I wouldn’t normally use the title of a film as the heading for a blogpost about it. But how can you improve on Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead?
It’s the best movie title I’ve come across for a long time. And the film is every bit as entertaining.
It’s the latest feature from writer-director Pat Higgins, with Charlie Bond as producer and star, and me as one of the zombie voices!
When a cursed amulet turns their rival boy band act into a screeching gang of zombies, a group of cheerleaders must learn to use their wits, friendship and assorted power tools before a TV talent show takes a turn for the apocalyptic!
There’s a lot of gore, a lot of jokes, and some surprisingly good songs. Yes, songs: this is a horror-comedy-musical. It’s not a sub genre I’ve come across much, but I really enjoyed this, so I was delighted when Pat agreed to explain some of the background.
Where did the idea for Powertool Cheerleaders come from?
I rather like ensemble movies, particularly ‘gang vs gang’ kinds of set-ups, and I wanted to take a crack at another one. I had the title, and the idea of setting it on a TV talent show, and not a great deal more. It sat on my development pile until one day I idly tweeted about it. Our incredible producer and lead, Charlie Bond, replied enthusiastically, along the lines of ‘we’re gonna have to make this’ and it went fairly quickly from being something sitting on a back-burner to a ‘go’ project. Her enthusiasm and drive brought the thing to life, essentially, bringing James Hamer-Morton and Dani Thompson onboard that very day. It pushed the script to the front of my ‘to do’ list. It was great fun to write. I got a first draft into shape relatively quickly, but it took a while to kick it into the exact shape that we wanted it.
Why a horror/comedy/musical? It’s an unusual mix. I suppose Rocky Horror is an early example, but there haven’t been many, have there?
There are a few, and I’ve generally loved all of them. Anna & the Apocalypse is another recent-ish example; I was rather worried about watching that one, since I’d already got the seeds of doing a musical (if not for this project, then potentially for a different one) and I didn’t want to watch that film and just decide, goddammit, that was everything I intended to do! As it happened, I thought it was genius but there was quite a difference in tone with where I was hoping to take things with Powertool.
My Dad, who died while we were in pre-production, was always a massive fan of musicals and had introduced me to them at an early age. He used to supplement my filmic education with those That’s Entertainment compilation movies featuring the greatest sequences out of musicals, so I got a pretty good grounding from things just playing in the background throughout my childhood. Then the ’86 Little Shop of Horrors adaptation was another great big influence on me, along with the Buffy musical episode some years later. Parker & Stone’s Cannibal The Musical rather rocks as well. I don’t think Dad would have enjoyed all of Powertool Cheerleaders (probably a bit gory for his tastes!) but I like to think he’d have dug at least some of the songs. I’ve been working with the composer, Phil Sheldon, since the mid-00s. We’d written a bunch of songs together for one of my previous movies, The Devil’s Music, and its always such a joy.
It seems like a very ambitious project for an independent production. Comedy is notoriously hard to do well, and adding songs brings a whole new layer of challenges. But it works so well! What were the biggest challenges?
I’m glad you feel it works. I do, too. It creates its own little bubble of reality and stays true to itself within those terms. We were very lucky to have such an incredible cast and crew pulling it together through sheer determination. There were definitely good days and bad days, but I tend to have all my ‘this is never gonna work!’ moments during the scripting stage rather than on set or in post-production. I was always pretty confident that we were making something that a certain section of the audience would really enjoy; I guess the question just comes down to how big a section of the audience that ends up being! COVID was a never-ending challenge throughout the production, even down to the first lockdowns kicking in the week after we were due to start shooting material for the crowdfunding campaign.
So, did it take longer than you expected?
The pandemic certainly gummed up the production wheels pretty badly; we’d only shoot when circumstances and rules allowed. We shot the first material in 2020 and the last bits in 2022, so I guess that sums it all up quite well! I like to think we made the best of the situation, though.
Your other films have tended to be fairly ‘straight’ horror, I think? Does this mark a new direction?
I’ve always been comedy/horror, really. Even when I don’t intend for a film to be funny, it always seems to end up heading in that direction eventually. I think people underestimate how many jokes are peppered throughout some of their favourite straight horror movies. There are so many jokes in something like Exorcist III, but people don’t tend to think of it in those terms because it’s also such a terrifying flick. The closest thing to a straight horror I’ve ever shot was House on the Witchpit, but we destroyed the master copy of that onstage directly after the premiere, so you’ll have to take my word for it!
How has reaction been to Powertool?
Fantastic. That first screening at Frightfest was just incredible, and it’s been brilliant to see similar reactions at other festivals. The screening at Horror-on-Sea was basically a homecoming, not just because some of the sequences in the film were shot in Southend but also because the roots of the project run so deep in that creative community. It’s been an absolute blast.
What’s next for you?
My company is currently prepping Chainsaw Fairytale to shoot next year (although I keep toying with retitling it to Fairytale Princesses vs the Horror Genre so we’ll have to see which title wins out). It’s a really killer script, absolutely tons of fun, and it’s my first foray into virtual filmmaking, UNREAL engine and all of the new possibilities that go along with it. I’ve written a blog about it at The Changing Face of Filmmaking | Pat Higgins and Jinx Media if you’re interested.
I am very interested, thank you! And if you want to know more about Powertool, take a look here.
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