Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before, and we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made Alli, Boomer, and Britnee watch All Cheerleaders Die (2013).
Brandon: I’m a little baffled by the lack of a visible cult following for Lucky McKee’s 2013 zom-com All Cheerleaders Die – a delightfully vapid, shockingly cruel horror comedy about undead cheerleaders seeking supernatural revenge on their high school’s misogynist football team. Its reputation and promotional materials make it look like an unwatchable embarrassment only fit for gore-hungry teens who haven’t yet seen the superior titles of the teen-girl-revenge horror cannon. And yes, the biggest hurdle All Cheerleaders Die has to clear on its path to cult-classic status is that it’s dead last on the list of films of its ilk worth prioritizing before you get to it: Heathers, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Craft, Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, Jawbreaker, Sugar & Spice, Buffy, Teeth, Carrie, etc., etc., etc. That’s great company to be in no matter where you fall in the high school clique hierarchy, though, and I’d love to see this overlooked, over-the-top trash gem cited among those better-respected peers more often.
All Cheerleaders Die starts with faux-documentary footage that anthropologizes the high school cheerleaders’ social rituals as queen-bitch rulers of the school. Our outsider-goth protagonist intends to infiltrate, expose, and tear down the institution of popular-girl supremacy by joining the squad and sabotaging them from the inside. Only, once she makes the team, she finds it to be an unexpected heartfelt bonding experience . . . especially after they’re all murdered by the school’s meathead jocks, then collectively rise from the grave to avenge their own deaths. The film is a tonally chaotic mix of campy bitch-sesh dialogue, disturbing jabs of misogynist violence, high-femme lesbianism, vintage zombie gore, and supernatural goofballery involving magic crystals & spells – all lightyears away from the grimy digicam footage that establishes its early tone. It’s a riot.
It’s been nearly a decade since All Cheerleaders Die floundered in theaters, and it’s yet to leave much of a cultural footprint among the genre nerds & edgy teens who’d likely love it. In my ideal world, it would be leaving blood stains on midnight movie screens & sleepover TV sets on a weekly basis. So, how did it go over with the rest of the Swampflix crew? Does the cult start here, or did y’all find it to be just as terrible as its marketing suggested?
Alli: I’m overall feeling pretty lukewarm about it. I don’t think it’s an unwatchable wreck, but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of cult classic for me. It’s convoluted and lacks focus, but there’s a good movie lurking in there somewhere. One thing that caught me off guard is how long it takes to actually get to the undead part of the story. Early on, it concerns itself more with the teen drama than it does with the horror, which is really where it gets interesting. Then, once the cheerleaders die, it feels like all the teen girl bonding has already taken place, except for with Leena the resident witch. I would have liked to see them continue to bond and overcome internalized misogyny together, with the gay goths indoctrinating the cheerleaders in their ways and the cheerleaders teaching the gay goths that sometimes being popular and athletic is both hard work and has its perks, and that as girls they experience the same kinds of harassment and violence that male entitlement brings.
The good parts of this stlightly outweigh the rambling, though. There are some very funny lines peppered throughout. At the beginning, when Leena names her cat Madeline the only thing I could think was “Wow! That’s super gay.” And lo and behold, the movie did deliver the gay. (Also, it made me glad that I can pick up on the secretly-attracted-to-girls teen vibe after living through that awkward time. My experiences were not wasted!) I also appreciated the shallow aesthetic of this movie. It looks very Disney Channel Original at times while also delivering some real dark shit. The floating stones and the cemetery sign immediately come to mind. Who designed that sign? Do they work with Hot Topic as well as making small town graveyard signage? The way the bubblegum twenty teens look clashes with the gory violence really works for me.
For those interested in a very similar story but told in a less messy way, I highly recommend Lily Anderson’s 2018 book Undead Girl Gang. There’s popular girls resurrected, misfits bonding with them, and a murder mystery! I imagine this movie was influential on that book, but I do think it improves on a lot of the ideas in some very fun ways.
