PEP SQUAD is a lurid trip through the lives of a handful of students attending the seemingly average Oak Hill High School. But what might have been a pleasant little tale about teen life in the Midwest quickly turns rotten. The student body is uniformly jaded, obsessed with sex, drugs and suicide, the parents are clueless, self-involved and thoughtless, the principal is a lecherous bum who gets a well-deserved comeuppance, the cheerleaders are a bunch of drunked sluts in short-skirts and pompoms who can be easily bought off and the coveted title of Prom Queen is something the candidates would kill for ... literally!
Sacrificial lamb Beth is complemented by the lusciously evil Cherry, a sadistic bitch in towering platform boots who'll do anything to get her coveted crown. Her arch rival is busybody Terra, whose lumbering, polyester-and-bouffant wrongdoing and malevolent blundering are both horrific and comedic. What starts off as a routine visit to the principal's office for Beth sets off a chain of events culminating in kidnapping, murder, decadent teenage partying, mayhem, intrigue and a sure-to-be-classic prom scene.
PEP SQUAD pays homage to everything from fifties juvenile deliquent flicks to Fellini, Warhol, Waters and Roger Corman, while still retaining its own individuality. Written and directed by twenty-three year old wunderkind Steve Balderson, with a score by Johnette Napolitano, PEP SQUAD combines the best aspects of action-flick excitement, hip wit, darkly brilliant noir and a satirical tongue-in-cheek post modern view of what adolescence in pre-millenium Middle America is all about. Full of gorgeously color coordinated scenes, snappy and sickly funny one-liners, nonstop stunts and action scenes and with enough plot twists to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, PEP SQUAD has become a cult classic.
"IF THIS MOVIE DOESN'T OFFEND THE LIVING HELL OUT OF YOU I BET YOU'LL HAVE A BALL WITH IT."
Scott Weinberg, Apollo Movie Guide
"A SEARING COMMENTARY ON THE SOCIAL PRESSURE OF ADOLESCENCE."
"BROOKE BALDERSON CHEWS UP THE SCENERY," AND "IS A HIGH FASHION VELOCIRAPTOR!" and "THIS IS TRASH FUN, WITH A WICKED BITE!"
- Rusty White, Entertainment Insiders
"AS WITH MOVIES LIKE ROCKY HORROR, YOU JUST CAN'T WATCH "PEP SQUAD" ALONE... YOU'VE GOTTA LET YOUR BUDDIES IN ON THE FUN."
- Michael Sullivan, Franklin, OH
"BROOKE BALDERSON IS A 'BITCH GODDESS'"
- LA Weekly
"THE AIR OF A BLOOD SIMPLE REMAKE HELMED BY JOHN HUGHES" and "THE BLACKEST COMIC APLOMB SINCE HEATHERS..."
- G.W., New Times LA
"IF DAVID LYNCH, IN FULL TWIN PEAKS MODE, DECIDED TO MAKE A JOHN HUGHES FILM."
- Belial, Vancouver, BC
"ACCOMPLISHED AND FUNNY." and BROOKE BALDERSON IS "RAGING..."
"LOOKS GOOD AND AMUSES. IT WILL ENTERTAIN!"
- G.W. Clift, Manhattan Mercury
"BROOKE BALDERSON GIVES A POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCE..."
- Beverly Hills Playhouse
"A FUTURE CLASSIC IN ITS GENRE."
- Emma Rydquist, Stockholm
"MOVES WITH A PULSATING RHYTHM."
- Topeka Capital Journal
"ENOUGH CAMP AND BLACK COMEDY TO JOIN THE RANKS OF SUCH CULT FAVORITES AS 'CARNIVAL OF SOULS' AND 'ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.'"
- Lawrence Journal World
"CLUELESS-MEETS-JOHN WATERS (plus a dash of John Carpenter)"
- SYRACUSE NEW TIMES
"SATIRICAL, HILARIOUSLY SKEWERED VIEW"
- Cinema Seattle
"THIS IS A DARK COMEDY THAT BEATS ALL OTHER DARK COMEDIES INTO A COMA. THERE IS SO MUCH SYMBOLISM AND SATIRE, IT STARTS OOZING OUT OF EVERYONE'S ORIFI."
