The Cheerleader Murders (2016) Dryden NY in Disguise

Screen-shot from TCM

The Cheerleader Murders, a pretty decent made for TV film,  claims to be “inspired by true events.” A claim made by many films, some not true at all, for instance  the Coen Bros film Fargo.. In this case, the film is true enough, albeit in disguise;  it is a thinly veiled retelling of a slew of deaths in  Dryden, New York .

The normally small and quiet suburban town was struck by a “curse” which apparently started in 1989, with an entire family being murdered execution style,  and culminated in the murder, and dismemberment of two teenage cheerleaders in 1996.

(There is an “epilogue of death” where two classmates of the murdered teens died three years later, one in an accident and the other by suicide.)

At the start of The Cheerleader Murders, Ellie (Samantha Boscarino) tells us, via voiceover, that she believes in curses and that her town suffers from one. In short order the girl recounts a string of tragedies, her sister and father are murdered by an angry ex-boyfriend and a few accidental deaths of fellow classmates add to the “curse.” 

Two of Ellie’s cheerleader friends go missing; Morgan (Hannah Kasulka) and Dee (Amanda Leighton) after a girl’s night “in” goes wrong.  The first cheerleader is found in pieces outside of town and Dee is still missing.  

Ellie and the police try to find the missing girl and the killer.  It is Ellie who stumbles across Dee and as the suspect list grows, it now appears that the last cheerleader, the one investigating,  is in danger.

Written by Matt Young and directed by David Jackson, someone well versed in TV movies as well as television series as a helmsman, The Cheerleader Murders has a stamp of authority, it feels like a true story.  

While the character of Ellie is obviously a fictional creation who ties the dark curse of the two towns together, she and the other characters in the film come over as real. Not only do they look and sound like “normal” teens but they also appear to be the ages that they are meant to be portraying.

Ellie, who saw her father shot to death in front of her, has dreams of her deceased dad.  The dream father at one point is eating straight from a tub of ice cream. He asks Ellie if she is going to stop him from eating it all. Later, in another dream she asks him, “you are not really here, are you?”

There are elements of Scream here. A multitude of suspects; one of whom is Ellie’s boyfriend Nicolas (Austin Lyon), another is the high school coach.  An FBI agent arrives, Special Agent Martinez (David DeSantos) and even he seems to be a suspect, in Ellie’s eyes at least.  A hooded character with a knife and even cell phones play a part in the storyline, although there is no Roger  Jackson to do a menacing voice on the other end the phone.

In The Cheerleader Murders  Ellie does a “Nancy Drew” and investigates on her own and puts her own life in danger while attempting to find the still missing Dee.  

While the body count is a tad high, for a TV movie, the gore factor is low and there are no protracted scenes of violence against the young females who die. The most violent acts deal with Ellie and her friend trying to escape from the hooded killer.

Boscarino gives her character a sense of realism and truth even when she rashly follows a suspicious car one gets the feeling that this is not beyond what the teenager would do.  The police and the people in the film all act as one would expect them to in real life.

Unlike many “based on a true story” films, one feels this story is real, despite only being inspired by true events and not an actual recounting of same.  Perhaps the one thing missing from the tale is the reactions of the towns people.

In 2006 in the town of Ipswich, Suffolk, UK  five young  prostitutes were murdered; their bodies dumped, in some cases near houses and in plain sight. The effect of these young women’s deaths galvanized a community and deeply moved those in the town and country.

This is missing in the film, and it could have been easily shown in the high school, but time,  in these things is a factor, so it makes sense that it was not included.

The Cheerleader Murders is a taut and well written TV movie.  All the players convince as their respective characters and the sets look like small town America. The film airs again on 10 and 11 April via  LMN and Lifetime will air the film on 15 and 16 April.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

17 thoughts on “The Cheerleader Murders (2016) Dryden NY in Disguise”

  1. typical money grabbing by Holly Wood and to hell with the feelings of those who remember and apt reason for people to refer to Holly Wood as Holly Weird….


  2. I grew up in Dryden and still visit often for my family lives there. I was born a year after these events began and to be honest I think its time the truth is told Dryden has always had a dark history it wasn’t till 89 it was brought to the for front and now investigation discovery is doing a special called village of the damned and I am excited yes these events still hurt but we have to remember them those memories will help to a sure we do not go through it again.


  3. Try to get your hands on a copy of true crime award winning story called “The Cheerleaders”. I can’t remember the year. The true story is even worse than the movie. The story is based around the Starr family that lived in Dryden.


  4. Living on property that was searched by police for these poor young girls bodies, I am disapointed to see there is a tie at all to the actual events that occured. After reading what the movie is about the only coincidence is that there were two girls, who were cheerleaders, from a small town.


  5. The same people that think this is disgusting are the same people that probably watch other horror movies based on true events and think it was a good movie.. and give no thought to the people that lived through those events. get over yourselves.

    And I grew up a town away and dated girls from dryden.. everyone thinks its a curse because everyone is somehow tied together.. its a SMALL town.. of course everyone is tied together.. its not a curse, you just know everyone in that small town.. it wouldnt be considered a curse if was a bigger school and you didnt know them. .GRRR people are so dumb.


    1. I didn’t notice a single poster here saying that they thought it was a curse, they just said their town had suffered lots of losses. If you grew up during this time period then you must be in your thirties…its too bad you still haven’t learned how to make a point without insulting others. Grrrr people are so dumb. Your words not mine.


  6. This is absolutely insulting. I live here,,,actually lived on the same street as one of these girls. It was horrible to live through it and will be even more disturbing to think people will be watching a cheesey movie about a very tragic event. Make your Money some other way! You have no idea the losses we have suffered as a small community!


  7. On my way home today I heard the song that they played in memory of the girls at that years cheerleading competition, “I love you”, by Donna Lewis. Dryden didnt compete but came to the competition in honor of the girls. Everytime I hear this song I am reminded of the horror that took place in Dryden. I am from a neighboring area, but I have never forgotten this horrible tragedy. I myself was a cheerleader in highschool at the time. So, image my horror when I sit down to watch the Lifetime channel and as the movie unfolds I realize that I am watching the story of the horrible tragedy that I was reminded of not moments before on my car ride home. I had to Google it to be sure it was indeed the story, the hair stood up on the back of my neck as soon as I saw that I was right.


  8. As someone who lived this, I find this movie incredibly disturbing and horrifying. What a sickening idea to reawaken the horrors that many of us carry with us as former students of Dryden High. Disgusting.


    1. Honestly, I’m with you on this. Even though it’s was a LONG time ago, it all seems like yesterday when each of those tragedies occurred. I have mixed feelings. But it’s all rehatched just the same.


    2. I agree!! I also am from this town & why make the family, friends & school classmates go through all these horrible tragedies again.


      1. As a person who went to school with the cheerleaders and the daughters of the wonderful coach and teacher, I was appalled by the terrible retelling of the events. and one should be ashamed that they would want to put the families and friends of those who were lost in these two tragedies through the pain of reliving those days. I understand that people can choose to not watch it, however if people are going to be lead to believe that this is how it happened or somewhere close to how it happened than it should be done right. Or don’t mention that it is based on true events. The family members of our Coach are still battling the demons of that night. As well as the family and friends of the girls, who struggle everyday with what they could have done differently. The curiosity of others should not bring pain to those who have lived it. And the families shouldn’t ever sell the rights to their pain for a movie maker to get rich.


      2. I still think about this horrific tragedy. Having two teens now I was thinking maybe it would be fine for them to watch so they know these scary things can happen in our towns. After all the comments I may reconsider.


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