Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Census Flashback: Novel Adaptations

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

This week we’re anticipating The Dark Tower, based on the popular Stephen King series. In honor of that film, we’ll be reviewing a 1987 slasher based on a much less high-profile piece of literature: The Majorettes.

Year: 1987
Director: Bill Hinzman
Cast: Kevin Kindlin, Terrie Godfrey, Mark V. Jevicky 
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Over the course of this Census Bloodbath project, there are certain names that I’ve learned to dread when they pop up in the credits: B-movie hackmeister David DeCoteau for example, or Canada’s drearily average wunderkind Paul Lynch. John A. Russo’s name had only come up once before, so I was only just barely tentatively willing to give him another chance when I saw his screenwriter credit on The Majorettes

1982’s Midnight, which he also adapted from one of his own novels and even directed, burned me in a way I won’t soon forget. However, the Night of the Living Dead co-writer’s work would be diluted through director Bill Hinzman (who actually appeared in NOtLD as a zombie, because they’d let literally anyone direct a movie back in those days), so I hoped for the best. I’m glad I braved it and made the plunge, because The Majorettes is completely uncanny in almost every way. Let’s jump in!

Or rather, let’s leave the jumping to the cheer team and twirl in.

In The Majorettes, a killer is prowling around murdering baton-twirling majorettes from the local high school one by one. That, at least, is the path the film starts on, so let’s Meet the Meat: we have Nicole (Jacqueline Bowman), the Rizzo of the group; her date for the moment Tommy (Colin Martin), a sputtering nerd who can’t believe his luck; Barbara (Dana Maiello), whose parents own a swimming pool; Judy (Sueanne Seamens, who also doubled as the film’s production assistant), who is nervous about her boyfriend leaving for college; the aforementioned boyfriend, mawkish star quarterback Jeff (Kevin Kindlin); and the pure and virginal Vicky (Terrie Godfrey), who would be the prime suspect for Final Girl if The Majorettes was a regular slasher film.

Ah, but The Majorettes is anything but a regular slasher film. The first half is dully mundane, with the killer affectlessly slitting throats and dunking the corpses in water á là Night School, but we actually learn the identity of the killer about 50 minutes in and things go absolutely bugnuts after that. Criss-crossing murder plots involve the German hospice nurse Helga (Denise Huot), her Peeping Tom janitor son Harry (Harold K. Keler), and the delightfully-named town drug dealer Mace Jackson (Tom. E Desrocher) along with his gang of cronies who dress like they just raided the theater department’s costume closet. 

The film crescendos into a flurry of gunfights, explosions, double crossings, and generally just a whole slew of things you don’t normally find in a teenybopper slasher film. It’s fascinatingly unpredictable, and at this stage in Census Bloodbath, when a slasher randomly metamorphoses into, well… anything other than a slasher film, I’m always delighted.

When you’ve seen over 200 of the things, you kind of get the gist.

The Majorettes is a real conundrum. As an out-and-out slasher, it’s tremendously subpar. The kills are all ploddingly identical and mostly bloodless, the performances of the entire ensemble are flatter than a stack of pancakes, and the female characters are virtually indistinguishable leotarded cyphers. But The Majorettes is very infrequently an actual slasher. Sometimes it’s a crime movie about a punk gang. Sometimes it’s a Masterpiece Theater murder mystery. And sometimes it sits us down to have a long talk about abortion or the meaning of religion, then give a surprisingly lucid breakdown of the psychosexual subtext of the slasher genre.

It actually is pretty similar to Midnight, when it comes down to it, with its bizarre speeches, twisted religious villains, distracted narrative, and amateur acting. But it masks the foul flavor of that turd by drenching it in a heaping helping of hot, gooey 80’s cheese. Every outfit is a screaming mad conflagration of the worst trends ever invented, and the synth score that only occasionally apes Halloween is a delirious fumble toward “suspense” that lands closer to “merry-go-round calliope.” 

And I don’t claim to know anything about the director here, but The Majorettes is so very gay. It starts at the football practice, where every boy is kitted out in a decidedly non-regulation sheer crop top. It continues when our boy Jeff has evidence he wants to share with the cops, exclaiming “I can’t keep this secret inside of me!,” and it reaches its full, glittering zenith during the Rambo-esque finale that sees him running through the woods shirtless, gripping an assault rifle.

Even when he goes to the hospital, they don’t bother with a gown.

I’m not saying this queerness is intentional, but it certainly kept my attention. And that’s what every aspect of The Majorettes is capable of doing, no matter how bad it gets. It’s utterly weird and unpredictable, which is not the same thing as good, but is just as satisfying.

Also, it delivers the most beautifully 80’s title card you ever did see.

The Majorettes is the antidote to Midnight. It takes that film’s poison and converts it into something new that soothes the soul. There are a lot of better films that have similar plots (Night School, Cheerleader Camp, The Prowler), but none could possibly match its inimitable spirit. Just like its final confrontation, The Majorettes is surprisingly explosive. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to the average viewer, but for the wizened slasher fan, it’s a fun whiff of cotton candy that challenges your perceptions of what exactly the subgenre can be, twisting and subverting it sometimes by accident, but always to excellent effect.

Killer: Sheriff Braden (Mark V. Jevicky) mostly, but really, get in line
Final Girl: Jeff Halloway (Kevin Kindlin)
Best Kill: Vicky, but only because it looks like she’s been shot in the butt.
Sign of the Times: The beautiful synthcrap song hat plays over the opening credits, as performed by a group of audibly bored vocalists.
Scariest Moment: Helga threatens a catatonic grandmother.
Weirdest Moment: The punk gang attends a “strip club” that is clearly some community center’s rec room where a topless woman is dancing with a snake, surrounded by Christmas lights.
Champion Dialogue: “You could’ve sent him to school on a drug scholarship.”
Body Count: 15
  1. Tommy has his throat slit.
  2. Nicole has her throat slit.
  3. Barbara has her throat slit.
  4. Judy has her throat slit.
  5. Leather Vest is shot.
  6. Angel and
  7. Beardo #1 die in a car explosion.
  8. Vicky is shot in the back.
  9. Beardo #2 is shot in the head.
  10. Redneck is shot.
  11. Babyface is shot in the back.
  12. Mace Jackson is shot.
  13. Elvira is injected with poison.
  14. Helga is hung.
TL;DR: The Majorettes is a haphazard slasher, but it's fascinatingly weird.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1180


  1. Bummer that a movie with a reasonably high body count isn't creative with the deaths, but I'm glad you had fun with it anyhow.

    And, of course: happy birthday, old buddy! Hope it's been a good one.

    1. Thank you, it WAS good! As you get older, birthdays get more and more low key, but I watched Sleepaway Camp with some friends, which was delightful.