Every good teenage slasher movie includes a female cheerleader stereotype – typically blonde, popular, ditzy, top-heavy, and dead within minutes. Daddy can’t help you while Ghostface is in hot pursuit, and neither will that Mercedes Benz you got as a Sweet Sixteen present – but what happens when the main cast of your horror film is completely populated by cheerleaders? You can’t execute every character, can you? With Lucky McKee helming (alongside co-director Chris Sivertson), such a drastic turn didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but All Cheerleaders Die displays a massive formal transition for the director. Known for grungy, dirty, gritty horror like The Woman, McKee (and Sivertson) shake their pom-poms and wave their spirit fingers for a horror-inspired rendition of Bring It On – a bright, bitchy pep-rally crashed by death, destruction, and witchcraft.
In a high school full of jocks, nerds, plastics, and other normal cliques, Maddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) has decided to take down local football star Terry Stankus (Tom Williamson) by posing as a cheerleader and causing chaos from within. While acting out her plan, Maddy accidentally becomes part of some voodoo witchcraft influencing her and her fellow squad members, turning a revenge plot into a survival plan. Bonding with those girls originally seen as the enemy, Maddy discovers a new set of powers and a brand new thirst for revenge, but psychological torture won’t cut it anymore – consequences now include a hefty helping of death.
Riffing off a previous project both McKee and Sivertson directed where cheerleaders rise up as revenge-seeking zombies after their football player ex-boyfriends send them six feet under, All Cheerleaders Die buries the previous zombie themes in favor of magic gems, spells, and spooky dark magic. You know, to keep it more grounded in realism? No, kidding, but going a more fantastical route lets McKee explore new, freeing creative ideals unlike anything the down-and-dirty horror filmmaker has previously attempted. Sivertson provides no real help in these newer, fresher areas, known for his own Jack Ketchum adaptation and darker action movies, but these two auteurs are still able to channel their inner mean girl while heading back to high school for some witty, quippy drama that any valley girl would be proud of.
All Cheerleaders Die is as much a sinister romantic comedy as it is plot for revenge, as Sianoa Smit-McPhee plays Maddy’s former flame Leena Miller – a goth chick claiming to be wicken. As you can assume, Leena is responsible for the witchcraft surrounding Maddy and the other cheerleaders, as Leena makes a drastic decision meant to protect – channeling Pet Sematary mentalities. Don’t pray for something if you can’t handle the consequences, right?
Maddy’s condition isn’t one that’s zombified, but she’s not exactly a vampire or other type of creature – McKee and Sivertson conjure up their own reanimated tale as to not become lost in a genrefied mass of repetitive zombie copies. A smart choice, because as All Cheerleaders Die progresses through each movement – the established motivation, the abrupt twist, the full swing into hormonal horror – there are hilariously rewarding “WTF” moments aiding each turn. One minute you’re in thriller mode, then suddenly some wicken chick is riding on a motorcycle with her undead cheerleader squeeze while some overly-cheesy rom-com soundtrack softens the mood – prime tonal twisting worth every funny genre poke.
Don’t get me wrong, horror fans aren’t left unhappily clean. All Cheerleaders Die lives up to such a promising name, boasting plenty of soul-sucking violence to go around. While moments of CGI gore reduce practical splatter, I’ll give our directors a pass based on each scene’s nature. When slurping the life essence out of someone, I guess practicality seems like a far reach, and other moments of squirmy gross outs atone for the usage of CGI. Scares come in limited doses though, even considering that McKee’s backlog favors more psychological terror over true ghostly pop-outs. All Cheerleaders Die is a tried and true dark comedy hellbent on satirically depicting high school hierarchies doused in ample amounts of witchy spell-casting and brutal revenge – expect more “yucks” over gasps.
Performances may divide certain groups of fans, as where I found most of the girls to be aptly exaggerated yet fondly comical, others may not appreciate how overly teenage our characters are – much like how I thought Jennifer’s Body was polluted with rubbish dialogue. NO HIGH SCHOOLER I KNOW IS THAT WITTY AND – ugh, sorry, that’s a rant for another day, but you can guarantee alpha males roam free while squad practice is run by a true cheer-tatorship. Personally, the likes of Caitlin Stasey and Brooke Butler promote the proper amount of sex appeal, charm, and devious seduction that such a horror film calls for, balancing reality with their “possessed” alter egos. The men, on the other hand, are pure egomaniac meatheads with zero emotion, a boundary pushed to barbarian levels to really paint our victims as deserving monsters. Football jocks may have a problem or two with their on-screen impersonators…
All Cheerleaders Die could have used more rock-casting development, which is a point I’ll bring up after stressing fun over fear. While I understand how Leena’s witching influences each cheerleader, the stones she uses could have used a little more background information, especially when their powers are truly unleashed. In an attempt to keep pace with McKee and Sivertson’s story, I found myself answering my own detailed questions with a simple phrase – “because the rocks said they could?” Yes, just listen to the glowing, moving stones and you’ll be fine!
I already know I’ll be one of the more positive lovers of All Cheerleaders Die, but my recent horror kick has seen me favor originality highly, and McKee and Sivertson get bonus point for flying so far outside of the box. How often are we gifted a serious horror flick about witches, even when comedy is involved? Zombies, vampires – hell, even werewolves get more horror love than witches, and when our broom-riding cacklers finally see their fair due, it’s dreadful sludge like The Lords Of Salem – but not this time. Mindless and contrived at points, no doubt, but All Cheerleaders Die is undeniably a witching, bitching good time worthy of the cliffhanger ending that suggests a future sequel may be in the cards.
All Cheerleaders Die will be available through VOD platforms on May 8th!