Saturday, April 30, 2016

#2,084. All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

Directed By: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson

Starring: Sidney Allison, Charon R. Arnold, Shay Astar

Tag line: "You can't kill their spirit"

Trivia: One of the locations used for this film was Cathedral High School, which, in 1925, was built on top of a cemetery

When I picked up my DVD copy of All Cheerleaders Die a few months ago, a few preconceptions leapt immediately to mind. 

Actually, “preconceptions” is the wrong word; “stereotypes” would be more accurate. 

I’m sure that, somewhere, in the long history of the cinema, someone has made a deep, insightful film about the sport of cheerleading. More often than not, though, cheerleaders are depicted as gorgeous, overly-enthusiastic girls in short skirts, with I.Q’s smaller than their waistlines. So, going into this 2013 horror movie, I figured I’d meet characters that fit this... stereotype.

Well, I was partly right: the young women of All Cheerleaders Die are, indeed, gorgeous. But they’re also the only ones in the movie that are worth a damn!

Shy girl Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is in the midst of shooting an end-of-school year video for her good friend Lexi (Felisha Cooper), a popular cheerleader. At practice one day, Lexi hams it up for the camera, but when Maddy seems unimpressed with her cheerleading routines, Lexi ups the ante by having two guys toss her high into the air. Instead of falling into their arms, Lexi crashes to the ground head-first, breaking her neck. She dies instantly.

Several months pass, and school is about to resume. Maddy, who never before showed any interest in cheerleading, decides to try out for the squad, and so impresses team captain Tracy (Brooke Butler) that she is chosen to fill the spot left by Lexi’s untimely demise. 

But Maddy couldn’t care less about sports or school spirit. She is looking to take revenge on Tracy, who began dating Lexi’s boyfriend, football star Terry (Tom Williamson), before Lexi was even in the ground. 

As she gets to know Tracy, though, Maddy has second thoughts about her plan, and instead focuses her anger on Terry. Convincing Tracy that Terry cheated on her over the summer, Maddy manages to break the two of them up, and even succeeds in luring Tracy into bed with her. This doesn’t sit well with either Terry or Maddy’s former girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), a practicing witch.

Things come to a head at an outdoor party, when Terry shows up half-drunk and throws a punch at Tracy. Threatening to tell the school about what Terry has done (which will almost certainly get him kicked off the team), Maddy and Tracy climb into a car with fellow cheerleader Martha (Reanin Johannink) and Martha’s little sister Hanna (Amanda Grace Cooper) and speed away. In a fit of rage, Terry gives chase and runs the girls’ car off the road, sending it plummeting into the river, where all four drown. 

Distraught over Maddy’s death, Leena pulls the bodies from the water and, using enchanted crystals, casts a spell on them, bringing Maddy, Tracy and the others back from the dead. There's one small catch, though: none of the four are actually alive, and now require a steady diet of human blood to sustain them. 

But, hey, these gals aren’t going to let a little thing like being zombies keep them from getting their revenge on Terry, are they?

No… of course they aren't!

All Cheerleaders Die appears, at first, to be a typical cheerleader movie. The girls on the squad call each other “bitches”, and are obsessed with their looks. But we soon see there's more to these girls than first assumed. At a pool party one evening, Maddy confesses to Tracy that she thinks she's a bad person because she hooked up with Terry so soon after Lexi’s death. A seemingly self-confident girl up that point, this confession unmasks a level of insecurity in Lexi that neither Maddy nor the audience was expecting. 

Lexi isn't the only one who will break stereotype. Martha is a deeply religious young woman, and is saving herself for marriage, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Manny (Leigh Parker). There's even an intriguing love triangle: Martha's little sister Hanna is also in love with Manny. Whereas most movie cheerleaders are depicted as mindless beauties, or, in some cases, even villains, they prove to be the most appealing characters in All Cheerleaders Die, and we get to know a little bit about all of them.

A mash-up of the zombie and witch sub-genres, All Cheerleaders Die does, unfortunately, fall short as a revenge film. The scenes in which the newly-resurrected girls face off against Terry and his pals are, with one exception, surprisingly bloodless, and a few kills even occur off-screen. But with a female-centric story, combined with some impressive make-up effects (overseen by Robert Kurtzman) and respectable performances (especially Caitlin Stasey as the clever yet slightly vindictive Maddy; and newcomer Tom Williamson, who knocks it out of the park as the villainous Terry), All Cheerleaders Die is a horror film that will have the ladies in the audience standing up and doing a cheer of their own.

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