Lifetime Film Review: Death of a Cheerleader (dir by Paul Shapiro)


Kelly Locke (Sarah Dugdale) appears to have it all.  Even though everyone agrees that she can occasionally be a little bit mean with some of the things that she says, Kelly is still one of the most popular students at Hollybrook High.  She’s a cheerleader.  She’s the leader of the Bobbettes, the school’s most prestigious social group.  She gets good grades, she lives in a big house, and her family has a lot of money.

Bridget Moretti (Aubrey Peeples), on the other hand, wants to have everything.  She’s shy and desperate to fit in.  She wants to be a member of the Bobbettes.  She wants to be a cheerleader.  Even more importantly, she wants Kelly to be her best friend.  Kelly, however, thinks that Bridget’s a little bit strange.  In fact, when Bridget lies to Kelly about there being a party as an excuse to get Kelly to spend time with her, Kelly accuses Bridget of “wanting to be me.”  Kelly then says that she’s going to tell everyone at school about what a weirdo Bridget is so Bridget stabs her to death.

Now, you would think that Bridget would be the number one suspect.  After all, Bridget’s not that smart and it’s not easy to get away with murdering someone, especially when it’s an impulsive act.  However, no one suspects Bridget.  Bridget’s just too shy and nice for anyone to believe that she could possibly be a murderer.  Instead, everyone assumes that another student, Nina Miller (Morgan Taylor Campbell), is the killer.  After all, Nina used to be popular until she dyed her hair and started hanging out with the stoners.  Nina even threatened to kill Kelly once.  Nina says she was just mad and that she wasn’t being serious but that doesn’t stop strangers from calling her house and demanding that she confess….

Now, if this story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a true story and it’s one that has been recreated on countless true crime shows, including Deadly Women, 1980s: The Deadliest Decade, and Killer Kids.  It was also turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1994, A Friend to Die For, starring Kellie Martin as the murderer and Tori Spelling as her victim.

Death of a Cheerleader is a remake of A Friend to Die For, telling the same basic story but attempting to give it a more modern spin, which in this case amounts to a lot of hand-held camerawork and a far less judgmental attitude towards casual drug use.  The remake also slightly differs in the way that it views its main characters.  If the first film was sympathetic to Bridget, the remake is a bit more ambiguous.  Bridget is portrayed as being slightly off from the beginning and far more openly bitter over Kelly’s success than in the original film.  At the same time, Kelly is portrayed a bit more sympathetically in the remake than in the original.  Tori Spelling played the role as being a straight-up bitch, whereas Sarah Dugdale instead plays her as someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself and who often doesn’t understand how cruel her comments can sometimes be.  The biggest difference between the two films is that the remake focuses for more on the wrongly accused Nina, even allowing her to narrate the story.  If anything, the film’s main message seems to be about how messed up it is that brave nonconformists like Nina are always going to be unfairly blamed for the mistakes of mousy conformists like Bridget.  That’s a good message and one that I certainly appreciated.

The remake of Death of a Cheerleader works well enough.  The hand-held camera work gets to be a bit much but Sara Dugdale, Morgan Taylor Campbell, and Aubrey Peeples all give great performances and the film actually does a better job than the original of capturing the strange culture of high school popularity.  While it may not feature any scenes as iconic as Tori Spelling melodramatically lighting up a joint, Death of a Cheerleader is still an effective Lifetime film.

Back to School Part II #29: A Friend To Die For a.k.a. Death of a Cheerleader (dir by William A. Graham)


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Over the past couple of year, I’ve had so much fun making fun of Tori Spelling’s performance in the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? that I almost feel like I have an obligation to review a movie in which she gave a halfway decent performance.

That film would be another 1994 made-for-TV-movie.  It was apparently originally broadcast as A Friend To Die For but most of us know it better as Death of a Cheerleader.  That’s the title that’s used whenever it shows up on Lifetime.  There actually was a time when Death of a Cheerleader used to show up on almost a monthly basis but that was a while ago.  Lifetime has since moved on to other movies about dead cheerleaders.

Technically, as my sister immediately pointed out when I made her watch the movie, the title isn’t quite correct.  Though Stacy Lockwood (Tori Spelling) does try out for and is named to her school’s cheerleading squad, she never actually gets to cheer.  Instead, shortly after the school assembly in which her selection is announced, Stacy is found stabbed to death.  But really, Death of A Future Cheerleader doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

As for who killed Stacy … well, it’s no secret.  This is one of those true crime films where the murderer is not only portrayed sympathetically but is the main character as well.  Angela Delvecchio (Kellie Martin) was a high school sophomore who was obsessed with trying to become popular.  She looked up to Stacey and desperately wanted to be her best friend.  (Why she didn’t just offer to bribe Stacey, I don’t know.  Maybe she hadn’t seen Can’t Buy Me Love….)  When Stacey got a job working in the school office, so did Angela.  Of course, the school’s somewhat sleazy principal (Terry O’Quinn, coming across like John Locke’s worst nightmare) only made it a point to talk to Stacey and pretty much ignored Angela.  When Stacey applied to work on the yearbook, so did Angela.  When Stacey tried out for cheerleading, so did Angela.

In fact, the only time that Angela stood up to Stacey was when Angela was taunting the school’s token goth (played by Kathryn Morris).  That turned out to be a mistake because Stacey never forgave her.  When Angela invited Stacey to a party, Stacey was reluctant to go.  When Stacey did finally accept the invitation, Angela stabbed her to death.

A Friend to Die For/Death of a Cheerleader is based on a true story and the film tries to lay the blame for Angela’s crime on the affluent neighborhood she was raised in.  Just in case we missed the message, the film actually features a Priest (played by Eugene Roche) who says that the community put too much pressure on Angela to succeed.

Uhmmm….okay, if you say so.

Seriously, this is a pretty good little true crime film and both Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin give really good performances but this whole “It’s society’s fault” argument is typical, mushy, made-for-TV, bourgeois liberal BS.  Angela picked up the knife, Angela committed the crime, end of story.  That said, A Friend To Die For is pretty good as far as these movies go.  I already mentioned the performances of Spelling and Martin but also keep an eye out for Marley Shelton, who gets a really good scene in which she explains that she never liked Stacey that much while she was alive.

You can watch A Friend To Die For/Death of a Cheerleader below!