It’s no secret that cheerleaders are popular subject matter for horror movies. Whilst a rather twee device, it is a simple way of getting together a group of young, often attractive, women to be lined up then chopped up as required; often there is nudity involved, an almost essential part of the slasher sub-genre, and the inherent naivety of the girls almost explains the weird, sometimes random, self-preservation decisions they make.
Cheerleaders are also a strangely American obsession if movies are to be believed; one that seems rather odd when you think about it. The idea of teenage girls in revealing outfits being held up as a model of wholesome ideals is a bizarre one; surely, at least in part, celebrating the sexuality of school children is disturbing and speaks to the core of a society steeped in moral ambiguity? Or maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
The film we will be looking at today is 1988’s Cheerleader Camp (aka Bloody Pom Poms). As the title suggests, we have several cheerleading groups competing at a cheerleader camp. They make pyramids, chant, engage in acrobatics, and do lots of topless swimming; all while competing for first place in a cheer competition. It soon becomes apparent that someone is sizing up the competition and taking out anyone that might be perceived as a threat. One by one, the ladies are picked off by a mysterious killer.
The film’s main protagonist is Alison Wentworth (Betsy Russell); a cheerleader who comes from a family of privilege. Friends seem to think she has it all but Alison has some troubles. More accurately, nightmares. Of being rejected. Of messing up cheers. And, of course, killing type ones as well. You know, your typical youngster.
Alison’s seemingly perfect boyfriend, Brent (Leif Garrett), is actually a douche in disguise; one of her cheer squad teammates, Theresa (Rebecca Ferratti), is bent on stealing away both the title of Cheerleading Queen (or something to this effect) and Brent (who is all too willing to be stolen away).
Continually haunted by dreams of cheerleading that seem to end in violence and murder, Alison struggles to hold it together; when her cheer teammates start to go missing, and then begin to turn up dead, she wonders whether the pills she takes in abundance are actually working, or whether a secret alternate personality is chopping down her friends one by one.
Cheerleader Camp is one of those movies that is what it is. Don’t expect too much out of it and you’ll find yourself enjoying it rather immensely. All of the ingredients of the classic ’80s slasher are here (including the gratuitous nudity). The only thing that’s missing is the warning from the town local about the past history of the place – but considering it doesn’t have any, we’ll let that one pass.
Cheerleader Camp was director John Quinn’s debut feature and his work here is perfectly serviceable. Ironically, given that the rest of his directing career seems to be comprised of soft-core skin flicks, he handles the horror aspects of the story much more competently; indeed, when the comedy sections are in full flow they seem much more awkwardly shoehorned in, especially during a particularly toe-curling sex scene.
Given the explosion of rap music during the ’80s, the film also tries to work in a rap number that is completely, utterly, preposterous and astonishingly poor – in fact, it rivals the “Top That” scene from 1989’s Teen Witch as the most ridiculously bad movie scene to desecrate the hip-hop culture.
If you were to strip Cheerleader Camp down to the basics, it comes off as a poor man’s Friday The 13th or Sleepaway Camp. However, even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it still manages to perform an entertaining routine that will have you shaking your pom-poms in delight. The film has a fair share of inventive kills, some impressive gore, and will keep you guessing to the very end as to who the killer is.
A sequel to Cheerleader Camp was planned by producers of the original film, but the project was eventually scrapped and made into another, unrelated film, 1991’s Camp Fear, which you should probably stand clear of (it’s pretty awful).
Cheerleader Camp is in no way perfect, but it’s entertainment in its purest form. If you’re looking for scares, you won’t find them here. But if you’re looking for a silly and amusing piece of cinematic camp (pun intended), you won’t find a movie much better than this.
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