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.

Hallmark Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From The Heart (2016, dir. Lynne Stopkewich)


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When I made that ordering of the best Valentine’s Day movies from Hallmark this year on my post for Appetite For Love, I was not aware the new Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie was also going to be part of their Valentine’s Day lineup. To put it bluntly, screw the other five, and watch this. I hope more Hallmark fans are tuning into their Movies & Mysteries Channel movies because the Signed, Sealed, Delivered films are the best ones Hallmark airs. Nothing else really compares. That said, this one needed some trimming. The main plot and a little furthering of the relationship between Norman (Geoff Gustafson) and Rita (Crystal Lowe) was all we really needed. The rest of the plots feel extraneous and just add more to follow without much payoff.

Interestingly, this is the first of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies to not be helmed by Kevin Fair. This time around they brought in October Kiss director Lynne Stopkewich. She has had an interesting career so far to say the least. She does a fine job here. I have no complaints about the directing.

Often we get the title card of a Hallmark movie almost immediately, but not this time. A fair amount of setup occurs before that happens.

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The movie begins back in 1835 with a woman making a Valentine for someone in America. We will eventually be told who the Valentine was meant for, which is kind of neat, but not really. It winds up in Norman’s hands, and it does serve a purpose for a scene with him near the end, but he didn’t need the letter for his lines to work just as well. This is a part that really could have been trimmed in my opinion. The movie already had enough plots going that it didn’t need this one thrown in as well.

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Then matching on the action of the 1835 handmade Valentine, we jump to present day and see Oliver (Eric Mabius) making his own Valentine for Shane (Kristin Booth). He then hands it off to be mailed to her instead of just giving it to her…for reasons? This is another part that could have been snipped. The letter will take the entire film to end up in Shane’s hands. It ends up in a box she doesn’t know has anything but Valentine decorations in it.

Now you’d think that title card might pop up now, but nope.

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The dead letter comes in, and Oliver instantly takes it to run off to a restaurant.

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We now go back 15 years to find a kid mailing that letter before asking a police officer where he needs to go to turn himself in.

Now we get the title card and title track of the series. It took awhile. I was wondering if it would ever show up. By the way, that 15 years earlier thing is the main plot of the film. Unlike previous Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies, this one does act more like a procedural rather than having the letter lead to a major revelation about the characters that moves them forward for the next film. I liked that. I’ve always wanted the tracking down the letter to truly be the center of attention instead of say Oliver discovering the truth about his father. There is a little bit of a blast from the past, literally, but it’s minor compared to previous installments.

Another plot is that Rita will get called in to be Miss Special Delivery because the people above her were disqualified in some manner. This goes nowhere really. It goes viral that Rita and Norman are an item and for no real reason she denies it during a press conference. Of course she ends up coming around in the end. I’m really not sure of any good reason for this plot to happen. Maybe a little reinforcement of their relationship since she certainly hurt Norman in the process. She must have been a little uncertain on her end. Otherwise, it just leads to some lines about how people share things today. Blah, blah, blah. People have been doing that sort of thing for a long time. Even as far back as the 1930’s, if not earlier. I’ve read stupid old newspaper stories telling us someone is leaving to go on vacation. I wouldn’t say this should have been snipped, but they could have found a better way to forward the Norman and Rita thing. Oh, and this happens to Norman at one point in the film.

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It’s the funniest part of the movie, and since I don’t intend to do this movie blow by blow, I had to stick it somewhere. After picking up two baby doll arms in a dumpster, Norman says, “You wake up in the morning, and you never really know how your day is going to end.”

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Here is the literal blast from the past. Back when Oliver was Cliff Clavin, he was going to pick up the mail from the mailbox where the kid dropped off the now dead letter. He decided to wait a little bit before he was supposed to pick up the letters because of a police officer who would be in the area that he liked. Since he waited a little bit, an actual clown showed up, and after a little accident with helium…KABOOM! Since Oliver really does take things seriously USPS wise, he never really forgave himself. As a result, he really wants to get this letter that was involved in the accident to its intended recipient.

You got all that? We have an 1835 Valentine that winds up in Norman’s hands that we don’t know who it’s for at first. We have Oliver’s Valentine for Shane going everywhere but her hands. We have the policewoman that Oliver likes. Oh yeah, that actually is a really tiny little plot in this too. We also have Rita and Norman needed to mend fences after she denies publicly that she is seeing him. Then finally, we have the main plot of the movie. All of these plots are affairs of the heart, which ties into the title, and the main plot, but it was a bit much.

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These two are the main plot. That’s Ryan (Nick Purcha) and Maddie (Mackenzie Cardwell) 15 years earlier. They meet because they are both on the debate team. She isn’t very charismatic, but is good with research. He is the opposite. He’s charismatic, but usually doesn’t have that much substance to back what he is saying. Their plot is the best part of the movie. It leads to tragedy, which is why he turned himself into the police at the beginning of the film. A little spoiler: he killed somebody. It will also jump the 15 year gap when the letter finds it’s way to the two of them when they are adults.

I know I normally take you through the whole film, but not this time. I haven’t felt well lately. Also, that would have me trying to juggle all these plot lines or try to tell each one separately. This isn’t a Godfrey Ho movie where telling the plot lines separate makes the film more coherent. This is like the first two Godfather films where you lose something by rearranging events into chronological order. There is a reason these plots are woven together the way they are.

Like I said at the start, forget the other Hallmark Valentine’s Day movies this year, and watch this one instead.