There was a time when it was totally normal for horror movies to be about high schoolers doing bad things and having bad things done to them. Strangely, that's not really the case anymore. Horror today has traded high school locker rooms for kitchens in suburbia. And while you certainly don't have to set a horror movie in high school to make it good, you do leave a lot of that great, youthful teen energy and comradery on the table when you make movies set exclusively in big, creaky houses.
Thankfully writer-directors Lucky McKee (May) and Chris Sivertson (The Lost) have just given the high school horror movie a jolt in the arm with All Cheerleaders Die, a highly entertaining horror comedy that's available on Video On Demand platforms now before hitting theaters on June 13, 2014. The title may have you thinking this is a slasher movie, but it's actually about a group of cheerleaders who find themselves with insatiable bloodlust after they're resurrected from the dead. It's spunky, creative and unpredictable. Basically, it's a very welcome antidote to the many ghost and found-footage movies that dominate the genre these days.
We spoke with McKee and Siverston about the film, how it came together, and why they wanted to make the kind of movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore (even if they didn't realize that's what they were doing).
Movies.com: Why do you think Hollywood horror movies have backed away from high school settings and characters?
Lucky McKee: One thing we've talked about a lot is that this movie could be some teenager's first horror movie. You have to respect that and try to do something that they can relate to in some way, and we had the advantage of having a lot of characters, so there's a good chance some kid out there can latch on to one or two of the characters.
There's a lot of ghost stories and a lot of zombie movies these days. We love those elements when they work well, but everything does go through phase and we're just thinking of everything we've loved at other points in our lives. So it's not us consciously trying to buck a trend. We're just going back to the ideas that got us making movies in the first place.
Chris Sivertson: I hadn't really thought about it, but you are right. Teenage horror movies have been dormant for a while. In the immediate years after Scream there was all that stuff like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but I guess the teenage years have gone dormant since the late '90s.
McKee: It's gotten more college aged, which I don't get. Why not represent your audience?
Movies.com: There's a whole set of issues and hormones that having a teenage cast gives a horror movie.
Sivertson:It's a whole different energy. That kind of youthful energy is something we wanted to tap into, especially when dealing with a story involving a teenage girl coming into adulthood. There's this vast power and energy there that's a lot of fun to explore dramatically.
Movies.com: How do you pitch some of this film's more outlandish scenes to investors and producers?
McKee: We didn't. That's the simple answer to that. I'd made The Woman with producer Andrew van den Houten at Modernciné and had a fantastic creative experience. The only limitation in working with Andrew is just money, though it's always an issue of figuring out how much money you can get to pull something off. Andrew is amazing at pooling together as many resources as possible, and there was an immense amount of trust built making The Woman.
Also, Chris had made the first Jack Ketchum adaptation, The Lost, and a few years later Andrew made another Ketchum adaptation called The Girl Next Door, so there was a great amount of respect for what Chris was doing. Trust is almost like a dirty word in the movie business. You always have to convince people you know what you're doing, even if you've been making movies for 10 years, so we just told Andrew what the basic notion was and he said, "Cool. Let's get it together and make a movie." It was the most fast-tracked project I've ever worked on.
Sivertson: The only people we were pitching were each other. Anything that we got excited about went in the script. And one of the things that really makes it fun for us, rather than when you start a movie and you basically know where it's going after 10 minutes or so, we wanted to create some surprises along the way. Most movies don't have any major shifts that throw you off guard and take you another way, so we wanted to do the opposite of that. It can be a challenge to sell those to people, which is why investors are much more comfortable with something that just goes in a straight line.
McKee: We keep calling it tonal shifts, but it really is more like mood swings.
Movies.com: Since this is a remake of a project you two did together after college, did either of you ever attempt to get a remake off the ground before this version came together?
Sivertson: We've talked about it basically ever since finishing the first one. We'd talk about sequel ideas or continuations of that story. We made that with a bunch of friends and a lot of those characters became archetypes in our own imagination that we can refer to in daily conversation. The time was just finally right, and we had the right producer in Andrew, so we wanted to take a shot at it with everything we've learned since then.
Movies.com: For the casting process, did you make everyone read the same scene and then cast from those auditions, or did you do role-specific auditions?
McKee: Well, for the character of Terry for instance, the role Tom Williamson played, his monologue in the woods when he tells the girls how it's going to be is something actors had to come in and nail, otherwise they just wouldn't work. So to finally see him we'd say, "Well if he can do that, he can do everything." And then the Maddy auditions were fun, wouldn't you say, Chris?
Sivertson: Yeah, they were a sex scene basically. It was the bathroom sex scene in the high school, which kept us amused throughout the day.
McKee: Seeing everyone make out with an imaginary girl was hilarious.
Sivertson:There's a handful of different scenes we used, but in general the people who stood out... if it was an intense scene, they didn't try to make it intense. Or if it was a funny scene, they didn't try to make it funny. They just found the truth of what the character was going through and were true to that. That's the key. The people who came in and acted like, "This is a wacky, dead cheerleader movie, so I'm just going to play it that way" were immediately off the list.
Movies.com: One of the biggest laughs in the movie comes from when the guy walks out of the handicap bathroom stall after having just had sex in it. Can you tell me how that bit came about?
Sivertson: It just made sense. If they're in there for awhile, why not have someone waiting for them when they get out? This poor kid in the wheelchair would want to get in there.
McKee: Chris did the first pass on those pages and when I got them in my e-mail, I f**king fell out of my chair laughing so hard.
Sivertson: We tried to have little parts like that all over. Even if someone only had one line, we took a long time auditioning those, too, so that hopefully you could imagine this little community that is the high school, and you can imagine the lives that these so-called bit players have. Those are also characters that are kind of in our back pocket for sequels. Some of the people who only had a line or two in the first one may come back for subsequent installments.
Movies.com: Is there any movement on a sequel?
McKee: We have a plan. We have a map. There's stuff we're holding in our pocket and waiting to reveal, but we have to see if people want it.
All Cheerleaders Die is available now on Video On Demand. It'll hit select theaters on June 13, 2014.
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