Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader (2000) - Hand it to writer, director, producer Jeff Miller for making this attempt at a 'who's the killer?' slasher film. Even though it was painfully obvious that he had very little money and although ultimately not making a good film he certainly made a small independent slasher with a script that worked hard to keep the viewer guessing. Working each scene to create or reenforce a red herring or a foreshadowing he creates for a viewer no less than a half dozen suspects before revealing the killer. Coming out four years after Scream (1996) this film tries to capture some of the structure of that film but ultimately fails for obvious reasons. You could say this seems derivative of that famous and more professional production, and you would be correct. Maybe that last comment was not very fair but if this film was made for the same budget it still may have been an inferior product. Although the writing is solid in that it is efficient and plotted fairly well it fails to develop character beyond what is needed for the 'who is killing cheerleaders?' question. The work put in to get the audience questioning just about every characters as they interact with the final girl really interferes with the erotetic narrative in that there are so many false questions being posed that ultimately the gems of truth pointing to the fluid narration is lost.
Heather (Tasha Biering) our main character gets the most back story Her Father was the
first male cheerleader of the high school. He is gone and her Mother
away on business is an absentee parent. Poor Heather has had a series of
failed relationships with boys from not only her school but from the
rival Airfield high school. This gives us a whole lot of possible
killers, her current boyfriend Danny (Dan Roach), the footballer her Mother freaked out about Chris (Andre B. Walker), rival QB Jimmy (Kirk Bair), they all have motivations that are shown in the setup scenes. Each comes across as creepy rude or possessive in their own way to get the audience guessing. Adding to the list of people who were pushed as possible murderers were Jezabel (Amber Coker) the girl Heather kept off the cheerleader squad. The touchy feely football coach Cranford (Bobby Cerutti) who secretly tapes the cheerleaders locker room. Drifter old guy Hatterman who supposedly killed in the past and even the fat old sheriff who manages to be creepy talking about Heathers Mother. Most of the second act in fact is to introduce each suspect and then have them do something or have somebody throw suspicion on them.
Mixed in are the kills first of poor Trish the freshman cheerleader off screen who is only shown as a head in a bag. Then the money shot of cheer coach Riley (Debbie Rochon) who is axed after taking a hot tub and talking on what is now a really antiquated cell phone. After she shows her beautiful breasts she has one lopped off and dies in a bloody mess. Why is it every time a character shows her body does she have to die. Sexualizing the murder of women seems to be a traditional thing to do in slasher films but it is hard to rationalize. You rarely see men exposing there bodies before having their junk lopped off. A few red shirts are introduced just to be axed to death without a fight, again one of the girls removes her shirt which apparently is a signal that she needs to die. (I might add that the twist at the end of this film put a very different perspective on these scenes, but I am not sure if the messaging of it is any better.)
If you were going to pinpoint the main failure of the film it has to be the lead. Heather never quite carries the sense of jeopardy she needs to. Whether it is the writing or the acting she just falls flat. Even when the character knows that danger is all around her she acts as if she is not sure she is in danger. Examples of this are: She is at home for the night. She lives out in the boondocks and there is no easy way to get help. When she starts getting creepier and creepier calls from the killer she is reluctant to call the police and even though she has knowledge that her classmates are being killed she fails to give any details to the police when she does call. She just asks for a car to check around her house.Later she is threatened even more menacingly and then gets a call from her Mother from out of town, instead of saying anything to her Mom she says everything is fine. Things at this point are definitely not fine. The killer just called pretending to have her cat and threatened to kill it. It just does not make any sense. On a side note another thing that does not make a lot of sense, the football team players getting together to kill birds and cats and string them to the goalposts as a act that will psyche them up for the big game. What is that?
The third act is the revelation of who the killer really is and the struggle to see if Heather will survive the night. Although there are some decent practical effects the unknown until now protector is not foreshadowed and the exposition needed to explain the character was tedious. The similarity of the scenes to those in Scream are too close to be by accident. The energy of the bad guy matches the energetic performances of that earlier movie. After all the red herrings smacking the audience in the face, it was disappointing that the seeds of the killer story were not sown during the second act. Then everything has to be explained. It is all out of left field.
As a reviewer it is useful to see a film like Head Cheerleader because it helps you see more clearly what went right in the smash hit like Scream. There is a reasonable body count for a slasher movie somewhere around seven or eight, still though this film left something out that it needed to be more successful. On top of the illogical wreck the third act was is the tagged on ending. A trope used during the film where the gloved killer is writing the names of the victims on a list under one of the three headings Killed, Stalked or Called and we flash to the end of this after all the killing of the final act is over and we are sure the killer has been dealt with. To then suggest that the killer is still out there is something every viewer will call bullshit on. When all is said and done you can appreciate that Jeff Miller can execute a project like this but it still can't be recommended by this blog. Everyone has their own tastes and sure this film will be acceptible to some but there is no recommendation coming here.