Cheerleader Camp (1988)
Give me a K - Give me an I - Give me an L - Give me an L
Year of Release: 1988
Also Known As: Bloody Pom Poms, Bloody Nightmare, Bloody Scream
Running Time: 86 minutes (1:26)
Director: John Quinn
Betsy Russell ... Alison Wentworth
Leif Garrett ... Brent Hoover
Lucinda Dickey ... Cory Foster
Lorie Griffin ... Bonnie Reed
Travis McKenna ... Timmy Moser
Teri Weigel ... Pamela Bently
Rebecca Ferratti ... Theresa Salazar
Vickie Benson ... Miss Tipton
George 'Buck' Flower ... Pop
As the Lindo Valley squad arrives at cheerleader camp for district finals, some have their eyes on winning, while others have their eyes on the beautiful bodies bouncing around them. Haunted by bad dreams, sexy Alison Wentworth has no idea what a nightmare cheerleading camp will become.
The competition is stiff, in more ways than one. Yell leader Brent, Alison's boyfriend, flirts with a buxom cheerleader named Suzy. Later, Suzy's found dead - from an apparent suicide - and Lindo's cheerleaders start dropping like pom poms. When Pam - the new object of Brent's attention - doesn't show up for the finals, Theresa goes looking for her and doesn't return. One by one, team members disappear until only Alison, her boyfriend, and her friend Cory remain.
Convinced one of the team members is a killer, Alison takes matters - and a gun - into her own hands. Is this another one of her terrifying premonitions, or chilling reality? Will cheerleader camp be Alison's last hurrah?
Cheerleader Camp, remindin' us that milk does a body good; but a body'll putcha off milk permanently when stored on the same shelf.
And speakin' of things they don't tell ya in Health class, if I wasn't so preoccupied with my duties as the unofficial film critic of Chickawalka County I could make a killin' organizin' cryptozoological expeditions into the buttcrack of Greater Idaho for guys named Dimitri who spend 14 hours a day on the internet arguin' about the ethicality of makin' the sign of the pump-action sponge truffle with a lady Bigfoot.
I'd never do that 'cause it'd violate my personal code of conduct and 'cause tryin' to burn ticks off with a coat hanger by the light of a Coleman lantern is a young man's game, but I mention it 'cause last week Butch Hogan ran over somethin' weird in his pickup while out trappin' and everybody's been freakin' out about it ever since. Some folks're speculatin' it might be an undiscovered species, others think it's a mutation, and of course, Reverend Dollarhide's tellin' everyone it's the spawn of Satan come to punish us for legalizin' marijuana, but I've been doin' a little detective work and I think I've got this zoological enigma licked.
See, for the last two months, we been gettin' reports from folks out antler huntin' about this freaky critter roamin' the woods around Coon Canyon and, as is standard police procedure, we tossed these people into the crossbar hotel under suspicion of public intoxication and conspiracy to attract tourism. I read through all the witness statements in the police log, though, and best as I can tell the descriptions all describe the same creature: thick-bodied, stubby-legged, black with a white patch on its face like the Phantom of the Opera, horns like Tim Curry in Legend, and a disproportionately long neck. Some of the alleged drunks claim it makes a deep braying wail, like James Earl Jones catchin' himself in his zipper, and they say it saunters along with an awkward gait like a porcupine with hemorrhoids.
Now, I dunno about you, but I ain't seen nothin' that looked like that since Tanya Bibbens' Halloween party circa 1991 when Sid Bixby and Brodie Trask showed up outfitted as the Loch Ness Monster. If memory serves, the two of 'em eventually got so sauced that they couldn't coordinate their movements and ended up crashin' through Tanya's folks' fish tank, and that whole incident sounded so similar to descriptions of this critter's walk that I hadda confirm the whereabouts of both men to rule them out as potential suspects. This proved easy enough, as I soon discovered Brodie died in a freak dishwashin' accident in 1999 after he bet Sid $10 he could fit inside the appliance even with the racks in place. Apparently Sid was so tanked that he forgot Brodie was inside and ran a load of shot glasses and got seven years for negligent homicide. His Facebook page claims he's been unable to secure work as a busboy since his release, but that's not important. What IS important is the location and timing of the sightins, 'cause they all took place within a 10-mile radius of the Tankersley property, and all occurred within six months of two overlapping events - matin' season, and election season.