- Wooden Spoon Online
OFFICIAL FESTIVAL & MARKET PARTICIPATION
CANNES FILM FSTIVAL
world premiere + 4 market screenings, full attendance throughout each screening
LONDON - OCT 1998
4 pre-MIFED screenings
RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL - LONDON - OCT 1998
2 official screenings, featured, sold-out both screenings
STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - NOV 1998
4 official screenings
FANTASPORTO FILM FESTIVAL - PORTUGAL - FEB 1999
Official Nominee for Best Film, 2 screenings
AFM (AMERICAN FILM MARKET - LA) 1999
SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - JUN 1999
2 official screenings, featured at the drive-in marathon!
GREAT PLAINS FILM FESTIVAL - JUL 1999
Official Nominee for Best Film, 2 screenings
NEW YORK B-MOVIE FILM FEST - AUG 2000
Killer-B Award Winner Best Supporting Actress (Brooke Balderson)
Killer-B Award Winner Best Screenplay (Steve Balderson)
Killer-B Nominee Best Director (Steve Balderson)
Killer-B Nominee Best Picture
Killer-B Nominee Best Supporting Actress (Amy Kelly)
Killer-B Nominee Best Cinematography (Rhet W. Bear)
Killer-B Nominee Best Editing
Killer-B Nominee Best Set Design
Director of Photography
RHET W. BEAR
Original Score by
Though she would undoubtedly cringe at the description, Johnette Napolitano is a pretty close approximation of what is generally known as a living legend. Since she first burst upon the music scene in the early eighties, long before 'women in rock' became an industry staple, she has consistently made music that is adventurous, definitive, heartfelt and admired by both critics and the general public. With her band Concrete Blonde, she made six albums, countless videos and toured the world extensively, not to mention garnering a huge hit with the single "Joey." Though her songs have appeared in many films and on numerous movie soundtracks, PEP SQUAD is the first film she's scored. Approached by PEP SQUAD writer/director Steve Balderson, Johnette worked tirelessly side-by-side with him for more than a month, tailoring her music to fit the film's many diverse scenes and images. From spooky instrumentals to incongruous classical sounding interludes, from manic, hopped up party music to a haunting, molasses-slow version of "America The Beautiful," Johnette's inspired score helps shape the mood of the movie and is the perfect musical accompaniment to Steve Balderson's darkly hilarious view of Middle America's soft, slimy, white underbelly.
School violence has become a tragedy in our country. PEP SQUAD is irretrievably positioned to be controversial, chiefly because of the claim that media - film, television, computer games, etc. - is the culprit for violence in our society. It is the position of those associated with PEP SQUAD, none of which would be considered even remotely a violent person, that the film squarely addresses some of the causes of the violence occurring almost daily in our schools. These individuals, from writer director Steve Balderson, to co-producer and actor Eric Sherman, are eminently capable of not only defending attacks, but of illustrating the moral lesson in PEP SQUAD. Parents, and a more broadly society at large, must accept responsibility for the misconduct of its members, both those that perpetrate the violence AND those that enable it. Serious questions have been asked as to what each and every individual can do differently to produce different results.
Director Steve Balderson: On School Violence
What do I think about school violence? Do you think I'm surprised? No, I thought about it before it was in the news. Thinking and doing are two different things. Nonetheless, before I dropped out of CalArts I thought about blowing up the school.
When I was in high school I thought about shooting someone. I'm not surprised at all about what is going on. It's not about violence on television. It's not about radio, rock music or even drugs. It's about a society gone mad in its determination to make one way the right and only way!
Don't you all see it? Society fails to recognize that there are individual perceptions, individual lives. Why? Because individuals in it, encouraged by the "group," have lost individual accountability. It seems to me that we no longer treasure the adventurer, the creative thinker. Hell, even the government requires that the pattern of our lives meets some "norm." You don't agree? Then why does a single person pay different taxes than a married person? We routinely reward acquiescence while reprimanding creativity.