Boomer: I also come down on the “so okay, it’s average” non-side of the metaphorical fence on this one. When asked about my thoughts when recording our recent Monkey Shines podcast episode, I noted that I would give it one thumb up and one thumb down. Although I liked the concept and the way that it played around with it, there’s a definite muddledness to the narrative that, when combined with the Disney Channel Original Movie VFX, made the whole thing feel cheaper than the sum of its parts. Not that it looks cheap per se; normally, with a movie like this one where virtually the entire cast is unknown, you end up with something that looks like the kind of bargain bin, incorrectly lit, blurry student film that you can find streaming on Tubi (alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tribulation, The Human Centipede 3, and The Color Purple, because Tubi is a lawless place). And because this was on Tubi, I don’t think that was an unfair assumption going in, especially when the film opens with the (thankfully unfulfilled) promise that we’re about to watch a found footage flick, complete with exactly the kind of overexposed footage that it’s common to find in movies from unseasoned filmmakers. The ability to chalk up poor editing, bad angles, out of focus footage, and inaudible dialogue to an error on the part of a character rather than the production crew has been a boon to neophyte moviemakers out there in the world, and although All Cheerleaders Die opens with a few of these hallmarks, it transitions to being a “real” film pretty quickly.
But that’s also where some of the other issues come into play. For one thing, this cast of all white, mostly brunette girls caused some issues with telling the characters apart, especially early on. We watch Felisha Cooper’s Alexis die early on at the end of the “found footage” section, and we see that Mäddy (Caitlin Stasey) is clearly a different person. But then we meet Martha (Reanin Johannink) after that section, and it wasn’t until the football players showed up at the cheerleaders’ pool party did I realize that she and Mäddy were different people. There’s something a little strange and careless about the casting of actors who are all a little too similar. I’ve never been confused about which Mean Girl is which, or gotten Nancy and Bonnie confused in The Craft even though Fairuza Balk and Neve Campbell are both pale-skinned and raven-haired. It might be possible to get so high while watching Jawbreaker that when Rebecca Gayheart’s character reminisces about Liz Purr you have a moment where you ask yourself “Who’s that?”, but you’re never going to think that it’s Rose McGowan. That carelessness also seems to bleed over into an overabundance of names ending in a -y/-ie sound: Tracy, Lexy, Kaylee, Mäddy, Cody, Moochie, and for some reason both a Terry and a Larry, who have no relation to one another. What’s up with that? When you’re watching Heathers, you know that they’re all named Heather (or Betty/Veronica Finn/Sawyer) on purpose, but here it once again just seems needlessly confusing, which is something that you want to avoid when making a movie with a pretty small audience in the first place.
This certainly has a strong cinematic quality, but the sense you get overall is muddled by the whip-quick changes. First it seems like a found footage movie, but it’s not! It seems like Lexy will be an important character, and she is, but only as a motivating factor for other people’s actions! Why is Cody Saintgnue even in this movie? What is the purpose? There’s a very Jawbreakers-ness to the fact that the only non-evil straight male love interest in the movie is virtually irrelevant (I just watched that cinematic masterpiece again last month for perhaps the tenth time, and every single time I see it, the fact that Julie has a love interest at all gobsmacks me every time), but also, what is he doing here? In Heathers, for instance, the nerds have a Rosencrantzian purpose: to squirt milk out of their noses when a Heather looks at them, to be bullied by the jocks at Heather Chandler’s funeral and thus inspire Veronica and J.D. to target them, to provide chorus in the school. Here, they feel like they’re part of the movie because high school movies have stoners — full stop. So instead of a very tight, clean movie about high femme lesbian cheerleaders eating misogynists, we have a film that meanders around and has several really impressive sequences that turns into a DCOM version of Avengers: Infinity War at the end because Mäddy and her goth girlfriend have to stop the villain from collecting all of the infinity stones. The pool party scene, the beach scene, the car crash, the girls at school — all of it is very, very cool. I was immediately won over by the way that we cut straight from the expository found footage (that doesn’t really tell us much at all) to the very fun, frenetic cheerleading auditions. It managed to combine the campy peanut butter of all of those lacrosse scenes in the first season of Teen Wolf with the campy chocolate of the training montage in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer set to “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” by The Divinyls into a perfect little Reese’s cup. But somewhere between there and the end, after thinking to myself for the first (and presumably last) time I really wish Brittany Snow was in this and also Wow, it’s really fucked up that the only black guy in this movie is our primary villain and he’s out here sexually assaulting a bunch of white girls both literally and symbolically, it ended up being a not-quite-camp-classic for me.
