degrading stereotypes, where the sexual politics complicate the discovery of an individual feminine identity (the lead cheerleaders gleefully refer to themselves as ‘bitches,’ and the Terry refers to himself and the jocks as ‘dogs.’) and those who challenge them are outcast (Leena’s locker tagged with the insulting graffiti, ‘Freek Witch’). However, the course of the film leads the cheerleaders to embrace the other, and turn it around, entering the in-between space and taking control. Suddenly, it’s cool to be on the other side, as evidenced in one of the film’s iconic images, as Mckee and Silverton capture Leena and the reanimated cheerleaders returning to school, wearing black cheer uniforms rather than red, in an act of exaggerated display, an act that challenges the masculinity of Terry.

The feminist angle is clear, at times overpowering and perhaps a little forced, but the camp tone makes certain leaps acceptable and become flourishes; the use of a classical Hollywood ‘romance’ theme when Leena is close to Maddy, is at once ridiculous, but works perfectly to express the inner emotions of Leena and her love for Maddy; it reminds us that this film is about female love in the face of male domination, and subverts the connotations associated with the music, so often used in clinches between men and woman in black and white melodramas, where women always seem to be chasing after men, or falling to their feet. These women fall before no man; there is a genuine tenderness that works as an undercurrent to the frenzy. The central performances in the film are all accomplished and memorable, each girl presenting the right characteristics of snark, confusion and surprising vulnerability. The standouts however are Brooke Butler as cheer captain Tracy, bringing a confidence tainted by fear and confusion with her own identity in the beginning of the film, before bursting out with kinetic energy, bravery and brilliant comic sensibilities when she is finally free; Tom Williamson as Terry, who perfectly embodies the idealized masculine teen image, and then finding the depth to embody the image of male evil that women fear, it’s a disturbing and powerful performance; and finally, Sianoa Smit-Mcphee as Leena, whose vulnerability, raw emotion and sense of discombobulating energy ties the film together.

Ultimately, All Cheerleaders Die is not a perfect film, and perhaps isn’t as successful as Mckee’s previous work: too inconsistent and too forced in many moments. However, I believe its boundless energy, memorable performances and self-conscious exploration of the relationship between high school politics and the formation of gender identities make it an interesting addition to Mckee’s oeuvre, and also a film ripe for cult appreciation.

 

 

 

DVD Review: All Cheerleaders Die
An enjoyable, if flawed, horror romp
3.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk