All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

All Cheerleaders Die first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

Before Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee became, separately, the best big-screen adaptors of Jack Ketchum’s writings – the former with The Lost (2006), the latter with Red (2008) and The Woman (2011) – the two writer/directors debuted together with a little-seen, shot-on-video feature All Cheerleaders Die (2001), where a battle of the sexes between football jocks and pom pom dancers was bloodily realised through bear traps, witchcraft and necromantic grudges. 

Now the filmmakers have reunited with a savvy reimagining not only of their earlier no-budget collaboration, but also of the whole female-empowerment teen horror subgenre as represented by Heathers (1988), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), The Craft (1996), Teeth (2007) and Jennifer’s Body (2009). Feminist videographer Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) infiltrates the Blackfoot High cheerleaders in order to wreak a sly revenge against football team captain Terry (Tom Williamson), but instead she and three of her new friends are driven to their deaths by the footballers’ actions. Maddy’s gothic ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) uses her Wiccan powers to resurrect the dead girls, only to find herself having to shepherd the four – now literal – man-eaters through the perils of teen life, even as they face Terry once again.

“Somebody got fucked, somebody got killed, and I’m going to PE,” explains Leena to Maddy. Flashback to four minutes earlier, and that is exactly what happens, as team mascot Hanna (Amanda Grace Cooper), having swapped bodies with her sister Martha (Reanin Johannink), finally gets to have sex in the toilets with her beloved Ben (Nicholas S. Morrison), and Tracy (Brooke Butler) joins another footballer for a toke in his van before sucking him dry – but not in the way you might be thinking. In other words, these girls, though empowered by a combination of wish fulfilment and supernatural tropes, continue going through familiar high school experiences and rituals – only those are now tinged with hilariously incongruous genre elements. Meanwhile, conversely, Terry’s gradual transformation into a monster merely reflects a monstrousness that the date-raping misogynist has had all along. Both the horror and the comedy here emerge as much from the ickiness and awkwardness of adolescent rites of passage as from any irruptions of the undead.

For all the grim fatalism of its title (well, apart from the ‘cheerleaders’ bit), this is a very funny film – a darkly irreverent joyride through the angst and sexual complication of the teen years, with added zombies, magic and freaky CG gore. There is however one problem that it must face which did not exist for its otherwise greatly inferior 2001 version, which is that in the meantime, Joseph Kahn’s Detention (2011) has come out – a film which, though sharing All Cheerleaders Die‘s postmodern preoccupation with teen genre films, is so deliriously paced and impossibly convoluted that it makes McKee and Sivertson’s otherwise rather smart effort seem all too shallow and simple by comparison.  

© Anton Bitel