Kids aren't dreaming of murdering each other -- they're dreaming of the day when they can speak up and know that someone is listening... that someone in a position of power is listening. By the time they actually get to the point of pulling a trigger, those dreams have been suppressed beyond reason.
I'm 23 years old. I've been successful. I'm not going to kill someone. But do you know how many times every day I'm not taken seriously. There's a county commissioner in the city where I live -- my God, she's an elected official -- and she repeatedly tells me and others that I really didn't make a movie! This is what young people are chafing at. Day in, day out they are told by parents, teachers, principals, ministers and other "older" authority figures that what they see or hear or dream is wrong. Remember the scene in Dead Poet's Society? When the kid killed himself? That's the same thing. It isn't about gun control. If guns never existed and all we had were knives and swords it would still be happening.
I feel for the families of the murdered children. However, I don't know them or the situation, so have no idea if they were totally innocent or targets. I certainly went to school with some "Terras" and can attest that people like her -- twisted with a totally distorted perspective -- do indeed exist.
Why are we so afraid to talk about this underlying issue? In all the television interviews I've done, I've brought up school violence and it never gets aired. Damn it, this is a wake up call and it's only going to get worse. It's time we stop blaming everyone else and look inside ourselves. The message is clear. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has a reason they are put on this planet. Who are our parents, teachers and society to say, "No, you can't be a filmmaker... or an astronaut... or a professional ballplayer!" Is it the fear of addressing one's own failures that causes the power structure to deny the dreamers?
co-producer Eric Sherman: On School Violence and PEP SQUAD
I went to high school in the late 50s and early 60s. Violence at that time consisted of two or three kids from one "club" (read "nascent gangs") going nose to nose on the playground with some representatives from another rival group. By the time I got to college, the Vietnam war was raging, and school violence had come to mean protest marches with an occasional rock or bottle being thrown into the crowd.
At the end of my college time in the "high 60s" armed National Guard were gunning down students on campus and school life was never to be the same. At that moment, death by firearms was considered to be, evidently, an option -- either for the authorities or the kids.
In the mid-1990s, when Steve Balderson, an early 20s directing student of mine at Cal Arts, approached me to assist with his first feature project, PEP SQUAD, I saw this as nearly a meditation on the state of life for kids and young adults today. With all its humor and outrageous visuals, it remained, nonetheless, a speculative investigation on causes and roots of school violence and a highly detailed description and analysis of how kids can get so whacked out as to consider kidnapping and killing viable alternatives to that which otherwise faces them.
With the rash of current high school shootings happening around the U.S., it could be argued that we should resist showing it anymore than the evening news already does. However, in order to handle a situation, one must first confront it, and I believe that Steve, in PEP SQUAD, calmly and simply faces the issue in a way rarely seen in American cinema. This is not the political statement of MEDIUM COOL, nor the dispassionate illustration of personal aberration as in HEATHERS. Rather, PEP SQUAD seeks to show what kids, conditioned to find a goal -- any goal -- and put it forth at all costs, do when they meet resistance in the form of aberration even greater than their own.
The kids of PEP SQUAD suffer through their lives without parental guidance, but with the psychological industry's admonition to "adjust." They have no Vietnam war nor civil rights issues to unify them. They wander around campus and home wanting friendship, and wanting to get back to sleep -- where at least they can look at their dreams.
Cherry, the anti-heroine of PEP SQUAD, decides to do something about it -- and horrible though her choices are, one weeps at her demise. Her greatest glory is her greatest defeat.
The visual, aural and musical pleasures of PEP SQUAD do not mask the fundamental question of the film: how does one fight back?
While certainly no endorsement of violence, the picture does show what will occur in a land where individuality and personal expression take a back seat to superficial senses of order and social calmness.
- Summer, 1998
(Eric Sherman is a Peabody Award winning producer and director, and author of the best selling book Directing the Film.)