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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cheerleader Camp (1988) Horror Comedy

Cheerleader Camp (1988) - Also called "Bloody Pom Poms" After watching the latest Lucky McKee film "All Cheerleaders Die" I decided to try another cheerleader based horror film. Cheerleader Camp is probably more notable for the people in it than its popularity. Featuring at least two former centerfolds Teri Weigel (Playboy April 1986) and Rebecca Ferratti (Okay maybe not a centerfold but in Playboy' Bathing Beauties) but not a T&A film at all. Director John Quinn says in the commentary that the story was inspired by a case in Northern California where a girl killed a classmate who made the cheerleading squad while she failed to. The film is also of note for starring former teen heart throb Leif Garrett a bit older and not so much a heartthrob at the time. On top of this is our lead the gorgeous Betsy Russell (of Avenging Angel fame, but still working in horror appearing in a couple of Saw movies) so we end up with a wonderful cast to look at. It is a slasher, mystery that unfortunately so transparent that the story loses effect. Really though it is part of the 1980s and the eighties had some wonderful low budget comedy / horror. I had hoped that this film would be a hidden gem, but unfortunately it wasn't. Right after the room mate pairing up was done at the Camp holding the cheerleader competition the film is too blatant in foreshadowing who the killer is leaving the viewer without a mystery and just watching the motions to get to the end.
   The first scene a dream sequence is filmed well with a dutch angle throwing the feeling into the slightly off.Shot at Bakerfield High it is designed to show the psychology of the main character Alison (Betsy Russell). From this scene we can sense there is quite a bit of pressure for the cheerleader. The story has a simple set up, five cheerleaders and a mascot drive out to a camp to participate in a cheerleader competition. When participants start showing up dead the characters need to figure out if the deaths are accidents or is there a killer among them.
  The team consisting of Alison, Pamela (Teri Weigel), Theresa (Rebecca Ferratti), Timmy (Travis McKenna) Brent (Leif Garrett), Bonnie (Lorie Griffin) and mascot Cory (Lucinda Dickey) arrive at the camp to find pushy coordinator Miss (Vickie Benson) already to assign rooms and enforce the rules. Very quickly the film is about the rivalry between the teams but in a strange way because they never really create a rivalry or develop the other teams. Instead the film uses focus on Betsy as a stressed or possibly murderous competitor. When the first competitor from another team is found dead by Betsy it looks like a suicide but there are some questions. The obvious red herring of the Betsy character and some of the interactions she has with teammates start to give away who the killer is. Its a bit of a shame because the film although low budget is trying to have some fun.
  There are some decent suspense at times like when Betsy gets trapped in the cooler with the dead body which sets up the next red Herring of someone in the camp crew possibly being the killer. We follow Betsy as she spies on Pop (George 'Buck' Flower) the camp handyman. While still they push the idea that Betsy may be a bit off her rocker. There is not tons happening early in the film it is a lot of buildup, setting up the rocky relationship between Brent and Betsy. Then showing several Betsy dream sequences and scenes to make us question her mental state we are being lead down can't be the one that is revealed later. First after a dream Betsy finds a dead rival cheerleader she saw in the dream. Then Betsy gets mad at Brent for giving time to Pamela and then has a dream about that. We have the kill scene of Pamela and everything is setting up that Betsy is the killer. Since though this is a horror movie the obvious path can't be the likely one so we can really dismiss Betsy as a suspect and think about who else would want to solve her "problems" for her. Who has shown enough empathy that maybe they are killing on her behalf?
   In the end although the film is cool it is really not great. Having figured out the twist way too early the viewer could be left not thrilled going through the less than complex third act to see the killer revealed. Seriously there were two kills going into the final act and because it is not action packed and exciting, it is instead people walking around the woods in the dark. There really is not going to be a recommendation for this film. The ending needed to be exciting and cohesive but it is neither;  it never really reaches the slasher variety scary. The big twist leaves you think "damn!" so much potential but never really leaving us satisfied. It is very close to being a recommendation but just not quite for me. I think older viewers of horror could tolerate the pacing but younger folks would be irritated at the slow stretches. Although rated R it is really a pretty tame film with a splash of gore, a flash of boob but compared to modern films really quite controlled. It also does not reach the action movies heights that would make the film worth recommending.
Odds and Ends
* The band playing at the camp is "Rigor Mortis Rigor Mortis", with Producer Jeff Prettyman's son Chris on drums.
* Each time we come into a dream we get this fade to a red background which was used in another film Daughters of Darkness (1971).
* The rap in the film may be nominated for worst attempt at rapping in film history.

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