The Fearleaders By Mike White. The Fearleaders (Erik Martinelli) Local auteur, Erik Martinelli has returned with another round of shoestring schlock...

The Fearleaders (Erik Martinelli)
Local auteur, Erik Martinelli has returned with another round of shoestring schlock. His first major effort, Tennis Ball Killings 3, a shot-on-video frenzy of bad acting and cheap effects, pre-dated Scream as a self-reflexive horror movie with a major nod to Halloween. This time his work has a more ambitious scope and a bigger budget (most of it apparently spent on wigs) and a plot steeped in Satan's Cheerleaders and Return of the Living Dead.

When a van full of cheerleaders on the way to State Finals is waylaid at a rest stop in the wilds of Michigan, they soon find themselves surrounded by a group of redneck zombies, hungry for flesh—the results of a fertilizer experiment gone terribly wrong. Luckily for them, the hero of Tennis Ball Killings 3, Seoung Lee, is in need of bladder relief and lends his zombie-fighting skills to the gaggle of girls.

Veteran Martinelli actor Lee is markedly better in his performance while his co-heroine from TBK3, Sarah Head Swain remains rather wooden as the white trash cheerleader who wants to win the State Finals for personal glory... or something. I must admit that I couldn’t make out her expositional speech. For better or for worse, bad miking left a good deal of poorly delivered dialogue inaudible throughout the movie. Chris Vargo, who turned in a stunning performance as a pedagogic tennis pro in Tennis Ball Killings 3, makes a brief appearance to introduce the film as "Chriswell" in a campy send-up of Orgy of the Dead’s overly dramatic lord of the underworld, Criswell.

The movie runs its expected course; fight a little, run a little, chop off some heads and watch the fake blood flow. Martinelli is smart enough to keep the humor level high and girls cute, both of which help to temper the low-budget gore and strained performances.

Technically, The Fearleaders has some interesting compositions and fair camerawork. As with Tennis Ball Killings 3, the editing needs a kick in the pants. Shots tend to last too long, slowing the pacing and drawing the audience’s attention away from the storyline and to the roughshod mechanics of filmmaking.

The Fearleaders is most effective in its use of nubile young women, delicious sound effects, and musical score. The movie also has an interesting Scooby-Doo ending ("I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you and those meddling zombies").

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