Britnee: I’ve seen the cover of All Cheerleaders Die many times while perusing through the all the deliciously trashy flicks on Tubi, and nothing about it nor the short description sold me. I don’t really like zombie movies, so a low-budget zombie movie about a group of cheerleaders didn’t seem like something I would be into. I was surprised by how unique the supernatural elements were, though, and it at least wasn’t the annoying, basic zombie crap I expected.
There’s something about gay cheerleaders killing asshole men that really warms my heart. How is it that this is the only film I’ve come across with that plot? It’s wonderful! It does have a pretty slow start and doesn’t really speed up until midway, during the confrontation between the cheerleaders and football players in the woods. That’s when I really became invested, and to be honest, everything that happened prior didn’t really register with me. What really got me amped was the magical Wiccan stones. I didn’t understand how they worked or if they’re a real part of the Wiccan religion, but it thought it was fascinating. The way that the green stones attracted blood and made the blood lines look like slithering snakes was rad.
Would I watch this again? Sure, it was pretty fun, but I’m not quite sure if I see it as being a cult classic. Maybe I’ll change my mind a few years down the road after a couple more watches.
Britnee: If I would have watched this as a 14-year-old mall goth, I would have been super into it. I don’t mean that as an insult at all! I just think that my interests and style at that time would have really drawn me to hunting down a DVD copy of this movie at all costs. It would be in my vampirefreaks.com bio at the very least. There was a nostalgic feeling that to it that made me cringe a little, and I think I somehow was tapping into embarrassing 14-year-old-Britnee memories.
Alli: I definitely agree with Boomer about everyone looking extremely similar. I wasn’t confused the whole time, but with the super similar white girl names, it did get rough. I also noticed that the black guy was this super evil, violent, rapey villain, and it definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I do believe that he has a couple of non-white guys in his crew, but it was a very, uhhh, problematic casting choice.
Boomer: I will say that, for all that I’ve said about how I found myself wishing I was watching a movie with more well-known actors, part of this was based on what I perceived for most of the runtime as a particularly terrible performance by Tom Williamson, who portrayed the villainous Terry. He spent the first 90% of the film emoting absolutely nothing: there was no change in his features whether he was sizing up Maddy, looking down at the crash site in which she and the others were presumably killed, or while watching Vik walk up to a teacher in order to tell her about what happened the night before. Once he got his hands on the infinity stones, however, he turned into a big campy weirdo, so I guess we can chalk that up to a character choice for the sociopathic Terry. Brooke Butler’s performance as Tracy was inconsistent, but she was nonetheless very fun to watch, and lead Caitlin Stasey was so magnetic that when I recently caught an episode of the current (terrible) Fantasy Island on TV that she happened to be in, I watched the whole (terrible) thing; and for what it’s worth, cheers for ABC for having a queer lady romance where two women demonstrate what they want to do to each other erotically with a rose. We’ve come a long way, baby. Special kudos, though, goes to Amanda Grace Cooper, who played Hanna. I really enjoyed her performance as both Hanna and Martha-in-Hanna’s-body, and she was the standout for me. I will also say that, for me, the movie would have been 10% better if it had left out Maddy’s video diary entry about her revenge plot. Given how quickly she pivots to genuine fondness for the cheerleaders and the unnecessary forced third act conflict that results from the others discovering the video, I could have done without it.
Brandon: The Swampflix Crew may not have been entirely convinced of All Cheerleaders Die‘s greatness, but you can at least tell Lucky McKee believed in its cult potential. Not only does it abruptly end with a shameless tease for a never-made sequel, but it also started as a revision of McKee’s shot-on-video debut, years before he had “made it” as a haunted-household name. The 2001 SOV version of All Cheerleaders Die is a rough-draft prototype that’s not quite as polished (duh) nor as gay (booo) as its big-budget “remake,” but it’s just as surprisingly successful given its limitations. It’s no-budget backyard filmmaking at its most charming & upsetting, and it’s obvious how McKee convinced himself of its greater potential as a post-Heathers teen girl bodycount comedy. I still don’t fully understand why he was wrong, but I’m at least glad y’all found things to enjoy about his second attempt.
Next month: Boomer presents Stepmonster (1993)
-The Swampflix Crew