powertool cheerleaders

Musicals are my thing, they have been for as long as I can recall enjoying cinema, there is something so inherently magical about the world breaking out in song. For fans of horror, there has been no shortage of the two genres coming together to make some wonderfully bizarre musicals, from microbudget oddities like Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991) to cult hits like Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) or Cannibal: the Musical (1993), there are plenty of productions for the horror obsessive who finds their interest crossing with the traditionally whimsical genre. As such, when I heard there was going to be a new horror musical as part of the 2022 FrightFest line-up I was ecstatic to check it out.

Emily has had a fear of cheerleaders ever since her grandmother’s cheer squad got involved in some dark magic, resulting in a bloodbath. However, in the hopes of obtaining stardom through reality TV, Emily decides to face her fears and find popularity by starting her own cheer squad. Faced up against a heavily favored boy band, Emily wishes for the group’s success with a cursed amulet despite a warning from the ghost of her grandmother. This results in the accidental demise and resurrection of their rivals in the competition and chaos ensues as the ‘boyband of the screeching dead’ looks to build an army of undead talent.

Powertool Cheerleaders is a difficult film to approach as a fan of musicals in film versus on stage. Notably, the approach here is less geared toward capturing that sense of grandiosity that can come with cinema and instead feels focused on the energy and accessibility to the cast afforded in an on-stage performance. There is certainly a lack of polish throughout the production that makes the micro-budget feel heavily strained under broader concepts that don’t always play out.

At the same time, the feature captures that sense of excitable energy that comes with stage performance. Whether that was the aim or not, Powertool Cheerleaders feels much better suited for the stage than it does the screen. For example, Charlie Bond (Emily) has such energy and great projection to her lines that it would be suited for a live performance of the material. For those who have been lucky enough to see Evil Dead: The Musical live, that experience certainly trumps any recording of the performance and Powertool Cheerleaders carries a similar vibe as the enthusiastic performances and occasional awkwardness would be better suited for an intimate performance.

Outside of Charlie Bond who balances humor and personality to great benefit, the performances are rather awkward. However, this is due largely in part to a structure where the focus seems to ham things up as much as possible, or alternatively, some characters are not given enough time to develop to a point where the audience can appreciate their eccentricities. This is a shame as there are moments of humor, particularly when breaking the third wall, that land really well. Yet, the lack of time afforded for what Pat Higgins was trying to accomplish leaves the impression of too many ideas buckling under unclear direction.

There is one cardinal sin that Powertool Cheerleaders breaks within the musical genre that is difficult to overlook. Sadly, the musical numbers are not either catchy, or memorable, and often miss the mark of intended humor. Once again, the production is kept palatable due to the enthusiasm and dedication of the cast through these numbers, yet there is no denying that the songs themselves are lacking skill or polish.

Vocals are also inconsistent with a few performers singing off key the moment their verse starts. While the authenticity is appreciated dubbing over actors who can’t sing would have made a marked improvement. Unfortunately and somewhat ironically, the one musical interlude that works splendidly is a number where a murdered victim laments about his life being cut too short and how he could have been a ‘key part of the film’ if not killed off.

It should also be noted that the last few moments of Powertool Cheerleaders are an entertaining bloodbath where the humor, action, and personality of the cast finally come together. It is a case of too little too late, but the production ending with a chaotic bang really adds some much need value to the experience.

There is a charm to Powertool Cheerleaders, it certainly captures the energy and excitement of small musical theater (off-broadway), humor that excels when at its most self-aware, and some entertaining gore pieces. However, those looking for more polish and a score they can come back to and sing along with will feel like the production missed the mark.

Personally, I lean heavier into the latter sentiment, rather frustrated how the film always fell just short of its potential. Regardless, for those drawn to the charms of the horror musical genre, it is certainly worth giving Powertool Cheerleaders a shot and drawing your own conclusions.

We Watched Powertool Cheerleaders vs The Boyband of the Screeching Dead as part of the 2022 FrightFest line-up


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