Arrow Frightfest 2022 – Film Review – Powertool Cheerleaders VS. the Boyband of the Screeching Dead.

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This irresistible low-budget horror comedy will leave you cringing one minute and hopelessly enchanted the next. Just like every feel-good musical worth its schmaltzy salt should do.

Sweet-natured Emily, played by Charlie Bond, joins eclectic cheerleading troop Power Cheer to compete in the tack-a-thon talent show Spotlight Chasers. When the specter of her murderous grandma throws a cursed pendant in the works Emily and her fellow performers are dragged into a deadly battle with her exes narcissistic boy band Starmen.

The director of PCVTBOTSD, not today Mr. repetitive strain injury, Pat Higgins also wrote the famously appalling lycanthroturd Strippers Versus Werewolves. A movie that was slaughtered by greedy film Execs, butchered by critics, and savaged by genre fans. Although Higgins apologises for this cinematic poo bin fire by way of a t-shirt slogan early on in his latest offering, he needn’t have bothered.

Breaking free from the creative meddling’s of studio moneymen, this irrepressibly sassy horror musical was birthed in the autonomous uplands of crowdfunding. With full artistic control and a cast and crew brimming with commitment and enthusiasm he has more than atoned for his sins.

It matters little that it’s tonally epileptic, overtly coarse, unapologetically sentimental, and highly referential. It matters even less that the titular power tools have scant screen time, there is hardly any actual cheerleading, and precisely zero screeching from the dead.

What does matter greatly is that it’s a horror flick made for the sheer life-consuming exhaustive hell of it. It’s a movie that prizes like-minded camaraderie and the heady rush of artistic anarchy over reputational paranoia and toxic egotism. The result is a vibrant decoupage of ideas and influences that will induce an inner joy in all but the most steely of genre gatekeepers. You know. The ones who stick A Serbian Film on at parties.

Setting the movie in the belief suspending playspace of a musical relieves it of the need to adhere to conventional logic and frees it from the chains of pragmatic realism. Questioning the bizarre character decisions, spacial inconsistencies, and insane narrative stream is as pointless as analysing why cars suddenly become airborne in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Grease. Indeed, this phenomenon is recreated in PCVTBOTSD in a gorgeously garish sequence that typifies its roguish charm and restless ingenuity.

Once you settle into this fantastical format and adopt the film’s escapist nature the rustic budget and DIY dynamic become assets rather than distractions. The salty one-liners and sweet but sweary songs come thick and fast, bombarding any cinematic snobbery into redundant submission.

There is tangible chemistry within the cast, not least between Emily and her former boyfriend Hunter, played with douchy relish by James Hamer-Morton. The pair are a real-life couple and they are evidently having the time of their lives belting out show tunes and firing up chainsaws.

Charlie Bond’s Emily is pitched perfectly as she inhabits the classic movie musical guise of the lovable leading lady who musters the courage to wrangle her foes. Bond conveys an endearing relatability that brightens the picture and clarifies its cheeky modus operandi.

The rest of the players go all in on the mayhem and the quickfire dialogue is dished out relatively evenly. There are some clunky moments but some real zingers too. At one point goth mom Mackenzie, played with deadpan delectation by Faith Elizabeth, is hilariously referred to as ” Cradle of Milf “. And where else will you see Jay’s dad from The Inbetweeners morph into a flesh-ripping ghoul?

Horror movie callbacks abound in PCVTBOTSD. From the Giallo-inspired lighting palette to An American Werewolf in London. Many of the movies referenced share an obvious common denominator. Evil Dead 2, Brain Dead, Return of the Living Dead III. Accidental or not, it’s an amusing shot of geekery.

The streamlined musical numbers are ergonomically distributed and despatched with a winning blend of impassioned brio and knowing goofiness. Think Little Shop of Horrors if it was directed by John Waters. They range from serviceable to superb with the fourth wall breaking “I’m Just a Guy Dying on the Floor” and ode to niche cussing “(fuck this for a) Game of Soldiers” proving definite highlights.

The big ending song that soundtracks the climactic carnage is beautifully interwoven with the action and is a triumph of merged mediums that may leave some of you slushy fools with a case of watery eye denial. Also inspired is the candid curtain closer that contextualises the hearts-on-sleeves ethos that defines this film.

The pure passion for movie-making that oozes from this cute and culty force of nature will charm the pompoms off you. Hating on it would be like smashing a bouncy puppy in the face with a meat tenderiser for trying to lick your face. Painstakingly resourceful, constantly witty, and surprisingly moving it’s an infectious horror hug that nutmegs expectations before hijacking your heart.

★★★★

WORLD PREMIERE

Horror Musical | UK, 2022 | 95 mins | Arrow Frightfest 2022 |Deadlocked Entertainment| Dir. Pat Higgins | With: Charlie Bond, James Hamer-Morton, Justin Chinyere, Dani Thompson

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