A Kansas native is stirring up some cinematic dust with his black comedy.
The Wicked Witch of the West has come back to the Land of Ahs, and this time she's in the form of Cherry, the fake-nailed anti-hero of Steve Balderson's independent film "Pep Squad."
"Pep Squad" made its Kansas premiere Dec. 3 at Liberty Hall Cinemas, after showing at the Raindance Film Festival in London, the Stockholm International Film Festival in Sweden and the Cannes Film Festival in France.
And even though its visit was a one-night stand, the film proved it has enough camp and black comedy to join the ranks of such cult favorites as "Carnival of Souls" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Balderson, a Manhattan, Kan., native, has taken his simple script and applied a keen directorial and cinematic eye to make a movie that both entertains and sustains the attention of the audience.
The film, which was shot in the Wamego area, touches on issues of sexual abuse, school violence, media frenzy and overzealous ambitions, but true strength of the movie lies in its off-the-wall characters and how Balderson uses the camera to tell the story.
"Pep Squad" follows the lives of a handful of Oak Hill High School students as the school readies for its spring prom and its queen candidates plot how to win the crown.
We meet Beth, a quiet student who sets off a chain of events when she conks her principal over the head with a trophy after he tries to molest her; Cherry, a villainess who will kill for the prom title; Terra, Cherry's archenemy and a retro busybody; Julie, the sex-crazed editor of the school newspaper; and Scott, the "stud"-ent body president.
Brooke Balderson, Steve's sister and co-producer of the film, is perfect as the chain-smoking, demonic Cherry. She develops the role into the type
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of character one loves to hate, the type one wants to see in a sequel.
Equally as compelling is Amy Kelly as the polyester-and-bouffant Terra. Kelly, a natural on-screen talent, can swing from slapstick to drama in a flash. Think Lucille Ball, Joanne Warwick and Bette Midler to get an inkling of the actress's style.
Adding to the fun of the film is the soundtrack by Johnette Napolitano, who made her mark in the early 1980s with her band Concrete Blonde. The music fits the screenplay, delivering spooky instrumentals and a haunting version of "America the Beautiful" that harks back to Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner."
Balderson -- undoubtedly a filmmaker to follow -- is already at work on "Firecracker," a drama based on a murder that took place July 4 in Eisenhower-era Kansas. Let's hope when that movie comes to town it will hang around for more than a night.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.