CHEERLEADER CAMP was supposed to be called BLOODY POM POMS, which makes more sense. The title the distributors chose doesn’t get across that it’s a horror movie. I’m sure they rejected a million titles that would’ve worked, too. SCREAM SPIRIT, SKIRTS OF BLOOD, GO SCREAM GO, GIMME AN AAAAAAGGGGGH, etc.
Anyway, it’s a pretty routine slasher movie that takes itself seriously but with some of the ’80s sex comedy stuff the title implies used as comic relief. A van full of cheerleaders head to Camp Hurrah for a cheerleading outing and competition, the two males are super horny and trying to get laid all the time, etc.
It’s kind of an A-Team of B-actresses. Betsy Russell (AVENGING ANGEL) plays Alison, sort of the protagonist and probable Final Girl because she keeps having symbolic nightmares about death and cheerleading, including ones where she gets slashed by razor sharp pom poms, and one where she joins the squad in cheering her boyfriend Brent (disco star Leif Garrett) as he has sex with Teri Weigel (MARKED FOR DEATH, PREDATOR 2, lots of porn). And then you have Lorie Griffin (TEEN WOLF), Rebecca Ferratti (GOR, GOR II, CYBORG 3, HARD VICE), and most importantly Lucinda Dickey (NINJA III: THE DOMINATION) plays Cory, the team mascot. She doesn’t really fit in and the bitchy camp director Miss Tipton (Vickie Benson, doing a broad Troma or John Waters type acting style like she’s in a different movie than the others) has it in for her, forcing her to wear her alligator mask while she eats.
Things are not great between Alison and Brent, who has a mullet with receding hairline and geez, I can only hope they’re at least supposed to be college cheerleaders and not high school. I guess they probly are, because they seem to drink openly. Anyway, Alison is not having sex with Brent, and he’s a total douche, so he tries to hook up with somebody from a rival squad right in front of her and blames it on her. Later Alison finds the other girl with her wrists slit.
Alison is on pills so that you’ll know she has psychological problems, and could possibly be the killer and not know it. Her only supportive friend is Corey. It’s funny, I think Corey’s straight hair is supposed to make her the frumpy, plain one, since she’s not part of the squad, but today everybody else’s giant perms make them look terrible, at least until you kids start doing that ironically and then it comes back into fashion. She’s the most sympathetic one to me, but maybe it helps that I got kind of a crush on Dickey last time I watched her Cannon Films trilogy of BREAKIN’, BREAKIN’ 2 and NINJIN’ III.
There’s a scene where all the mascots compete at dancing, and since it’s Special K herself from BREAKIN’ she’s popping and does a backspin. They commit the rookie mistake of not having her take the gator mask off to show off that it’s really her dancing, but the commentary track confirms it. (Not that I would expect them to shell out for a double on this movie.)
Apparently Dickey also wrote the lyrics for the embarrassing scene where the boys perform sort of a “Super Bowl Shuffle”esque rap about their cheerleader squad. According to director John Quinn (THE MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN BEAR: GOLDY III) on the commentary track, “If you look at it now this rap seems really primitive, but for the mid-’80s it was hot rap.”
All of the men in the movie are total pigs. There are two older men working as handyman (Buck Flower, THEY LIVE, MANIAC COP) and cook (William Johnson) in the Red Herring Department of Camp Hurrah. They act scary for no reason but also are pervs, blatantly trying to look up skirts and stuff. Flower does slapstick bits like getting tripped over or accidentally spraying himself in the face with a hose due to checking out butts. They also spy with binoculars on the girls sunbathing.
Even the sheriff (Jeff Prettyman, SUBURBIA), who seems like a reasonable man when Alison calls and tells him that the camp tried to cover up a death, is rendered useless as soon as Miss Tipton puts on a cheerleader outfit and screws him while he pretends to be playing football.
But the most problematic (to use the parlance of our times) character is #1 comic relief Timmy (Travis McKenna, ROAD HOUSE, ED GEIN). He’s an obese jokester who moons the camp as they arrive (weird strategy) and gets his ass stuck in the van window. (Is mooning still a thing? Why was it ever a thing? I can’t answer either of those questions.) Timmy also videotapes the topless sunbathers, and when he gets caught he’s disguised as a female butterfly collector. Even Brent is uncomfortable with watching the spy video of a girl after she died, but Timmy says, “Cheer up. Lighten up. Come on! We’re looking at naked women here!”
Later he wears another disguise to peep on and record Miss Tipton and the Sheriff having sex, and he switches tapes during a presentation so the whole camp watches her sex tape with her in attendance. We can measure how much we’ve changed as a society by how many things considered hilarious pranks in ’80s movies are now considered sex crimes.
He almost does get laid, because he tries to talk to a cheerleader at the party and then just decides to forcibly kiss her. She says “Not bad!” and he carries her away over her shoulder. But then he ends up putting his hand in some blood and finding a dead body.
I don’t think I could explain what the appeal of cheerleaders was supposed to be. Of course it comes from some archaic gender role business where the men are the conquering warriors and the women applaud them for it. And traditionally the cheerleaders were supposed to be the popular, good looking girls. Of course there’s skill and art involved in the actual routines, but movies like this are not about that. It’s more about turning on some automatic boner instinct in young men. “Cheerleaders, huh? I should see that.”
Again, I don’t know if that’ still a thing. Which is more still a thing: mooning, or lusting after cheerleaders?
So anyway, people keep disappearing in the woods and what not, there is a dance, Miss Tipton is too drunk to help anybody, everybody splits up, the van has been sabotaged, Alison keeps acting crazier, etc. The unseen killer stabs one person through the mouth with shears, rams one between a car and a tree, etc. Instead of worms or maggots, one victim I’m pretty sure has caterpillars on her instead of worms or maggots. One stupidity highlight is when Brent tries to convince Alison not to call the police because he thinks they’ll suspect him of the murders. Way to win her trust, champ.
Timmy sometimes tries to be a good friend to the girls, which makes him one of the more sympathetic characters, somehow. And also one of the more foolish ones. When they know the killer is nearby and they’re making a run for it he decides to stop and make a funny video of himself. (Well, funny until he gets disemboweled by a scythe.)
Here’s a scene we can all relate to. You’re really thirsty, so you’re looking for the Coke. You are pointed to a walk-in refrigerator room. You don’t find the soda, so you drink from an open jug of milk that’s sitting there.
But then all the sudden you bump the thing wrapped up in the tarp on the shelf there and IT’S A DEAD BODY! It turns out that instead of dealing with the alleged suicide at the camp they just put the body in storage until later! Next to the open jug of milk!
This scene is scary because that could be any one of us when we go into a walk-in refrigerator and drink from an already open jug of milk. I guarantee almost everyone reading this has done that exact thing at least two or three times in the last week.
SPOILERS FOR THE END: It’s pretty obvious who the killer is gonna be. It’s Corey, who is jealous of the cheerleaders. Until the motive is revealed it really seems like she might be in love with Alison, which might be more interesting, but arguably homophobic (in the tradition of SLEEPAWAY CAMP). The funny thing is at the end she puts on a cheerleader uniform and does a cheer, and (again because she’s Lucinda Dickey) she’s clearly way better at it than the ones who were actually on the team.
This certainly is not scary or good, but I don’t know. I enjoyed watching it. I got nothing to say for myself. It just happened.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.