Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #255
Also known as Dead TV
Number of Views: One
Release Date: May 19, 2014
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Harrison Smith
Producers: Harrison Smith, Brian Gallagher
Screenplay: Harrison Smith
Special Effects: Cleve Hall
Visual Effects: Chuck J. Stone
Cinematography: Charlie Anderson
Score: John Avarese
Editing: Joe Raffa
Studio: Class of 85 LLC
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures, Image Entertainment
Stars: Kyle Patrick Brennan, Ashley Caspermeyer, Nicole Cinaglia, Apryl Crowell, Brian Gallagher, Eric Roberts, Felissa Rose, Danielle Harris, Gnomi Gre, Alexander Mandell, Montana Marks, Angel Anthony Marrero, Susan Moses, Joe Raffa, Davy Raphaely, George Roberts, Angel Sanchez, Ashley Sumner
Suggested Audio Candy
Frank Vinci “You’re Just What I’ve Been Looking For (Angela’s Theme)”
I have watched an almost embarrassing amount of slasher movies in my time. They ain’t rocket science, in fact, they often resemble a child’s first chemistry kit, but I love them nonetheless. The bar of expectation is more often than not required to be lowered considerably in order to enjoy one of these beauties to the fullest extent; and rich characterization or originality are not high on the pecking order. Give us a bunch of hateful co-eds and few grisly kills and we’re more than satisfied. Many modern-day slasher flicks have one foot firmly planted in the eighties and their trespasses are forgiven in favor of them offering loving tribute to an epoch well passed its prime.
There were plenty of old school slashers which still hold up all these years later. The Burning, My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th, Madman, House of Evil, Happy Birthday to Me; all of these resonated growing up and I would merrily watch any one of them at the drop of a hat thirty years on. Another old-timer fondly remembered is Sleepaway Camp although, to be fair, it hardly represented the pinnacle of the sub-genre and instead became known for an ending which rocked folks on their heels. Camp Dread takes much of its inspiration from Robert Hiltzik’s movie and uses the self-awareness of the nineties to keep things fresh as a daisy. Whether that works or not depends entirely on how low you’re willing to set the bar.
It features Felissa Rose who, of course, starred in Sleepaway Camp and has continued to work consistently since, albeit on movies of far more humble grounding and also procures the talents of old-timer Eric Roberts and post-millennia scream queen Danielle Harris in a bookend role, nothing more. Roberts exhibits all the camp sleaziness and smug mannerisms you would expect from an actor better than his recent résumé suggests whereas the glorious Harris is never anything less than watchable and applies herself with all the professionalism she has become known for. Possibly the closest we have to a modern-day scream queen, she nevertheless pops up in some pretty turgid fare amidst turns in more notable works such as Jim Mickle’s Stake Land and Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake.
While Camp Dread has eighties slasher running through its core it perhaps resembles Wrong Turn 2: Dead End more than anything else. Joe Lynch’s backwoods bloodbath was not particularly high-brow but managed to do so much right that we forgave any shortcomings and just went along with the ride. The whole reality TV angle was hardly fresh then but years later there is precious little in the way of innovation to be gleaned from such a well-trodden formula. Director Harrison Smith follows the template to the letter and does so on a miniscule budget to his eternal credit. However, his film treads the boards with a fairly hefty pair of clodhopper boots.
It follows Julian Barrett (Roberts), the big swinging dick in the industry back in the eighties and the man responsible for the Summer Camp trilogy who is looking to resurrect his career by rebooting the beloved franchise and reinventing himself in the process. He selects a group of reprobates, recovering addicts and outcasts to take part in his ‘rehabilitation’ program and earn themselves a shot at bagging themselves a cool million in the process. He enlists former scream royalty Rachel Steele (Rose) as his on-site therapist and puts the kids through their paces in a last man standing game of wits whereby making it through the elimination process bags them the chance of pocketing the kitty all for themselves.
Innovation isn’t key here and that much is made pretty transparent within the first five minutes when Smith lays the cards on the table. Instead it is all about the allegiances formed and each suitor’s own single-minded greed and individual motivation. He is patient with his set up, affording us more of a getting-to-know-you period than is customary which films of its ilk and this places far more impetus on his screenplay which, aside from a few novel observations, paints strictly by the numbers. All the usual bases are covered and there’s hardly a soul involved who we could find ourselves rooting for. The best turn by far comes from Brian Gallagher as the affable John Hill, a long-time collaborator with Barrett who sees through his ruse and swiftly washes his hands of the whole sorry affair.
Camp Dread shares all the stylings of a slab of late-night cable fodder and, considering the modest kitty, it’s no less than we could expect. There are more plot holes than a ball of Swiss cheese and enough inconsistencies and uninspired revelations to sink it before the first act plays out but it is played in good spirit. This is where expectation plays such a pivotal role; should you forgive any misgivings then you will be rewarded with a film which, if nothing else, is always watchable. There’s an ample cast to plough through and a whodunnit sub-plot for the lobotomized or slow on the uptake. For the rest of us, the pay-off is one which we could see from a country mile off.
Dialogue may be trite but it at least makes the effort to talk its way out of its corner, offering numerous nods to the source material and a number of observations about those who partake in such pursuits. With a little more care, attention and admittedly a sizable chunk more ingenuity he may well have been onto something special here. In its current form, while not managing to play the homage card entirely successfully, Camp Dread offers an affable nod to a forgotten epoch and ample proof of Smith’s potential as a film-maker.
It isn’t short of kills although the lion’s share of these come within the final act and often play out off-screen. A massive plus side is that practical grue is preferred to crass CGI and that alone helps the numerous dispatches endear themselves. By the conclusion Camp Dread has tripped over its own laces and is laying face-down in a trench of its own construction. Despite this, it’s never less than watchable and therefore difficult to vilify. It does exactly what it states on the tin although the tent on the cover art is ironically never actually pitched on-site.
In many ways its crimes against horror are far less heinous than films such as Jed Weintrob’s Scar which ought to have been better and, at least, Camp Dread knows its reach and desperately attempts to maximize its potential. Should you wish to watch a slasher which wears its ridiculous heart on its sleeve, then I would suggest this alongside Knock Knock and The Sleeper. If not then you may want to proceed this particular camp with caution. As for Keeper, I’ve already got my tent pegs out. But then, I always was a sucker for a good old-fashioned campfire tale.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The kills are a mixed bag considering the SFX are supplied by old hand Cleve Hall; often they underwhelm but there are occasional spikes and we are treated to garotting, stabbing, beheading, bone displacement, death by prosthetic limb and a ludicrous cranial catapult which beggars belief. On the pelt side of things; if I watch No Country for Old Men then I’m not in it for the titties but, in works such as Camp Dread, it represents something of an easy win. That is perhaps its largest opportunity squandered right there.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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