I suppose you all think this's funny. I can hear the titters from the peanut gallery already and that oughta be impossible bein's we're nowhere near each other, but if you'll just put a lid on it I can explain the significance of this coincidence. Here's the thing - last year we had a ballot measure that sought to legalize the government issuance of psilocybin, and through my research, I learned that Bernard McGowan, in an effort to get a jump on his competitors and secure a government supplier's license, was allowed to plant a starter crop out on the Tankersley land in exchange for agreein' to stop sellin' pictures of Randine to the National Enquirer as proof of the existence of Sasquatch.
So now we got hallucinatory fungus growin' wild where the deer and antelope play, durin' the middle of the rut (that's humpin' season for those of you whose concept of the wilderness involves lettin' the philodendron go unpruned for a few weeks), and now all the area's wildlife're operatin' with last call goggles when what should appear from the top of the ridge, but a herd of grazing Angus cattle. It's not a great leap to assume a horny buck, under the influence of forest-melting drugs, might be down for a little Angus bangus if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
That's right. I submit to you that the local deer population munched on psychedelic shrooms, became disoriented, and did the truffle shuffle with the first thing that moved, leading to the birth of the bizarre amalgam and what may be the next great taste sensation of rural America.
So, there it is - not a monster, not the Antichrist, just a run-of-the-mill abomination born of a drug-fueled dalliance of hallucinogenic carnality. It could happen to any one of us given enough beer and untreated depression. So how's about we cut these poor creatures a little slack and let he who is without awkward, drooly, maladjusted offspring cast the first stone?
All that Sherlock Holmery was startin' to make my head hurt, so once I'd cracked open that case like a rack of Natty Light at a bonfire I figured I'd better take it easy for a while and limit myself strictly to films that contained either the words "Cheerleader," "Revenge," or "Massacre," and since Betsy Russell hasn't let us down yet, I figured Cheerleader Camp was just what the doctor ordered. I dunno that it's got the pom-poms to compete with Satan's Cheerleaders, but it's pretty difficult to screw up this particular concept so long as you remember to confiscate a few bikinis and ram conveniently placed farm implements through people's throats along the way. And as always, I've plucked a few nuggets of wisdom to impart before we dive in to ensure everyone enters into these proceedings with the proper mindset (you'd be surprised how often people go into flicks like this one with expectations), so let's all get our psyches in order and get down to business. First, 99 times out of 100 when someone invites you to the district cheerleading championships in fabulous Skunkbum County, Montana, it won't be dance choreography and execution the camera crew's scorin' you on. Second, for certain portions of the student body there comes a point where you've been caught nekkid in school so many times that your nightmares adjust accordingly and evolve to include *true* terror - i.e., forgettin' your cheerleadin' routine. And third, breaking mascot kayfabe will diminish not only your chances of winning the Team Spirit event, but also the erections of nearby closeted furries.
