DECEMBER 27, 2011
I forget for which Saw it was (I think IV) but during his interview Spooky Dan asked Betsy Russell (aka Mrs. Jigsaw) if they could talk about Cheerleader Camp, and her response was “Do we have to?” Since it was the only thing I knew about the movie besides its funny cover (cheerleader w/skull face), I wasn’t expecting much about the movie, especially since it was a late 80s slasher movie – mostly a dire lot of films once you remove the sequels to the big franchises (and even a lot of those were lousy – New Blood or Dream Child, anyone?).
Well, it’s OK enough I suppose. I guessed the killer instantly (like, during the scene where we learn the character’s names), our murderer is never seen (I prefer costumed killers, or at least on-screen ones), and the pacing is terrible, saving most of the kills for the 3rd act, but there’s a strange comical vibe to it that kept me more or less entertained. And since a number of folks tune into these things only to see hot girls and cheap thrills (as opposed to, you know, a good story, assured filmmaking, etc), I think the filmmakers have succeeded in delivering exactly what they were expected to; nothing more, nothing less.
OK, maybe a little less. It certainly could have used another death or two in its first hour. This movie must hold some kind of record for number of potential victims left alive at the end of the movie – our killer is seemingly only interested in the five girl squad at the center of the story, and not the numerous other cheerleaders who mostly disappear whenever the plot doesn’t require their presence. I wasn’t expecting all 30 of them to get offed, but 1-2 might have not only made the movie more exciting, but also would have given us a few more options as to the killer’s identity. Why would anyone who worked at the camp be specifically targeting these girls? Thus, attempts to make Buck Flower look like the killer, while amusing, are not very successful – we know the killer is one of the five Gator cheerleaders or one of the two males who accompany them.
There are also too many damn dream sequences; even the average NOES movie didn’t have SIX friggin’ nightmares in the first hour, and even if they did, at least they had some bearing on the plot. Here, heroine Alison (Russell) is constantly having weird dreams about death and/or her boyfriend (Leif Garrett!) cheating on her, because I think they are half-heartedly trying to get us to think that perhaps she is the killer, another botched idea. We know her whereabouts during one of the earlier kills, so that doesn’t work anyway, but even if we didn’t – who is going to believe that this generic slasher movie is going to go down that path?
She’s also in it too much. Ms. Russell is a knockout (and still is) and better than most of her co-stars, but the silly script gives her far too many terrible lines to say (many of them self-deprecating things along the lines of “I don’t know who I am anymore”), and as with any slasher, the more time you spend with your heroine means the less time the movie spends actually being scary/suspenseful. You don’t want to completely ignore her, but there has to be a good balance between her and her friends in order to hit all the marks, and that’s an area that the movie fails miserably – even in the final 20 minutes or so it would still take me a moment to remember which one Pam or Theresa was when their names were mentioned (if only I had seen the trailer before! Very helpful!).
In the plus column, the movie has some fascinatingly odd moments, particularly centered around Tory, the team’s mascot. The girl takes her job very seriously, even wearing the mask (indoors!) while trying to wake Russell up from a nightmare, which doesn’t help much – poor Betsy wakes up and sees a giant plastic alligator shaking her around. There’s even a mascot competition, where anthropomorphized chickens, raccoons, etc all dance around to the less than enthusiastic cheers of their teammates (spoiler – the chicken wins). This leads into the actual cheerleader competition, and together the scenes run so long I began to wonder if the director forgot he was supposed to be sending these girls out into the woods one by one in order to meet their maker. But the character of Timmy helps – he’s the 300 lb videographer for the team who somehow endears himself to our main girls and some of the ones on the other teams, despite the fact that he’s openly pervy (at one point he films the girls skinny dipping - while in drag - and they’re sort of charmed by it!) and even more or less forces his tongue down a girl’s throat, who resists at first but then reciprocates. Awww.
The movie also has what has to be a first/last: the survivors get drunk to celebrate the death of who they think is the killer! A lot of whodunit slashers have some sort of “Everything’s OK now” type sequence, only for someone to out themselves and ruin the fun, but this is the only one I can recall where one of them seems to genuinely enjoy what has just happened (the death of at least three of his friends), proposing a toast and even wondering why Betsy isn’t as enthusiastic. Oh, and the rap song in the trailer? That’s actually in the movie. Not even during the end credits, where most movie theme songs go – it kicks in right around the 20 minute mark, as if to ensure your attention for the rest of the film when it might be starting to wane (and wane it did, since we had I think three dream scenes already by this point).
The gore is actually pretty decent too. My favorite girl of the bunch (who had a couple of other credits before turning to softcore porn) gets a pair of garden shears through the back of her head, so that the blades come out of her mouth - sweet! Later a girl gets hit by a car against a tree, but somehow this eviscerates her (the rest of her body is intact). There’s a good bear trap on head gag too, and all of this makes up for the sadly off-screen nature of many of the other kills. In an attempt to hide the obvious identity of the killer, we get a lot of characters killed under vague circumstances, to keep the number of suspects high. Even if I hadn’t been sure of the killer’s identity (and motive!) for the bulk of the movie, this would get on my nerves – you can get away with 1 or 2 off-screen deaths, but any more than that and you need to deliver A+ material for the rest of the runtime. This movie, even if everything WAS on-screen, is on the low end of a B.
Anchor Bay’s 2004 DVD offers the alternate title sequence under its original title Bloody Pompoms, as well as three trailers that are all exactly the same except one has a different guy doing the voiceover (and the Pompoms title is used on two). Just covering the bases, I guess. Thus, the only real extra is a commentary by producer/director John Quinn and producer/actor Jeff Prettyman, which is typical of guys like this, who never again worked in any meaningful way in the genre and whose resumes are as random as they come. There’s precious little about the genre or even the storyline, but plenty about signing contracts and securing locations, and a lot of mutual back-slapping. Some of their comments are a bit off-putting (one girl’s later boob job is critiqued), and ignorantly douchey (“I set my cruise control at 100 mph while driving back and forth between the set because there was no one around!”), but luckily they fall silent quite a bit. Mr. Quinn passed away last year, so I hate to speak ill of the dead, but both of them come off as the arrogant sorts who churn out the horror movies that give the genre a bad name. The things in the movie that actually work are probably of the “happy accident” variety; someone who actually gave a shit about the genre might have been able to turn this into something a little more substantial than “decent enough slasher”. Oh well. Bonus points for using the "Carpenter Font" for the opening titles.
What say you?
P.S. An attempt at a sequel somehow morphed into a movie called Camp Fear, which stars Russell as a different character and boasts a plot that somehow combines an evil motorcycle gang, the Loch Ness Monster, and a druid Priest! I already like it more than this.