Gimme a G. Gimme an O. Gimme an R. Oh, forgot it...
You Can't Kill Their Spirit
High school is a perennial setting for film and television because teenagers tend to have disposable income to spread around and enjoy seeing a reflection of their lives on screen. But smart creatives know that you can't just appeal to a single demographic, and so high school material—whether Friday Night Lights or Buffy the Vampire Slayer—tries to go a bit further by offering more adult themes inside high school packaging. This tends to work best in the horror universe (like the aforementioned Buffy), and a few films have tackled contemporary issues of gender like Jennifer's Body. To that list we can add All Cheerleaders Die, one of the rare cases of a horror auteur (or in this case auteurs) remaking their own film. It's a breakneck romp that will be embraced by those looking for an alternative to the recent glut of paranormal and found-footage horror flicks.
Facts of the Case
All Cheerleaders Die opens with Maddy (Caitlin Stassey, I, Frankenstein) reviewing the video diary of her friend Lexi (Felisha Cooper) so that she can learn the inside track on how the cheerleaders at her high school behave. Her plan is to avenge herself on the football captain by infiltrating the cheerleading squad to sow dissension. That doesn't work out quite as well as she hopes, and after a particularly violent confrontation with the captain, Maddy's former best friend and practicing witch steps in. The results should be obvious from the film's title, but instead of staying dead, the cheerleaders return with a very particular set of appetites.
Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson met in filmmaking school and embarked on a four-weekend filmmaking campaign to create All Cheerleaders Die in 2001. It got them noticed, and both writer/directors went on to a bit of underground acclaim in the world of genre filmmaking (with Lucky having a bit more, well, luck than Sivertson). Now that a decade has passed and both guys can command a bit of attention from horror fans, they decided to revisit their idea by re-making the film with a professional cast and crew. The only comparison that comes to mind is Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, where a more confident and better financed crew returns to former material to craft a more assured film.
Much like Evil Dead II, All Cheerleaders Die is worth returning to because it has a solid premise. The film is roughly divided into thirds. The first third has a kind of teen-drama/comedy vibe about it, like Heathers or even Detention. We get to see high school shenanigans (including a pool party) and Maddy infiltrating the "Mean Girls." The second third is more of a thriller as Maddy's plan ramps up and the ramifications of her actions take hold. The final third is pure horror as the returning cheerleaders do their thing.
Throw-back horror is often a mug's game; horror thrives on new shocks and scares, so returning to the well of horrors past might give some initial thrills of recognition but soon leads to boredom. All Cheerleaders Die is in the unique position of being a remake of a film from an earlier era, poised right between the tail end of the slasher boom (Scream) and the rise of torture porn (Saw). What McKee and Sivertson have achieved here is a feeling that they've by-passed the last decade or so of horror to create a more timeless tale. That feeling is bolstered by their willingness to move fast and freely. The film builds momentum rather than trying to draw out suspense, and the red stuff flies fast and thick once the titular cheerleaders meet their fate.
The DVD is pretty solid too. The film sports a 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer that's slick and detailed. All Cheerleaders Die was obviously shot on digital, and the level of detail really shows here. Colors are bright and pop appreciably, and black levels stay consistent and deep. Artifacts are not a problem. Overall, the film looks really good. The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is also good. The film's dialogue is always audible, and the music really fills out the soundstage. Sights of teen misbehavior are accompanied by contemporary dance sounds (reminding me of Spring Breakers but with less slow-mo). Everything sounds rich and clear, which is great for a lower budget horror film.
Extras are limited to a 24-minute making of that gives us behind the scenes footage, interviews, and rehearsals. It's actually pretty interesting, even if more extensive extras would be appreciated.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Writer/directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson are sadly absent from this disc. Though we hear a bit from them in the making-of featurette, they aren't interviewed, and despite this being a passion project they don't sit down for a commentary. They also apparently vetoed the idea of putting the original All Cheerleaders Die on this disc, which is a shame. Their absence really makes this disc feel incomplete; a super special edition with a commentary and the older version of the film would be a much easier sell, especially to fans of Mckee and Sivertson.
The film itself, unsurprisingly for a remake, doesn't necessarily bring a whole lot of novelty to the table. I think the film substitutes anarchic energy for absolutely novelty, and for those who are looking for a different type of scare that might not work. Obviously the film isn't a found-footage or paranormal story either, so fans of that turn in horror filmmaking might be disappointed as well.
All Cheerleaders Die is a fun horror film that combines a bit of Heathers and Mean Girls flair with a nice return-from-the-dead plot line. The film moves quickly, privileging speed and momentum to tension and absolute shocks. Those who miss the more in-your-face, pre-torture porn style horror movies of the '80s and early '90s will want to give this one a chance. Likewise, fans of directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson will want to seek this one out. The DVD presentation is fine technically, but the lack of substantial extras makes it hard to recommend for more than a rental to most viewers.
A film we can cheer for. Not guilty.
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Studio: RLJ Entertainment
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