The movie begins with Betsy Russell in a locker room tryna secure 'er props before runnin' out into an empty stadium, forgettin' 'er cheerleadin' routine, and stinkin' up the place so bad that 'er pom poms attain sentience and smother 'er in 'er own perkiness. Things don't get much better when she wakes up in a van driven by Leif Garrett on 'er way to the state cheerleadin' finals in Beaver Ravine National Park, and by the time Betsy and 'er team (Bonnie, Theresa, Pamela, and the mascot, Cory) get themselves unloaded they're so sick of bein' in a van with their 300lb hiney hoister (Timmy) that they decide to bikini up and go sun themselves on flat rocks like uninhibited reptiles. Only about that time the girls catch Timmy filmin' a "what I'da done on my summer vacation if I wasn't so far outta my league" video and hafta send 'im swimmin' back to camp for bein' a voyeuristic pig, and for cosplayin' Mabel King from What's Happening without a sensible purse. Then Betsy finds one of 'er competitors dead from an apparent suicide, and the camp director (Ms. Tipton) hasta explain to everyone that some people just can't handle the pressure when the prospect of a weekly aerobic workout series is on the line, and everybody feels a whole lot better once they understand the dead girl was just sufferin' from crippling body dysmorphia and that 'er suicide wasn't the result of a sudden epiphany about the fleeting nature of public adoration. The next mornin' Leif and Timmy help the girls practice their moves by performin' this roll call dance number that's so bad it sets the white rap movement back a decade, and after a while Betsy gets thirsty and hits the walk-in fridge for some straight-outta-the-jug skim milk and learns what it's like bein' on the bottom of the pyramid when the dead cheerleader's corpse rolls offa the top shelf and lands on 'er.
Then the sheriff shows up and it starts lookin' like Camp Trophy Wife's about to get packed up and shipped out to the 'burbs a year early until Tipton dresses up in 'er old high school cheerleadin' outfit and lets the sheriff blitz 'er red zone. 'Course while that's happenin' Timmy's outside makin' like a sumo superspy recordin' the whole deal, and later that night he swaps VHS tapes while Tilton's givin' this speech about how spirit is one of the nation's greatest untapped natural resources and runs the tape of 'er playin' "hide the baton" with the sheriff. She's pretty P.O.'d about it even though it kinda reinforces 'er point. Then Betsy gets so hacked off at Leif for lookin' up Pam's labia durin' lift exercises that she hasta take a nap and starts havin' dreams about Leif and Pam makin' the sign of the arboreal paunch iguana while Buck Flower and the rest of the camp staff gather at their bedside to cheer 'em on. Of course, as any student of Freud will tell you, the hidden meaning behind this dream isn't about Leif, Pam, or even sex; rather, it depicts Betsy's secret desire to move to Nunavut and open a sushi restaurant as part of an effort to expand the cultural horizons of the native Inuit people, but she's pretty weirded out nonetheless. Unfortunately, Leif isn't very sympathetic to Betsy's condition, and when her libido takes a nosedive he hasta hire Pam on as a substitute Leif blower, only Pam develops a conscience at a real lousy moment and Leif leaves 'er to the mercy of the unseen maniac who rams a set of hedge clippers through the back of 'er skull. Then Betsy has another nightmare where she eviscerates Pam with a set of razor blade pom poms and it's so upsetting that she hasta confide in the mascot even though she smells like butt sweat from doin' cartwheels inside an alligator costume that hasn't been washed since 1977.
Cory's able to get Betsy's head screwed on straight so she can dance her little heart out for a chance to make substandard wages cheering on an NFL expansion team whose fans think it's funny to try pitchin' pennies into the cheerleaders' ass cracks when they do toe touches, only the judges're all bitter spinsters with 13 cats apiece and so they decree that the plain girl with no boobs be named queen to stick it to the patriarchy. Wasn't really a fair competition anyway since mosta the girls were more concerned about Pam goin' missin' than pushin' the elastic in their bras to the limit, and the moment Bonnie gets crowned Miss Average U.S.A. Theresa goes lookin' for Pam and ends up gettin' turned into twerky jerky when a van mashes 'er into a tree. Meanwhile, Tipton gets blasted on Purple Hooter Shooters and goes stumblin' through the woods lookin' for a bush to water till she gets chopped in the back with a kitchen utensil and manages to find Betsy a moment before succumbing to the cleavage. Elsewhere, Leif's inside lettin' everybody know that his chicks're bein' picked off like pepperonis at a Pizza Hut Bar Mitzvah but that there's no reason to panic, and about nine seconds later the entire camp looks like a nymphomaniac just stood up in the middle of an orgy and announced she was pregnant. What remains of Betsy's group figure they prolly oughta get movin' too, only when they try their van just makes this noise like a cinderblock in a woodchipper and pretty quick they run into Buck who's out in the woods rackin' up drunk and disorderly citations with his pump-action and generally increasing middle-class anxiety towards scruffy lookin' dudes with backwoods drawls, and everybody decides to start trainin' for the cross country track team. This's about as far's I can go without spoilin' who done it, so if you wanna know who done did it you'll just hafta rent it and find out who did the doin' for yourselves.
