Slashers ruled the 1980s, with filmmakers the world over getting in on the action, and a new film premiering every other week. One such filmmaker has been overlooked, despite his part in making one of the long-standing horror films of all time, Night of the Living Dead. John Russo, the co-writer has often gone unnoticed for his involvement in Romero’s classic. This is due, in part, to the pair’s falling out, and Russo’s questionable decisions regarding the rights to the name Living Dead. While George Romero went on to build a successful and influential career, Russo struggled a bit through indies and industrials for over a decade. A minor resurgence occurred, however, when Russo wrote a spec script that would become Return of the Living Dead (more on that another day), which led him to write and produce his own slasher film, based on one of his pulp horror novels. Keen on getting some of the band back together, Russo recruited another NotLD alumni, first zombie, Bill Hinzman, to direct The Majorettes
The film opens with a prolonged sequence of the majorettes’ team in the middle of practice (in this universe, cheerleaders don’t exist). That night, one member of the team and her nerdy date are murdered by an unseen killer who has an apparent obsession with purification and baptism. As more members of the squad meet similar fates, there are several potential suspects as to who the killer might be. There’s Helga, the caretaker of the of the catatonic grandmother of the team’s captain, who brags about her plan to murder the woman and claim her fortune, Helga’s son Harry, a handyman at the school who peeps on the team in the locker room and takes lewd photos of them, and Mace Jackson, a redneck gang leader and “sleazy dope pusher” who terrorizes the town.
All of these red herrings are true villains, but the real killer is revealed in a twist right before the third act… then SPOILERS, it turns into a completely different movie. After an attempted kidnapping goes horribly wrong resulting in more senseless deaths, Jeff, the assumed star football player, takes matters into his own hands. Deciding he’s had enough of Mace, Jeff gets an AK-47 from his family’s home and retaliates on the rednecks. He holds his own pretty well despite taking a gut shot in the previous scene, and he’s able to shoot down every member of the gang without reloading. Mace is dead and framed as the killer, and the real killer gets off scott-free.
Not many horror films would go out of their way to do a 180 like this, but The Majorettes makes an effort to try something new when something else isn’t working. The plot goes from mimicking Halloween, to I Spit on your Grave, and finally to First Blood. A slasher doesn’t have to be this complicated, and the film bites off more than it can chew by introducing subplots that are quite literally blown away at the end. Everything else, it just borrows from other films, with a masked killer decked out in camouflage, reminiscent of The Prowler, and heavy breathing POV shots similar to Carpenter’s Halloween. The score is also Carpenter-esque, provided by Paul McCollough, who also shot and co-edited the film (he also co-wrote The Crazies with Romero a decade prior).
Not much can really be said about the acting as everyone in the main cast is equally over-the-top and under directed, The Majorettes being their first acting credit. The exception is actress Terrie Godfrey, who has also done some make-up work for George Romero. It doesn’t help that the character dialogue is primarily just non-stop exposition. This film prefers “tell, not show” where characters spoon-feed vital information like an extra helping on a Sloppy Joe. This dialogue is like turning on an 80’s soap opera that just introduced a serial killer to spice up the ratings. There are cameos from John Russo, Bill Hinzman, and another NotLD alumni, Russell Streiner, who appears as various members of the community.
Overall, The Majorettes is a bizarre relic of 80s schlock. If it’s not in one of your ten horror film collections, you can find the film free on YouTube. Russo and Hinzman clearly wanted to create a film that takes the slasher genre in a different direction, but the unorthodox approach leaves the viewer feeling alienated. Both went on to make more straight-forward horror films afterwards. John Russo moved on to directing direct-to-video releases and novel writing, crafting various Living Dead titles for Avatar Press comics. Bill Hinzman would follow-up a year later, as writer and director of the zombie film, Flesheater, where he once again plays the first zombie. Sadly, Hinzman passed away from cancer in 2012. Though The Majorettes wasn’t the crew reunion horror fans hoped for, George Romero and the team all returned with 1990’s NotLD remake, directed by Tom Savini.
Follow HorrOrigins Social Media