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

As I was purchasing my copy of All Cheerleaders Die a few months ago, some preconceptions immediately leapt to mind. Actually, “preconceptions” is the wrong word; “stereotypes” is more accurate. I’m sure that, somewhere, in the vast history of the motion picture industry, someone has made a deep, meaningful film about the sport of cheerleading, but more often than not, cheerleaders are depicted on-screen as gorgeous, overly-enthusiastic girls in short skirts whose I.Q’s are smaller than their waistlines. So, naturally, going into this 2013 horror movie, I figured that, in all probability, I’d be meeting some characters who match this description.

Well, I was partly right: the young women whose exploits we follow in All Cheerleaders Die are, indeed, beautiful, but they’re also the only ones in the movie that are worth a damn.

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

Several months later, when school is about to resume, Maddy, who never showed any interest in cheerleading before, decides to try out for the squad, and so impresses team captain Tracy (Brooke Butler) that she’s chosen to fill the spot left by Lexi’s untimely death. But Maddy couldn’t care less about school spirit; instead, she’s looking to take revenge on Tracy, who began dating Lexi’s boyfriend, football star Terry (Tom Williamson), before Lexi was even buried. 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 either Terry of Maddy’s former girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), a practicing witch.

Things come to a head at an outdoor party one night when Terry shows up half-drunk and throws a punch at Tracy. Threatening to tell the school about what he’s 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. Terry, in a fit of rage, gives chase and runs the girls’ car off the road, sending it plummeting into the river, where all four presumably drown. Leena, distraught over Maddy’s death, pulls their bodies from the water and, using her enchanted crystals, casts a spell on them all, bringing Maddy, Tracy and the others back from the dead. One small catch, though: none of the four are actually alive, and require a steady diet of human blood to keep them going. But, hey, these gals aren’t going to let a little thing like being zombies keep them from getting their revenge, are they?

No… of course they’re not!

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). Then, at a pool party one night, Maddy talks to Tracy, who says she can’t shake the feeling that she’s a bad person because she hooked up with Terry so soon after Lexi’s death, revealing a level of insecurity that Maddy wasn’t expecting. Others also break stereotype, including Martha, a deeply religious young woman who is saving herself for marriage, much to the disappointment of her boyfriend Manny (Leigh Parker) (there’s even an interesting love triangle in that little sister Hanna is also in love with Manny). In short, these ladies are the most appealing characters in All Cheerleaders Die, and we get to know them well, which puts us squarely on their side as they take the fight to the guys.

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 st least one kill even occurs off-screen). But with its female-centric story, combined with well-realized 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 for the ladies that, more than likely, will have them standing up and doing a cheer of their own.

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