Alrighty, well, I think it goes without saying that the slasher genre was startin' to peter out by 1988, with many entries goin' the semi-parody route to avoid being summarily dismissed as just another teenage shish-kabob flick. Even the big three (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween) had upped the comedy by this point (albeit with far more restraint), and while Cheerleader Camp doesn't get so ridiculous as to be unwatchable, it's essentially Friday the 13th meets Screwballs. The problem with horror/comedies is that everyone has their own line with regard to how much humor is too much, and consequently, you've already alienated part of your audience before you shoot a single frame - although it should be said that this problem can be overcome if the script is clever enough. After all, there exist horror/comedies far more absurd than Cheerleader Camp that have become cult classics (Killer Klowns, Evil Dead 2, Chainsaw Part 2, Dead Alive, etc.), but those titles all benefited from excellent screenwriters, interesting new twists on old ideas, or both, while Cheerleader Camp has neither. The original Friday the 13th comparison is actually pretty spot on, as both titles follow whodunit conventions a bit more than the slasher formula established by Halloween; the chief difference being that Cheerleader Camp offers more clues to the killer's identity and then reinforces them three or four times just in case you were in the can the first time they did it. "Soulless" comes to mind when I search for a word to describe it, similar to the majority of the offerings produced by New World Pictures after Roger Corman sold it in 1983, and unfortunately, the finished product just feels like less than the sum of its parts. I dunno about you, but when I read a synopsis for an '80s flick that promises nubile young women in the woods with a killer on the loose, it *sounds* like you can't go wrong even before you find out that it stars Betsy Russell and Buck Flower. Ironically, the only principal actor in the flick who doesn't seem to be just going through the motions to get it finished is Travis McKenna who plays the comic relief character most responsible for tanking the picture. If that character were written more in the style of Larry Zerner's obnoxious practical joker from Friday the 13th Part 3 it may well have saved the movie for me, but I guess there's not much point in gripin' 33 years after the water's gone under the bridge. The wasted potential just bugs me, ya know?
Regardless, some parts of Cheerleader Camp are still serviceable, so let's inspect those pom-poms and see if these gals have the flotation devices necessary to keep this thing from drownin'. The plot, as slasher flicks go, is alright. Yes, the camp prolly shoulda been shut down when the director tried hidin' the dead girl's corpse to avoid the negative PR. You could also make the case that cheerleading finals, be they at the state level or otherwise, would probably not take place in the middle of nowhere and be overseen by an unhinged Prozac addict. And yeah, when your friends go missing you'd probably prioritize locating them over winning a plastic tiara from the GAP, but in general there's nothing too absurd here.
The acting is mixed, with Vickie Benson boosting the production as the bipolar camp director, and Buck Flower providing his usual sterling performance as the grizzled yokel with the exhausted fuck supply. Buck gets all the best lines in the flick, like: "One of these days that bitch gonna push me too far," and "I wish you kids'd go back to the party, you're cuttin' into my drinkin' time," although Garrett gets one of my personal favorites when he says: "Everybody stay calm, but one of our girls has been murdered." Teri Weigel (whose list of credits contains more X's than a Dos Equis display) and Rebecca Ferratti, meanwhile, give awkward, amateurish performances, and Betsy Russell, Leif Garrett, Lorie Griffin, and Lucinda Dickey are just okay. In short, it's pretty obvious that everyone's just trying to get through the production as quickly as possible, and that's not a great look.
