Cheerleaders have been representing the “mean girl” since before the term was coined. While during the 80s teen literature was full of the popular girls and the girls who wanted to be popular – think Sweet Valley High and the “Cheerleaders” series – once teen horror blew up in the late 80s and early 90s, cheerleaders went from desirable to evil bitches who were either the tormentors or became the victims. Because… didn’t they deserve it?
Interestingly, many of the authors of the conventional “Cheerleaders” series became horror writers. Caroline B. Cooney, Christopher Pike, Diane Hoh, and Carol Ellis all went on to write horror – and three of these four authors later wrote horror stories about cheerleaders. Hmm…
Cheerleaders #2: Getting Even was written by Christopher Pike, and though it certainly sounds like it would involve an element of horror, which was the only reason I read it back when I was a teen. But it’s more mean girling and petty jealousy. Unlike Die Softly by Christopher Pike.
In Die Softly, cheerleaders are still highly desirable – but what makes this different from the girly SVH and Cheerleaders series is that this time it’s about a guy. A guy who wants to take naked pictures of cheerleaders in the locker room, because he wants to put them up all over school and embarrass them. Not only that, when he later develops said photos, he sees a figure in the background, and the girl in the picture later turns up dead.
This is a full departure from the clean, sexless cheerleaders of the mid-eighties, and what made Christopher Pike so popular. Yes, guys are horny! Cheerleaders are sex objects! And of course, because this is Christopher Pike, lots of time spent on the process of developing photographs and fucked up dreams. And here we have both the cheerleader as victim, and the cheerleader as (SPOILER ALERT) murderous coke addict.
R.L. Stine’s own cheerleaders series (The First Evil, The Second Evil, and The Third Evil) came out a year after Die Softly and once again, the cheerleaders are both victim and villain, and also one unlucky cheerleader dies in the shower. Bobbi and Corky (this name just made me think of the TV show Life Goes On) are new to Shadyside and join the cheerleading squad, and are apparently such awesome cheerleaders that other members of the team are pissed, including one girl who is demoted to alternate. When the head cheerleader is paralyzed in an accident, Bobbi is promoted to head cheerleader, causing even more insane cheerleader jealousy.
The evil continues for two more books – just when you think it’s done, it comes back! Never doubt the power of Fear Street and the ghosts of old pilgrims who possess cheerleaders for no apparent reason other than wanting everyone to die.
Cheerleaders & Vampires
Caroline B. Cooney’s The Cheerleader has quite the innocuous title. The cover is less so. Here’s a cheerleader, and there are also vampires! And the tagline: “She would do anything to be popular.”
Like every other girl, Althea just wants to be popular, so she makes a deal with the vampire in her attic (don’t ask) who says he can make her popular and a cheerleader if she’ll just pick out a victim. Naturally, she chooses the head cheerleader, not realizing she will have to continuously offer up her new-found friends as blood donations or else lose her popularity. Yet again: cheerleader as victim and (once Althea’s on top) as tormentor!
Though the vampire returns again (Revenge of the Vampire) and again (The Vampire’s Promise), the cheerleader aspect is not as explored – although in Revenge of the Vampire, the main character is willing to bring the vampire some victims if he will make her beautiful. In The Vampire’s Promise, 6 teens are trapped in the house where Althea formerly lived, and they must choose one of their own to sacrifice to the vampire. Sherree, one of the six, is a cheerleader, and is quite willing to sacrifice any or all of her friends to avoid dying herself.
Lest we all forget, Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries is also a cheerleader. Elena from the books is of the blonde, bitchy variety who can’t understand why the hot new guy at school doesn’t like her. She also engages in some frenemy-type behaviors with fellow cheerleader Caroline. In essence she is exactly the shallow, vain, mean girl one would expect a cheerleader to be, and most reviewers found her quite unlikable. Unfortunately The Vampire Diaries isn’t really “horror” per se, but I thought the vampire + cheerleader thing was too obvious not to include.
To be read!
In searching “cheerleaders” in all YA fiction from 1985-1995 on Worldcat, I found a couple of other titles aside from the above and those from the Cheerleaders or Sweet Valley High series – titles I have not read!
The Scream Team by Diane Hoh is part of the Nightmare Hall series. Delle (I seriously need to write a blog post about weird names in YA!) wants to be a cheerleader at – dun dun dun! – Salem University. “Once Delle thought she would die to get a place on the team. Now she realizes she may have to…” Um… if you die, you can’t really be on the team? Or is the team made up of zombies?
The Cheerleaders by John Hall is apparently about two girls named Holly and Alison. Both want to be cheerleaders. Somewhere along the way, Alison died and Holly made the squad, but now Holly is receiving threatening phone calls from Alison. Sounds to me like Holly has a guilty conscience!
Just outside of my search range, I found this gem. The Curse of the Cheerleaders, published in 1997, is more of a Goosebumps-level book, about a head cheerleader who is (judging from her face on the cover) an alien and can strike down the other team with lightning when her team is losing.
The phrase “dying to be popular” seems to be the common theme among the cheerleader horror genre. The “mean girl” phenomenon is quite rampant as well, as most of these involve cheerleader vs. cheerleader violence and murder.
After 1995, the cheerleader horror genre drops off dramatically. A backlash, perhaps? From 1995-2005, we get another installment in R.L. Stine’s Cheerleaders series, and the rest are a return to the typical girly cheerleader fare (a lot of TV tie-ins, like Lizzie McGuire, Mary Kate and Ashley, etc., or series just about cheerleaders, e.g. Cheer USA!). From 2005-present, there are a lot of cheerleader humor titles: NERDS: The Cheerleaders of Doom, Zombie Blondes, Fat Boy Versus the Cheerleaders. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the evil cheerleader trend will return anytime soon…