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Film / A Friend To Die For

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How much would you give to be popular?

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.

Angela Delvecchio (Martin), a sophomore at wealthy, high-achieving Santa Mira High School, wishes to rise through the ranks of the school hierarchy and win over the acceptance of Stacy Lockwood (Spelling), a popular queen bee at the school. Angela falls into Stacy's orbit, but as Stacy succeeds where Angela fails, the paths of the two girls will meet and ultimately clash, 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.



  • 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.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: An underlying problem with the film. The pretty and popular students are showered with compliments and pride whereas everyone else is either ostracized or ignored. Principal Saxe even calls Stacy "the prettiest office attendant" within earshot of Angela.
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  • Beta Bitch: Meredith Ladd is implied to be the second most popular girl in the sophomore class after Stacy. Of the four girls in Stacy’s inner circle, Stacy is the closest to Meredith and shows her the most consideration. Meredith’s fierce persecution of Monica and, later, Angela and Jill, suggests her attachment to Stacy is sincere.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Stacy, of course. To the world and authority figures in particular she is charming, pleasant, and polite. To those who cross her she is mean and ruthless.
    • Turns out Angela is one as well, and worse than Stacy since for all her faults Stacy is not a killer…
  • Bookends: 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.
  • 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.
  • Cool Loser: Jill. She's not with the in crowd, but unlike Angela, she's not obsessed with popularity or gaining anyone's approval and is all the more content for it.
  • 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.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After being rejected from both the yearbook and the cheerleading squad, Angela and Jill end up sneaking wine and getting drunk off of it.
  • Goth: Monica is the textbook example: black clothes, jet black dyed hair, dour attitude and a loner.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: The four girls who get the most characterization. Stacy (Cynic), Angela (optimist), Jill (realist), and Jamie (appears to be apathetic but revealed at the end to be conflicted).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Stacy (Choleric), Angela (melancholic), Jill (sanguine), and Jamie (phlegmatic). Of note is the fact that the melancholic and the sanguine have switched their traditional philosophies (optimist and realist, respectively).
  • 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 Can't Feel My Legs!: After Stacy is repeatedly stabbed in the back, she stumbles away to a nearby home, crying for help to the homeowners and saying how she can't feel her legs before she finally crumples to the ground and begins convulsing. She dies shortly afterwards.
  • 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.
    • Principal Saxe's comment at the beginning of the school year to his students to "be the best" as in indulge in materialism to make their school, their town (and by extension him) look better is later used by Angela's priest after the revelation that she murdered Stacy. He openly pondered if it was these selfish intentions to "be the best" that had a hand in driving her to kill and while Saxe doesn't hear his words himself, Jaime does.
  • 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.”
  • Meaningful Name: it’s a lifetime movie so it’s to be expected.
    • Stacy Lockwood: The name of a teenage Barbie doll, since she dies halfway through the film she gets no character development and ‘stays locked’ in the past.
    • Angela Delvecchio. She appears to be sweet but is an Angel of death for Stacy and broadly for the communal bubble. Her surname means old, since she is shabby and poor. Counts as an Ironic Name.
    • Jill, of Jack and Jill fame, is Jamie’s most supportive and loyal friend.
    • Ex Lax, I mean, Ed Saxe, the materialistic and shallow School Principal who is full of crap.
  • Mistaken for Gay: After being rebuffed by Stacy due to the failure of her plan to win her friendship, a worried and desperate Angela surmised what she and her friends' reactions would be, including accusing her of being a lesbian.
  • 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.”
  • Nice Girl: played straight with Angela’s two friends, Jill and Jamie, who are sweet, pleasant, and loyal. Jamie has a crisis of conscience at the climax of the film while Jill remains moral throughout the film. In the end they both forgive and support Angela. Subverted with Angela herself. Her two friends are convinced that she is by far the nicest girl in school but ultimately she is a Social Climber Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
  • Nice Hat: Jill wears a classic 90’s Blossom hat for the first half of the film but ditches it after the tragedy occurs.
  • 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.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A very loose version of a "good deed", but it still counts. At the ski trip when Stacy decides to read Monica's diary, Angela tries to ask her to stop and even pulls Monica off of her when she and Stacy get into a fight, but not only does Monica see through Angela's weak defense of her and calls her out for being a clinger-on of Stacy's, but Stacy actually gets angry at her for it and starts to bully her although she was already dismissive of her presence in her circle.
  • 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).
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: At one point Stacy is discussing how one of her teachers has a doctorate and insists on being addressed as "Dr." In response, Jerk Jock Cort jokes about having a pain in his heart and asking her what he should do about it.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The opening murder scene is repeated midway through, only this time the focus is on Angela rather than Stacy.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Downplayed with Angela’s parents. While the murder comes as total surprise, they are both aware that their daughter is depressed and dissatisfied with her circumstances.
  • 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 had 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.
  • This Is Reality: Big sister Terri tries to infuse this into Angela's life when she tries to tell her her dreams of living in a beach front home overlooking the ocean and by supporting herself being a writer like Danielle Steele. Terri lives in an apartment and works a basic job to get by, having no money to do much else and says that, realistically, she would be in the same boat, especially being so young and without much in the way of any long-term career plans. This angers Angela so much that she storms off to her room.
  • "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 
  • Running Away to Cry: After being turned down from most of her desired extracurricular activities, Angela is next seen crying in a bathroom stall as Jill tries to console her from outside of it.
  • School Bullying Is Harmless: Played with regarding Angela. She actually defends Stacy bullying Monica, even claiming that she "brought it on herself" for being weird and unfriendly, but she immediately double downs once Stacy starts bullying her, especially when she bails on her regarding the party and calls her weird, leading to her stabbing her.
  • 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 
  • Suddenly Shouting: After Angela's mother reads her confession letter and the implication that she's going to kill herself, she moans in horror and then screams out loudly for her husband.
  • 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.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Sadly inverted with a dose of Truth in Television. Angela has four older siblings who have left home and become independent by the time the story begins. It’s implied resources have become low by the time Angela is a teenager and both her parents are old and tired.