Here's who matters and why: Betsy Russell (Saw 3 - 7, Camp Fear), Leif Garrett (Devil Times Five), Lorie Griffin (Teen Wolf, Sandman), Buck Flower (Back to the Future 1 & 2, They Live, The Fog, They Are Among Us, The Curse of the Komodo, Moonbase, Wishmaster, Bloodsuckers, Dark Breed, Village of the Damned 1995, Ripper Man, Circuitry Man II, Skeeter, Warlock: The Armageddon, Body Bags, Waxwork II, 976-EVIL II, Camp Fear, Speak of the Devil, Dragonfight, Blood Games, Puppet Master II, Dead Men Don't Die, Spontaneous Combustion, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Death Nurse 2, The American Scream, Mac and Me, Pumpkinhead, Maniac Cop, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Bates Motel 1987, Berserker, The Night Stalker, Starman, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Time Machine 1978, Killer's Delight, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Criminally Insane, Drive-In Massacre), Travis McKenna (Batman Returns, Ed Gein, Skeeter, Trancers III, Twice Dead, Real Men), Teri Weigel (Auntie Lee's Meat Pies, Innocent Blood, Predator 2, The Banker, Night Visitor, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!), Rebecca Ferratti (Gor 1 & 2, Embrace of the Vampire, Cyborg 3), Vickie Benson (Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell, The Wraith), Tommy Habeeb (Deathrow Gameshow).
Lucinda Dickey is prolly best known for playin' Special K in Breakin', and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, and I'm not even gonna hassle 'er for it on account of both flicks bein' drive-in classics.
The special effects are pretty conservative in terms of volume and creativity, but there's nothing inherently wrong with any of them. You could question why someone crushed between a truck and a tree is largely unscathed with the exception of a huge hole in her chest, and the hedge clippers that get rammed through the back of Teri Weigel's skull and emerge from her mouth look a bit flimsy, but special effects crews have done far worse than this, so I'm not gonna go dumpin' all over their work. The most elaborate effect involves a false stomach that, when opened up, allows a river of blood to gush forth, and it'd be pretty spectacular if they'd added some guts and done a better job concealing the wire that opens up the appliance. Beyond that it's mostly just blood dripping from mouths and wounds - most of which has good coloration but looks a bit thick and sticky.
The shooting locations are pretty good, with all the camp sequences being filmed in the Sequoia National Forest of California, and the opening being filmed at Bakersfield High School. Generally speaking, there're two types of forests in horror flicks - the well-manicured variety that makes shooting there more convenient at the cost of some atmosphere, and the thick, unmanaged areas that're a total pain in the ass to work in, but which ooze authenticity. This location scout selected the former, and while I prefer the latter, there's something to be said for choosing the safer option if you're on a limited shooting schedule and/or lack the experience/equipment necessary to produce good cinematography in difficult conditions. Either way, everything looks nice, and the location scout helped score some easy points for the flick.
The soundtrack is probably the most unique element of the movie, as it features not only good use of synthesizers, but also piano and a xylophone. Some of the pieces are surprisingly atmospheric and foreboding, and would likely be more appreciated if the movie wasn't so slapstick in nature. Nonetheless, it helps prevent the movie from sliding so far into absurdity as to be irredeemable, and to that end, the soundtrack may be the thing that saves it from infamy. Or maybe that's a silly oversimplification born of a need to find something genuinely positive in an otherwise mediocre movie that failed to live up to its premise. Probably that second thing, but I still like the score. Overall, Cheerleader Camp is a bit too goofy for my liking. But because everyone is going to have different tolerances for how silly a film can be, this movie should probably be graded on a sliding scale of +/- 10% based upon personal preference. Take 10% off my total if you have literally no sense of humor, and add 10% if you're a big fan of Troma Team releases.