[review by JA Kerswell]
THE MAJORETTES is sadly rather perfunctory as a slasher movie. There are, however, a few morsels to enjoy for the stubbornly masochistic amongst us. It is probably still best known as the film that inexplicably jumps from one genre (slasher) into another (action/vigilante) in its closing third - when a teenage quarterback turns budget Rambo. Something that surely caused more than a few scratching of heads by video renters in the late 1980s. Intriguingly, though, the film was nearly made before HALLOWEEN (1978) and could have predated the slasher craze rather than become a footnote to it ...
|THE MAJORETTES feel like dancing, but they're dying on their feet!|
Adapted by John Russo from his novel of the same name, the film centres - at least initially - around a series of murders of high school majorettes and their equally unfortunate male companions. The killer, who is disguised in head-to-toe camouflage, stalks bubble-haired teens with a bowie knife and seems to enjoy jumping into scene roaring like a bear for no discernible reason. First to fall to the knife are Nicole (Jacqueline Bowman) and the geeky Tommy (Colin Martin), who she lures to a nearby Lover’s Lane to try and frame him for an unintended pregnancy (the real father is sleazy local gang leader Mace (Tom E. Desrocher)). Nicole thinks again and confides in Tommy the truth, but her good deed goes punished when they both fall foul of the roaring killer, who dunks Nicole’s body in the local river in a perverse imitation of baptism.
The local majorette squad are horrified by the news of the deaths and are afraid they might be next. Well, as afraid as a group of mostly non-thespians can convey - which is little more than a shrug of their pastel shoulders and a fruitless flick of their Hard Rock perms. Vicky (Terrie Godfrey), one of the teenage girls, helpfully tells her friend Judy (Sueanne Seamens) and her boyfriend Jeff (Kevin Kindlin): “We need to think of pleasant things.” A psychotic killer is perhaps the least of her worries, as her grandmother’s evil maid Helga (Denise Huot) is also scheming to kill her and the old lady for their inheritance. Plus, Helga’s simple son Harry (an almost heroically awful performance by Harold K. Keller) is also a perverted Peeping Tom, who is magically able to take pin sharp photos of majorette’s locker-room breasts through a metal grill.
|It isn't just the girls that are in danger from the mad killer in THE MAJORETTES ...|
Perhaps not unreasonably, the law - led by Bart (Zachary Mott) and Sheriff Braden (Mark V. Jevicky) - surmise that the killer is mimicking the child baptism ceremonies that take place at the local river after another majorette is found submerged in her own swimming pool. The local coroner (a cameo by Russo) comes to the rather obvious conclusion that she died from a slit throat rather than drowning. Eat your heart out Quincy!
As the majorettes fall like lacquered bowling pins the race starts to unmask the killer …
To be honest, THE MAJORETTES probably worked better on the page than it does on film. The budget - reportedly a scant $85,000 - and what seems like a largely inexperienced cast have trouble sustaining this convoluted potboiler. That’s certainly not to berate the film for trying something different, but it struggles to do any one thing particularly well. It’s largely not bad enough to be particularly unintentionally funny, but not well made enough to succeed under its own meagre aims, either. Although, given its budget, it is handsomely shot and looks better than other regional homegrown horrors of time such as BLOOD CULT (1985) or REVENGE (1986). Sadly, director Bill Hinzman (best known as the first zombie in George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)) fails to generate much in the way of suspense. Some slasher set pieces are copied without much style from other earlier films and fall mostly flat. Hinzman even references John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) directly - a film he stated he admired for its low key approach on a tight budget - with a scene where the heavy breathing killer watches necking teens via POV to a suspiciously familiar sounding electronic musical refrain. Unfortunately, the lurch into the low rent action set pieces of the final third of the movie deflects from the majority of what went before as it only tangentially has anything to do with the murders.
|THE MAJORETTES was released in Europe as ONE BY ONE; selling it as a pure slasher movie.|
The film actually succeeds best with the subplot of the plans of the dastardly maid - with Huot’s arch performance somewhat reminiscent of Sheila Keith in her baddie roles in Pete Walker’s 1970s British shockers. It also wins points for confounding expectations for the identity of the killer and for a nasty little twist in its tail. However, had it been tighter - and the whole plot around the local gang could have been comfortably excised - the film would have benefited. It also features, presumably as padding, seemingly endless scenes of majorettes doing what they do - marching! Hardly thrilling unless you have a fetish for feet stomping. The film also opens - after its cheesy animated titles featuring a twirling baton and a skeleton in a curly wig (!) - a near five minute scene of majorettes frugging in lycra to music and mugging for the camera.
THE MAJORETTES was casted from local Pittsburg talent in August 1985. Local press reports said that a sequel was somewhat optimistically in development even before filming started (which never materialised). It was filmed between October and November 1985 in and around Pittsburg. Cornell High School, in the suburb of Coraopolis, provided the central location with additional filming at the Fox Chapel Yacht Club. Local eatery Eddie’s Lunch became a ‘teen hangout’ for the young cast during filming.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, THE MAJORETTES struggled to find theatrical distribution in the United States (its mooted spring 1986 release failed to materialise; although promotional 1 sheet posters appear to have been printed). It was released to video in the UK under the title ONE BY ONE in 1987 (how I originally saw it), which somewhat misleadingly sold it as a pure slasher movie when it really isn’t. However, it reportedly turned a tidy profit in Europe. It finally got a belated home video release on the Vestron label in the United States in 1988.
Russo, who is more famously associated with his involvement with Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, was no stranger to a somewhat Frankenstein’s monster approach to the subgenre. However, his earlier MIDNIGHT (1982), which mixed slashers with teenage runaways and a murderous cult, was more successful although hardly perfect. Russo claimed that the original script for THE MAJORETTES dated back to 1976 (or 1977), but after losing a primary investor the project collapsed and he turned it into a novel in 1979. Russo told Fangoria: “Still, if we had made the picture then, it would have been out before the whole slasher genre!” He thought the concept was exploitable, as he reasoned that all girls wanted to be a majorette and all boys wanted to sleep with one. Bill Hinzman became attached to the project and was attracted by what he saw as sure fire hit for a teenage audience. So, THE MAJORETTES could also have then been made at the height of the early 1980s slasher craze, but surprisingly - since every producer was throwing money at the subgenre at the time - it couldn’t get financial backing. So, in the end, the film was something of a johnny-come-lately after local real estate investor Joe Ross belatedly stumped up the money.
|THE MAJORETTES suddenly becomes TEENAGE RAMBO!|
Russo changed his script significantly (including excising a rape aspect) to try and appeal to what was ‘hot’ at the time - although, apparently, the weird genre shift was in the original book, too. Another NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD alumni was Russell - “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” - Streiner, who plays the evangelical preacher in the film.
Ultimately, THE MAJORETTES - whilst it has some low rent, regional charms - simply tries to do too much with too little and doesn’t really truly succeed on any level. But, again, fans of mid-1980s slashers will certainly find enough here to at least take a look.
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female: 8 / male: 9
1) Male has throat slit with bowie knife
2) Female stabbed and throat slit
3) Female stabbed and throat slit
4) Female stabbed and throat slit
5) Male shot
6) Male shot
7) Female shot
8) Female shot
9) Female dies in car explosion
10) Male dies in car explosion
11) Male dies in car explosion
12) Male shot
13) Male shot
14) Male shot
15) Male shot
16) Female killed with injection
17) Female hung