Cheerleaders are popular subject matter for horror movies. Whilst a rather twee device, it is a simple way of getting together a group of young, often attractive, women to be lined up then chopped up as required; often there is nudity involved, an almost essential part of the slasher, and the inherent naivety of the girls almost explains the weird, sometimes random, self-preservation decisions they make. It is also a strangely American obsession if movies are to be believed; one that seems rather odd in other parts of the world. The idea of teenage girls in revealing outfits being held up as a model of wholesome ideals a bizarre one; surely, at least in part, celebrating the sexuality of school children is disturbing and speaks to the core of a society steeped in moral ambiguity? I am not American and profess to be no kind of expert on the country’s culture or traditions but, as an outsider looking in through the warped window the horror genre provides, it is a rather odd juxtaposition. When this is applied to the slasher genre I, like most, simply accept and go with it; it does wonders for body counts after all. ‘Cheerleader Camp’, a super cheesy Eighties slasher, does what is says on the tin – there are both cheerleaders and high camp in abundance.
The story closely follows the efforts of heroine Alison to balance out the demands of being a successful cheerleader competing in regional competition, the stresses of perpetually wandering boyfriend Brent, and maintaining a tenuous grip on her own sanity. Haunted by dreams of cheerleading that seem to end in violence and murder, Alison struggles to hold it together; when her cheer teammates start to go missing, and then begin to turn up dead, she wonders whether the pills she takes in abundance are actually working, or whether a secret alternate personality is chopping down her friends one by one.
‘Cheerleader Camp’ is a very strange movie. The story itself is very straightforward but it’s the implementation that makes it stand out. Rather than stick with an out and out slasher, it tries to mix equal parts Eighties frat-boy comedy, giving the film an uneven, inconsistent, tone. Whilst the original title of the movie is ‘Cheerleader Camp’, with all its connotations of pratfalls, nudity, and fart gags, the film is better known by its alternate title, the more horror focussed, ‘Bloody Pom Poms’; this inconsistency speaks to the key issue at the heart of the film. All the slasher tropes are present and correct, so are many of the comedic elements of the time, and the film would have benefitted from an early decision to ditch one or the other. That said, there is much to enjoy here.
The cast are comprised of the usual array of stereotypical characters, not uncommon for genre films of the era, although some of the casting is very odd. It is an absolute of slasher movies that our characters will be played by actors who are much older than they are supposed to be – a less censor-baiting way of cramming in the nudity – but in ‘Cheerleader Camp’ this is taken to the extreme with the casting of Leif Garrett as the main heartthrob Brent. When the character first appears he is driving our cheerleaders to the camp of the title and it very much appears that he is playing the teacher role that we all expect. It transpires however that actually he is the boyfriend of our main female character; his receding hairline doesn’t help, but he looks at least a decade older than the rest of the main cast and, as he rapidly starts flirting with other girls at the camp, he takes on a creepy air that is far more unsettling than anything else in the production. Our lead girl is played by Betsy Russell who, compared with the rest of the cast, has forged a successful career; by the evidence on display it is difficult to see how given that the only thing more wooden than her performance here are the cabins the girls sleep in. The rest of the cast are much more solid: Lucinda Dickey steals the show as alligator mascot Cory; Lorie Griffin is enjoyably airheaded as bimbo Bonnie; Teri Weigl as mega-bitch Pamela is suitably irritating; Travis McKenna is good as frat boy stereotype Timmy, a sex obsessed fat slob; and Vickie Benson, as camp leader Miss Tipton, chews the scenery in entertaining fashion throughout. Overall, the cast are perfectly serviceable for a low budget Eighties offering of this kind even if some casting is horribly misjudged.
‘Cheerleader Camp’ was director John Quinn’s debut feature and his work here is perfectly serviceable. Ironically, given that the rest of his directing career seems to be comprised of soft-core skin flicks, he handles the horror aspects of the story much more competently; indeed, when the comedy sections are in full flow they seem much more awkwardly shoehorned in, especially during a toe-curling comedy sex scene between Miss Tipton and the local sheriff. Given the explosion of rap music during the Eighties, the film also tries to work in a rap number that is completely, utterly, ridiculous and astonishingly poor – in fact, it rivals the dance number in ‘The Sleeper’ as the most ridiculously bad scene reviewed this year. If you’re desperate, you can see it from the 21 minute mark at the link at the end of this review. Be warned. The rest of the soundtrack is fine by Eighties cheese standards, all synth and ominous piano, and clearly owes a debt to 1986’s ‘Slaughter High’.
As expected with a low budget Eighties slasher there is some nudity but, whilst not pervasive, that too feels forced; in fact, a scene designed to be sexy – too girls trying to out-topless each other at a lake – actually provides the movie’s funniest moment by far. The kills themselves are perfectly well done and show some decent special effects. There are a number of nods to various other slashers of note – ‘The Burning’ and ‘Sleepaway Camp’ most obviously – but Allison’s nightmare sequences owe more than a little to Wes Craven’s ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. Whilst these are clumsy – decidedly Freddy-esque laughter reverberates throughout – it does help the film serve up a twist ending. By the final third any horror audience worth its salt will have worked it out but, until that point, there are enough red herrings and fake leads to make it far from predictable.
‘Cheerleader Camp’ is an inconsistent beast. On one hand it is a perfectly serviceable, low-budget, cheesy Eighties slasher which, whilst taking bits from far superior examples, is eminently watchable; on the other hand, it is a lame, if diverting, Eighties frat comedy. As a whole it barely hangs together – the humour is more eye-rolling than genuinely amusing – but it is surprisingly fun. ‘Cheerleader Camp’ is simultaneously very similar to every other Eighties slasher whilst doing enough, just, to distinguish itself from them. If you’re not put off by an extremely high cheddar factor, ‘Cheerleader Camp’ will provide just enough fun, just enough smiles, and just enough blood to keep you entertained.
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Here at The GSC we appreciate you, dear readers, and the time you spend enjoying our work. Many of the things that I review are obscure or hard to get hold of. As a gift to you, having read my review, here’s a link to the full movie of ‘Cheerleader Camp’ on YouTube. Be warned though – that rap number is every bit as bad as I’ve led you to believe. Enjoy – Dr C