Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Majorettes (1987) dir. S. William Hinzman

Logline: In a small northeastern town, a disguised madman is knocking off members of the local high school's cheerleading squad. The townsfolk would find these developments concerning if it weren't for all of the town's sundry other distractions, including a wicked nurse plotting an inheritance scheme and a gang of rowdy, drug-pushing bikers tearing up the backroads. A town can only cope with so much at once.

Crime in the Past: Nothing explicit. The killer was obviously affected by his ruthlessly 'moral' religious upbringing, but it's not like he saw his mother gorily impaled by a crucifix falling down from a wall up against which she was having vigorous, wall-trembling sex with a man who was not her husband. Or anything like that.

Bodycount: 17, or the entire human population of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania.

Themes/Moral Code: The moral code here is more complex and ambiguous than you'd think. First, you have a moralizing killer who is specifically targeting loose young women, but this is nothing new for the subgenre. However, it is interesting that the film paints some of its stock high school girls as deplorable enough to justify their fates: for instance, one victim has lured a bashful nerd from her class to a popular makeout spot so that they can get it on and she can then later claim him as the father of her unborn child, who is actually the spawn of her drug-pushing biker boyfriend. A class act, for sure. From this point we begin to notice that nearly everyone in the town that we meet is corrupt, villainous, or morally compromised. We discern this fact especially in the cases of those who hold positions and occupations in the town that one would typically label as benevolent: the sheriff (Mark V. Jevicky) is a murdering psychopath, a kindly old nurse (Denise Huot) is plotting the death of her charges, and the town's mentally handicapped "village idiot" (Harold K. Keller) is both a peeping tom and complicit in his mother the nurse's plans. If there's a "hero" in this film it's Jeff (Kevin Kindlin), the varsity football star, who-- upon the murder of his girlfriend and some other girl he's been hanging out with-- takes it upon himself to rid the town of its biker gang menace by blowing and shooting them all to hell, indiscriminately and single-handed. Sure, his actions are justified if we ground them in an action movie's morality, but burning people alive is morally dubious when measured by any other barometer.

Most amusing of all is when the villains from the film's disparate subplots converge and quickly turn on each other through blackmail and murder, as if trying to one-up each other for the title of Most Evil. It feels not at all unlike the cynical, black satire Mario Bava employed towards his similarly unsavory cast of scheming miscreants in Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971). Except, you know, with more cheerleading routines.

Killer's Motivation: Again, it's never made quite clear to us what in particular caused Sheriff Braden-- our camouflage-wearing, bowie knife-wielding killer-- to do the nasty things he does to cheerleaders. However, he does helpfully explain that they are all "sluts" and "teases" and that what they really need is "to be purified," which he makes sure to accomplish during his murdering process by giving each of his victims impromptu postmortem baptisms (occasionally making do with whatever water source is available to him, as in one case dunking his victim's head into the stream of a locker room shower head). Because of this vagueness surrounding his motivations, Sheriff Braden remains an unmemorable villain. This does not, however, stop the film from allotting him the status of Ultimate Victor and leaving him standing as the closing credits run in order to slash another day. In fact, the film's only genuinely unnerving scene results from the lack of karmic punishment he receives for his crimes: the final shot is of Braden leering all skeevy from behind the school's metal fence at a group of little girls awkwardly practicing their cheerleading, insinuating that a new class of "sluts" is coming up for purification.

Final Girl: Our final girl is Vicky (Terrie Godfrey), an orphan who lives with her grandmother who has suffered a debilitating stroke and the slyly evil nurse who is planning on killing both Vicky and her grandmother in order to divert Vicky's upcoming inheritance to herself. Fortunately, the nurse's diabolical plans never come to fruition as Vicky is shot dead by drug dealers at the beginning of the third act. This is the sort of bleakness the film trades in.

Evaluation: There are weirder ones out there, certainly, but none quite so scattered and distracted as The Majorettes. The film is part standard issue slasher, another part melodramatic inheritance scheme thriller, and a big fat dollop of Rambo action revenge at the back end. It code-switches between these various modes of operation as it weren't no thing, but the result is akin to someone switching out the reels of the film you were watching with reels from another film of a totally different genre that just happens to star the same actors. It's a disorienting but always entertaining ride because-- luckily-- the film handles each of its unique genres with enough aplomb and no-budget enthusiasm to earn it a pass despite all of its narrative's logical shortfalls. Maybe this image is more apt: imagine it as being the result of master schlock director David A. Prior throwing whatever scraps of negative he had left for Aerobicide (1987) and Deadly Prey (1987) into the air and then spooling them back up in whatever order made sense at the time. I couldn't complain about a slasher film with Deadly Prey written into its DNA. Despite the surface level resemblances and shared year of release, The Majorettes was not the work of David A. Prior but of two late '60s horror icons: John Russo and S. William Hinzman of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). The Majorettes was the first of two directorial outings from Hinzman, the first modern zombie in horror cinema, and it was adapted from a novel by his pal John Russo, who earlier in the decade had directed another very peculiar slasher, Midnight (1982). Like a demented horror version of The Wonder Twins, only by joining forces could they make the subgenre even weirder.

2 comments:

  1. When I saw this I thought there were reels of two other films spliced in. It is certainly memorable for its tonal shifts.

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  2. Yeah, this is about as WTF? as a slasher can get. Once the duder brandishes an M-16, my brain flew out my ass. I have the novel but I haven't had the courage to read it yet.

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