Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #293
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 22 September 1998
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 88 minutes
Directors: Matt Cooper (The Honeymoon), Martin Kunert (The Hook, People Can Lick Too), David Semel (The Campfire, The Locket)
Producers: Eric Manes, Lori Miller, Larry Weinberg
Screenplay: Martin Kunert, Eric Manes, Matt Cooper
Special Effects: G. Bruno Stempel
Visual Effects: Andrew Mumford
Cinematography: John Peters
Score: Andrew Rose
Editing: Luis Colina, Rick Fields, Steven Nevius, Martin Kunert
Studios: Campfire LLC, Kunert/Manes Entertainment LLC, Vault, The
Distributor: New Line Home Video
Stars: Jay R. Ferguson, Christine Taylor, Christopher Masterson, Kim Murphy, Ron Livingston, Jennifer MacDonald, Hawthorne James, Alex McKenna, Devon Odessa, Jonathan Fuller, Glenn Quinn, Jacinda Barrett, James Marsden, Amy Smart, Frederick Lawrence, Stewart J. Zully, Suzanne Goddard-Smythe, Michael Dempsey, Denny Arnold, Meleva Barbula
Suggested Audio Candy:
Bobsled Monster Mash
Keeper is somewhat partial to a good anthology. At their best they offer wonderfully Neapolitan appeal; Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat and All Hallow’s Eve all achieved admirably high standards from first to final frame and rarely set a pinky wrong although there have been countless other compendiums which have struggled remaining consistent or simply underwhelmed. Campfire Tales is another one for the half-baked list. Indeed, it’s severely undercooked and there’s hardly a morsel worthy of the mastication.
Before I lay the smackdown, and in the interest of fairness, I feel it is my duty to inform you that my view is unlikely to be shared by many of you. The film has reasonably respectable aggregate scores and plenty of devoted fans and, the truth is, had I been thirty years younger, I would probably be one of them. However, I’m not and, try as I may not to become jaded, I have come to expect far more than this anemic offering could hope to provide. While it could never be accused of being truly appalling, blandness is just as heinous a crime in Keeper’s book and that is where Campfire Tales falls flat on its sorry face. It flat-lines somewhat spectacularly and that is downright unacceptable for a feature given five opportunities to raise itself from the doldrums.
Our entrée must have sounded dandy on paper. James Marsden, Amy Smart and an escaped mental patient with a hook for a hand and murderous intentions, what’s not to like? Now imagine ordering a succulent London Broil steak and being offered a drooping stick of beef jerky instead. It’s hard to pick fault with this Night of The Creeps-style black and white opener as it’s over before we can so much as settle into our seats. Marsden and Smart may as well be Bert and Ernie for what it’s worth as they’re utterly frittered in their clichéd roles as randy teens Eddie and Jenny. Possibly the one thing that can be said for it is that it does connect to the larger picture, albeit flimsily.
Moving swiftly on, we are introduced to another four teens including Christine Taylor in another phoned-in role, this time having careered off the road and becoming marooned in the surrounding woods. They decide to build a campfire and tell scary stories to pass the time until help arrives. As wraparounds go it does at least set the tone although familiarity is the name of the game here and its by-the-numbers approach does little to instill confidence for what’s to come. After settling in for the duration, we are ushered into our first tale of terror.
Things start promisingly enough as we are introduced to honeymooning newlyweds Rick and Valerie (Ron Livingston and Jennifer MacDonald) whose RV runs out of gas in an ominous locale after receiving heads-up from an erratic bum that they’re lucky they’ve still got their skins. Turns out that something evil is lurking in the undergrowth and the pair are warned to hit the road before they hit the skids. Naturally, Rick heads off for assistance, leaving his new bride to her own devices inside the camper. What follows should be recognizable from a mile off to anyone with two wired cells as it represents one of the oldest urban legends in existence. No surprises then but if you’re twelve you may become blighted with night terrors. For Keeper it gets by on the charm of Livingston alone and otherwise squanders its opportunity to set the bar.
People Can Lick Too
The last thing you need after just having your hopes dashed is for it to follow up with a tale where the main protagonist is a child actor. It’s like following premature ejaculation with a bout of erectile dysfunction; cruel…just damned heartless. Actually it could have been a whole lot worse and this is perfectly placed as bridge segment. Alex McKenna gives a spirited turn as Amanda, a twelve year-old home alone who discovers the darker side of social networking, attracting the attentions of the vilest of reprobates. Kevin McAllister would have been wearing his milk teeth as eyebrows if he’d had to fend off this nasty-ass cretin. There’s a sinister tone to proceedings throughout and a suitably rancorous conclusion; making this the surprising standout for Keeper, but let’s not go pulling each other’s dicks just yet. We’ve established a heartbeat but it’s faint.
I’m actually beginning to feel a little mean at this point as I have just realized I’m actually rather fond of that inter-joining piece and haven’t a lot negative to spout on this one either. It’s a little like the highlight of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, Lover’s Vow…but lite. Suffering from a severe case of wanderlust, easy rider Scott (Glenn Quinn) finds himself drawn to a mute woman after a chance encounter at her rural home and grabs himself some country oats. We empathize with Scott as Jacinda Barrett oozes warmth and hospitality as Heather and her pitch-perfect performance carries us over the threshold as their union reaches its telling end. The Locket is atmospheric, well-scored and boosted no end by Barrett’s turn but, where Lover’s Vow reached into your ribcage and wrenched hard, this just leaves mild heartburn.
The Campfire (Reprise)
Clearly drawing inspiration from Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, we return to the stranded teens as their campfire is ultimately doused and a number of interconnected links wired together. It kind of works on some kind of base level but hardly leaves you clutching your hot water bottle in unbridled anguish either. Maybe it would have been nice just to spend a little time with the deranged loon with a hook for a hand…I’m just saying.
That’s the problem with Campfire Tales. It’s just a little sterile when all is said and done. If I were rating individually then this is how I would roll that shit: The Hook (5), The Honeymoon (6), People Can Lick Too (7), The Locket (6), The Campfire (5). Now, I know what you’re thinking right now; throw those numerals in a blender and you’ll be pouring yourself a smooth glassful of 6…you’d be wrong. I’m feeling mean you see. Actually, I may have given Campfire Tales half a can of my finest whoop and the sum of these parts amounts to a heartless 5 but remember the rules kiddywinks: If you are any of the following…twelve…bored…sleep deprived, then throw another 2 on my score and we’ll call it quits. It arrived in 1997, tail end of a depressing decade for horror. We can’t be too harsh on it as it was doomed from the start. Crazy Ralph was right along, shame it took until the next millennium for anyone to figure that out.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Remember that jerky? Sorry folks, nothing to see here. A splash here and a faint splurge there but nothing to write to Aunt Mabel about. As for T & A…in the nineties…are you kidding me? Actually we get a swift eyeball of Jennifer MacDonald’s mammalia and Ron Livingston’s right ass cheek glancing in and out of shadows for the ladies. That’s all folks.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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