Lifetime’s Death of a Cheerleader remake treads the same water as the original film, but it’s still a fun way to satisfy your Saturday night movie craving.
The original Death of a Cheerleader was the highest-rated television movie of 1994. Since then, it has become a cult classic for the Lifetime network. It shares similarities with another cult film from the channel, Mother May I Sleep With Danger, which premiered two years later and also starred Tori Spelling. But unlike the Mother May I Sleep With Danger remake, which added a fun campy vampire theme to embolden its story, the Death of a Cheerleader remake is almost identical to the original, even being told in the same time period, making it difficult to validate its existence.
Nonetheless, I still found Death of a Cheerleader enjoyable enough but I wish Lifetime had modernized the film or added a fresh twist to keep it from rehashing the same story as its predecessor. Both films are loosely based on the murder of Kirsten Costas by Bernadette Protti.
In the 2019 film, Aubrey Peeples plays Bridget Moretti, an introverted outsider trying to navigate high school and break into the right cliques and extracurriculars (like cheerleading) to elevate her social status. For inspiration she looks up to Calina High’s affluent, popular beauty queen, Kelly Locke. Bridget is intent on forging a friendship with Kelly but when the queen bee rejects her she is humiliated. Her devastation and fear of Kelly’s retaliation leads her to rage-induced breakdown that culminates in her stabbing Kelly to death.
The goth girl
Nina (Morgan Taylor Campbell), Kelly’s arch-rival, becomes the obvious suspect in the aftermath of her murder. Not long before she died, the two got into a spat in the middle of science class and Nina wrote “I want to see you drip blood” in a notebook to scare Kelly and her friends.
It’s funny, in the original movie, the loner, goth girl stereotype is a teen named Monica (Kathryn Morris) and she was a victim of Stacy’s (Tori Spelling) bullying. The 1994 version received backlash for its victim-blaming. Stacy was a mean girl, she was unnecessarily cruel to Monica and the film portrayed a more sympathetic picture of her eventual killer, Angie (Kellie Martin).
This updated version of the movie does modify that by making Nina an equal to Kelly. If anything, Nina is usually the one that antagonizes Kelly or instigates fights with her rather than the other way around. Kelly is actually not such an awful person. She struggles from the same pressures as everyone else. Her mother impresses upon her the importance of maintaining a perfect GPA while still balancing all of her extracurriculars.
Kelly’s life story is treated with a delicate hand and it enriches her characterization for the better than her 1994 counterpart’s. Kelly Locke is picture-perfect, yes, and she does have her “mean girl” moments but she also has flaws. It’s easy to care about what happens to her.
The vegetable knife
In the real case these movies were based on, Kirsten Costas was murdered by stabbing with a knife Bernadette Peters claims to have gotten from her car. According to Bernadette’s older sister, Virginia, she kept a knife there because on occasion she would eat lunch in her car while at work and used it to cut vegetables.
Surprisingly, the original film kept this small detail intact. Complete with an odd scene of her sister Theresa (Christa Miller), slicing and eating a cucumber while driving. When I first watched it I thought it was a really weird addition by the writers when they couldn’t come up with a better reason for having a knife in the car but no! Truth really is stranger than fiction.
The remake nixes this altogether. Perhaps because they also don’t include Bridget’s sister in the plot (she’s only mentioned briefly but never seen on-screen). In the remake, Bridget uses a knife kept in the toolshed in the backseat of the family car.
The original film focuses more on the law-and-order aspect of the case but this one mostly skips it. Much of the remake is narrated from Nina’s point-of-view rather than from Bridget’s which makes it less close to the murderer. I think, as I mentioned above, this all has to do with trying not to humanize the killer too much.
But it wouldn’t be a Lifetime remake (or any remake really) without a hearty dose of nostalgia and we get that in the third act with Kellie Martin (Angie in the original) playing the detective who closes the case and coaxes Bridget into confessing.
So which film is better, the original or the remake? It’s hard to say. Personally, I think both films are on an even playing field but I’m sure people who can remember when the original one premiered will differ in opinion. Some aspects of the original were better orchestrated than in the remake and vice versa.
Either way, it’s worth your time to check this film out, regardless of whether or not you watched the 1994 version.
Did you like Death of a Cheerleader? Do you like the original or remake better? What are some of your other favorite Lifetime movies? Let me know in the comments!
An encore presentation of Death of a Cheerleader will air Saturday, February 9th at 10:03 pm EST on Lifetime. Check your local cable listings for more times.