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A Friend To Die For (also known as Death of a Cheerleader) is a 1994 TV movie that first premiered on NBC. It starts Kellie Martin, Tori Spelling, Valerie Harper, Terry O'Quinn, Marley Shelton and James Avery.

The plot has a teenage girl named Angela Delvecchio (Martin) wishing to rise through the ranks of the high school hierarchy and win over the acceptance of popular and wealthy fellow student Stacy Lockwood (Spelling). As the film progresses, as the paths of the two girls meet and ultimately clash, one of them is driven to desperate means with fatal results.

The film is very loosely based off of the 1984 murder of Kirsten Costas and plays up a lot of the facts of the case for entertainment value (namely in painting the likeable and popular Costas as a mean girl). That said, the film was still well-received by fans and even spawned a remake 25 years later, this time actually named Death Of A Cheerleader where Martin plays a small role.

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Tropes:

  • The Ace: Angela is jealous of Stacy, who seems to succeed at everything she does.
  • Adaptational Dye Job: In Real Life, Kirsten Costas had brown hair, while her assailant Bernadette Protti was blonde. Here, the characters flip hair colors (and the 2019 remake kept the victim as a blonde and the murderer as a brunette).
  • The Alibi: Angela makes up a story that she was babysitting the night of the murder, but it's ultimately found to not be true.
  • Alpha Bitch: Stacy, who loves to bully and mock those she doesn't like, namely loner goth Monica.
  • Asshole Victim: Played with regarding Stacy: plenty of people in-universe miss her and even Angela deeply regrets killing her, but Jamie admits that she never liked her and was even afraid of her.
  • Book-Ends: The beginning and end of the film are the exact same series of shots—loons swimming in a pond and an instrumental accompanying a shot of the prestigious Santa Mira High School, and young boys riding bikes past a church.
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  • The Cheerleader: Angela and Stacy both aspire to be one. Stacy makes the cut, Angela doesn't.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The knife in the Nova that Teresa uses to cut and eat cucumbers in the car is later used to stab Stacy.note 
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Both Angela and Jamie used to attend a Catholic school and even go to confession. Specifically, Angela's mother is a devout woman who spends an hour of everyday reading the Bible and praying.
  • The Determinator: Angela is so driven in her desires to be popular, trying out for cheerleader, the yearbook and the Larks. She only makes the latter.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The story climaxes around Christmas. Truth in Television, since Bernadette Protti was arrested on the 10th of December.
  • Goth: Monica is the textbook example: black clothes, jet black dyed hair, dour attitude and a loner.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Jamie has long blonde hair, and becomes the moral center of the story as it goes on.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Angela and Jill. The former and Jamie were also implied to be this before they transferred from their old school.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Boy howdy. The victim is painted to be an unlikable bitch who viewers aren't supposed to sympathize with whereas the killer is the one painted as innocent and killing impulsively. The 2019 remake tried to balance the portrayals a bit.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with the murder, then steps back to show what led up to it.
  • I'll Kill You!: Monica threatens Stacy's life twice in the film: first upon her reading her diary to the other girls on the ski trip and again when she wrote a poem in English class comparing her to a witch.
  • In with the In Crowd: Angela namely but Jamie is a more downplayed version, she's not nasty like Stacy and her Girl Posse, but still goes along with much of the group's antics and never speaks up in defense of anyone.
  • Ironic Echo: Stacy pleading for help after she escapes from Angela's car by telling the people at the nearby house "my friend is acting weird." Angela finally gets her wish to be considered a friend by Stacy, but under horrifying circumstances. Even more chilling, these were the actual words spoken in the real life incident.
  • Kick the Dog: A couple of times throughout the film. A stand-out moment is when Stacy reads Monica's diary when they're on a skiing trip.
  • Lie Detector: Angela takes a polygraph exam during the investigation.
  • Light Is Not Good: Stacy is almost always seen wearing light-colored clothing, usually white. However, she's one of the most unpleasant people in the film.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Monica gets singled out by Stacy and her crew due to having no friends and being "weird".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Angela immediately regrets killing Stacy in a fit of anger. Also, Jamie has this feeling due to her belief that she abandoned her for the sake of popularity, even admitting this to a priest in confessional.
  • Never My Fault: Principal Saxe gives a so-called Rousing Speech to his students to "be the best" which basically implies for them to indulge in materialism and improving Santa Mira's image by succeeding at competitive sports then lavishing attention to those who do while dismissing or outright ignoring those who don't. Yet, when interviewed on the news about the murder, he blatantly denies that there was a problem with either subject and writes Angela off as a "sick kid".
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The original case happened at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California, a well-off Bay Area suburb in Contra Costa County. Here, it's the local high school in the town of Santa Mira in fictional Sierra Linda County.
  • Not Helping Your Case: When the FBI profile of the killer (a peripheral member of the victim's social circle acting out of feelings of jealousy and inadequacy) is read to Angela, who the cops seem to be leaning toward as the culprit, she remarks that it sounds like her (a Truth in Television moment).
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The opening murder scene is repeated midway through, only this time the focus is on Angela rather than Stacy.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: Angela is considerably less well-off than the majority of the students at Santa Mira.
  • Precision F-Strike: Monica when standing up to Stacy, who called her a witch; "I don't need a broom to fly away from you, you bitch!"
  • Produce Pelting: In the aftermath of Stacy's murder, Monica is pelted with garbage at an assembly by other students who believed that she killed her.
  • The Profiler: A big break in the case is when the FBI is asked to develop a profile of the killer. It matches Angela to a T.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Angela gets two well-deserved examples in the film; first from Monica, who calls her out for sucking up to Stacy in order to win her "friendship" and the other from a girl she was counseling in drug rehab who correctly pointed out that her kind doesn't care about people like her out of righteousness but to gain brownie points.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: While the kids at Santa Mira immediately jump to the conclusion that Monica killed Stacy, the police are more methodical in their investigation and gradually uncover Angela's guilt.note 
  • Stepford Smiler: Angela tries to put up a bubbly, friendly front even as all her grandiose dreams of high school glory get shot down. By the time she lures Stacy out for the meeting, she's headed toward Mask of Sanity territory.
  • The Stoner: On the fateful night, Stacy smokes a joint in the car and offers it to Angela, who turns it down, marking a negative turn in their meeting.note 
  • Unfortunate Names: Principal Ed Saxe has a derogatory nickname made up by the upperclassmen of "Ex-lax". Considering how stuck-up and full of shit he is, it may cross for being a Meaningful Name.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As stated before, the background of the film is based on the Kirsten Costas murder, but the film takes a lot of liberties. Case in point, the skiing outfit incident did happen, but it wasn't a Kick the Dog moment like in the film where she was spitefully making fun of its cheaper quality, but more of an Innocently Insensitive moment that she even apologized for right after making the comment.

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