This past week, Netflix released its latest binge-worthy docu-series, Cheer. A reality show following a college cheerleading program, Cheer has already amassed a pretty big following. So in the spirit of Netflix’s latest addiction, let’s take a look at some of horror’s most inspired cheerleader horror movies. Though horror movies typically love killing teens and young adults, there’s a surprisingly small number of cheerleader-themed horror movies. But get out your Pom-Pom’s and we’ll still give it the old college try.
Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)
He’s the Devil. Why wouldn’t he have his own squad? In the 1970’s, ‘Satanic Fever’ gripped the horror genre. Following on the heels of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, the genre produced a series of movies about devil-worshiping cults. The Devil’s Rain. The Blood on Satan’s Claw. The Brotherhood of Satan. Satan’s School for Girls. Race with the Devil. On the lighter side of things, Satan’s Cheerleaders may be the ultimate example of ‘Midnight Movie’ schlock. It’s an ultra-low-budget horror comedy about a Satanic cult that kidnaps a bus of cheerleaders for a virginal sacrifice. Some of the comedy is intentional. Most is not. A handful of B-movie veterans, including John Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo, show up. Just don’t expect much salacious content. Satan’s Cheerleaders is surprisingly tame.
Cheerleader Camp (1988)
Cheerleading is a competitive profession. Want proof? Look no further than Cheerleader Camper, a straight-to-video piece of slasher schlock. In this late-to-the-party slasher-cheesefest, teens spend a summer at a cheerleader camp where someone is killing off their competition. Part horror-comedy, part teen sex romp movie, Cheerleader Camp is supremely stupid. But it’s also a lot of fun. Whether it’s intentional or not, Cheerleader Camp feels like a goofy send-up of slasher movies. Not surprisingly, several B-movie actors are in attendance, including ‘Scream Queen’ Betsy Russell (Saw series). Just stick around for the ending. Despite the cheese that proliferates most of the movie, Cheerleader Camp’s ending is surreal, weird, and a little unsettling.
All Cheerleader’s Die (2013)
All Cheerleaders Die was ahead of its time. After her cheerleader childhood friend dies during a dangerous stunt, a high school outcast joins the squad to take revenge. Though it’s a supernatural mix of horror and comedy, All Cheerleaders Die is a surprisingly subversive take-down of misogynistic cultures and toxic masculinity. Consider a #MeToo horror movie before the hashtag was trending. Not everything about this one works, but director Lucky McKee (May) knows how to balance morbid humour with some thoughtful character development.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Maybe you’ve heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Cheerleader by day, vampire slasher by night. Yes, Joss Whedon’s supernatural female empowerment tale remains one of the best television series of all time. But did you know Whedon’s concept was originally a failed movie? Before Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kristy Swanson played the vampire-slaying California cheerleader. As compared to the series, the Buffy movie is pretty much straight-up comedy. And while much of the comedy feels strained, Buffy features some fun performances from Swanson, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher), and particularly Paul Reubens. Upon the series’ release, the movie was either forgotten or derided. Yet contrary to past dismissals, the Buffy movie deserves a re-assessment.
Tragedy Girls (2019)
Tragedy Girls is one of the better recent horror movies you probably haven’t seen. High school BFF’s and true crime bloggers, McKayla and Sadie, commit a series of murders to score more follows. Okay, Tragedy Girls doesn’t really use a ‘cheerleader’ theme to make offer any social commentary. This horror comedy is more of a subversive swipe at social media and our ‘likes’-obsessed culture. Nevertheless, it’s one of the few horror movies to get this particular commentary right. Both darkly funny and brutal, Tragedy Girls is clever, fun, and criminally underseen.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama’s (The Invitation) dark horror comedy, Jennifer’s Body is a horror classic. Upon its initial release, critics dismissed it and audiences didn’t show up. But time has earned Jennifer’s Body a much-deserved critical re-appraisal. Previously, I said All Cheerleaders Die was ahead of its time. Well, All Cheerleaders Die owes a debt to Jennifer’s Body. Megan Fox plays Jennifer, a popular cheerleader, who develops a bloodlust for her male peers after a demon possesses her. A feminist horror movie, Cody and Kusama put female friendships front row and centre while addressing issues that #MeToo would tackle years later. The best horror movies improve as they age, and Jennifer’s Body is only more relevant today.