I can completely understand the appeal of being a male cheerleader. I know what you’re thinking; this is just a sex thing from some horny guy. Well, you’re absolutely right. I honestly couldn’t care less about school spirit or the talent it takes to create and perform a solid routine. I’m not saying cheerleaders are talentless. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my mind, they’re like the Peking Opera performers of American scholastic extracurricular activities. But I’m selfish and something of a pig, so the thought of holding up a cute girl by her bum appeals to me.
That said, I was almost a team’s mascot once. In grade school, our symbol was an eagle, and the school debated having a mascot for their basketball games (it was the only sport they sponsored). Being a fan of special makeup effects, the idea of creating a costume and performing in it appealed to me. I had visions of a nice, baggy zip-up suit with a large mask/helmet that I could dance around the gym in, rallying the crowd. And then, like everything else, reality came crashing in, demolishing my spirit for the venture. You see, the powers that be wanted to have the mascot wear what was essentially a uniform with tights on its legs. Yeah. No thanks. For those who can pull that look off, more power to you, but I’m not one of them, and I wasn’t about to have what was already shaping up to be a nightmarish puberty transformed into one of cataclysmic, nigh-apocalyptic proportions. Yes, I’m exaggerating here, but have you ever met a pubescent who didn’t see every single moment of their lives as either grandiose triumph or agonized tragedy? If I were smart, I would have changed this attitude once I hit college. But no one has ever accused me of being all that smart.
Alison (Betsy Russell) wanders the dark locker room of her innominate school. Changing into her cheerleading outfit, she makes her way to the football field, where she is alone. Or is she? Some discarnate voice talks to her, and soon she is doing her damndest to perform. Then her parents show up, but they seem disappointed in the girl despite her best efforts. Waking up, Alison realizes she is en route to “the big competition” at Camp Hurrah. She and her ragtag cheerleading troupe from some unknown college pull in, and some stuff happens. Then some people die.
To my mind, the most appealing theme of this film concerns inadequacy. Alison has nightmares about her failings, both as a cheerleader and as a sexual being. She lives in a constant state of self-doubt. It’s so bad, she takes pills in order to cope (what type, I cannot recall). Alison can’t even hold onto her boyfriend Brent (Leif Garrett) much longer than the time it takes to put their van in park. In Cory (Lucinda Dickey), the team’s mascot (a crocodile, not a glorious eagle, I might add), Alison finds a confidante. She also finds a supporter. Cory is Miyagi-esque in her dedication to improving Alison (“There’s more than one way to be a winner”), though Cory also deals with issues of insufficiency, lamenting that she’s only the mascot and not a full cheerleader. Though she is a member of the squad, Cory is faceless and sexless in her anthropomorphized costume. This is emphasized in a scene where the various mascots are instructed to eat their lunch with their full costumes on. Farcical stick-up-the-ass Miss Tipton (Vickie Benson) proclaims, “You’re a mascot, not a human.” It mirrors the military practice of tearing an individual down in order to build a warrior, but here it’s strictly in the pursuit of humiliating an inferior caste of the cheerleading social structure.
Cory tries to keep Alison off the pills, she offers a shoulder to cry on and an ear to hear her friend’s problems, though whether she’s helpful (or even can be) is (very) debatable. This issue of shortcomings carries over into the realm of body image (though let’s face it; neither Russell, Dickey, nor any other woman in this film has anything to be bashful about in this regard). While the girls sunbathe by a river, they are spied on by creepy, pervy men. Reinforcing her dominance after stealing Brent from Alison without lifting a finger, Suzy (Krista Pflanzer) pulls off her top, attracting all the male eyes to her body, controlling them, and effectively marking her territory. Likewise, Pam (fledgling porn queen Teri Weigel), who is a teammate of Alison’s, also doffs her top, and following after Suzy, seduces Brent, showing her superiority within the unit of her team. However, once they’re alone, Pam rebuffs Brent’s amorous groping. Having displayed that she is the better of Alison and the rest of the squad is enough for her. It’s another manifestation of the competition motif that’s threaded throughout the movie. Everyone is a competitor, like it or lump it. And the characters either become stronger from the competition or are destroyed by it.
Don’t be misled, however. John Quinn’s Cheerleader Camp (aka Bloody Pom Poms aka Bloody Nightmare aka Bloody Scream) is not a horror film. Despite the V-C-Andrews-inspired poster art and the use of Albertus MT font (if that nomenclature doesn’t ring any bells, think of the opening credits to just about every John Carpenter film ever) for the main titles, this film would like to lull you into thinking it’s a Horror film. However, any (and I mean any) trace of this genre is erased about seven minutes in when the non-comic relief fat guy (Travis McKenna) gets his bare porcine ass caught in the van’s window while mooning the camp attendees. Mere moments later, he farts in the face of Miss Tipton, a stuck-up prig in the mode of Animal House’s Babs Jansen, who (naturally) has an inner deviant inside her a la Honeywell from Bob Clark’s Porky’s. The Horror elements of the film could be seen as a sort of satirical comment on the Teen Sex Comedy subgenre as a whole, but they’re mostly unspectacular, and they can in no way be considered a focal point of the film (they even elide a classic-style Horror reveal towards the end for absolutely no reason whatsoever), something on which Horror films rely.
But it’s not that the film wants to be both a Horror and a Comedy which bothered me. It’s that it doesn’t seem to care one way or another, and this is reflected in the script’s complete lack of structure. It has elements of both genres, but it doesn’t develop any of them, and any scene not concerned with being a period at the end of an incomplete sentence just flounders along until the filmmakers cut to another scene. This extends to the actors’ performances, half of which seem to be taking everything deadly serious, while the other half are solely concerned with mugging for the camera in the most obnoxious way conceivable (you can take that to mean they’re in on the joke, but it’s not much of a joke). Thus, you have two options when viewing this film. You can either try to figure out what was going on in the filmmakers’ minds while creating this thing, which will only frustrate you as much as the end product, or you can completely void yourself of any and all expectations and just let it happen. Being drunk out of your skull would probably be beneficial, as well, but who am I to dictate what you should do with your movie watching experience?
MVT: Aside from being a formative figure in my trot to manhood (who, just for the record, still looks amazingly beautiful to this day), Lucinda Dickey also gives the most sincere, gradated performance in the entire film. And, though I’m not fully certain it’s her in the croc suit (but suspect it is), she does a nice little dance performance in the film’s back half, complete with a little breakdancing move to finish it up. What a dame!
Make Or Break: SPOILERS. While everyone who hasn’t bugged out of camp is being pursued by the murderer, Timmy (the tubby guy) bafflingly stops, turns on the video camera he has been living his life vicariously through for the whole movie (and making quasi-porn with, incidentally), and talks to it as if he was giving a toast at a friend’s wedding. Then he makes a big to-do about having to micturate, and turns away, feigning horror. It’s neither funny, nor scary, nor suspenseful, adds zero to the piece, stops its flow (no pun intended) dead in its tracks, and makes not a whit of sense on any level. It doesn’t belong at this point in the film. This is not to say that it would have worked elsewhere, but it made me throw up my hands and finally admit that there was little that could be done to save this film for me. Dickey comes close in the final moments, but even she couldn’t overcome the hurdle set by this scene.