Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Cheerleader Camp (1988)

A group of cheerleaders (as played by Betsy Russell, Lucinda Dickey, Lorie Griffin, Teri Weigel and Rebecca Ferratti) and their two male companions (Leif Garrett and Travis McKenna) take part in a prestigious cheerleading camp – I leave it to everyone’s imagination if such a thing existed in the real world of the real 80s – to improve their act for some sort of upcoming competition and to take part in the camp’s very own competition as well. However, something’s very wrong at the camp, and it’s not just some of the girls’ horrifying competitive streak when it comes to, well, everything, from cheerleading to boys, nor their just as horrifying lack of empathy and solidarity.

Things start very early on with the supposed suicide (which is of course in truth murder) of one of the girls, the sort of thing that should stop the summer fun completely, if not for the fact that camp owner and eternal cheerleader Miss Tipton (Vickie Benson) fulfils the local Sheriff’s (Jeff Prettyman) cheerleader kink. More girls disappear, or rather, as the audience knows, are murdered in horrible ways. Curiously enough, all of the murdered have some reason to be in the bad books of Dickey’s character who increasingly starts to fray at the edges during the course of the film.

I didn’t expect the slasher comedy Cheerleader Camp to actually be anything but a dispenser for tits and gore, particularly since it was directed by future softcore director John Quinn. So I am particularly happy to note the film is indeed a bit more, actually much more, interesting than that. Sure, there’s the mandatory amount of female nudity – though fans of the male form will get something to look at too – and a series of increasingly cool, icky and physically absurd killings. But they are realized in a competent and effective manner,and even the nudity mostly fulfils a sensible function in the film’s actual plot; a plot that does indeed exist. And while I thought it rather obvious who is actually responsible for the killings, Cheerleader Camp is taking its murder mystery angle mostly seriously, timing red herrings and reveals well. Why, the film even bothers to provide its cheerleading protagonists with somewhat complex inner lives, caring for them rather more than most slashers do with their respective victims, which obviously makes watching it rather more involving than just gawking at the murders would be. The actresses – and Leif Garrett – seem to appreciate that effort too, and consequently do a bit more work than just shoving pretty faces and breasts and George ‘Buck’ Flower into the audience’s faces.

I also found myself laughing about at least half of the film’s jokes, which is as good as any camp based teen comedy – horror or not - can hope to get out of me.

Adding an additional frisson of pleasant surprise to the film’s other considerable charms is the amount of subversive elements in the script by David Lee Fine and R.L. O’Keefe. At times, Cheerleader Camp really digs into portraying the immense pressure to be pretty, and good, and perfect, and available, yet still virginal, these young women are put under, as well as the way they internalize these pressures to then put them on their peers in turn. Why, even the killer is really only doing a somewhat more extreme version of what a young woman’s supposed to. As long as she comes out on top and looks good doing it, it’s alright, right?

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