I’ll be honest; I went into Camp Dread with a little reluctance; another slasher film, offering up another formulaic ninety minutes or so; I’ll likely be able to tell who’s gonna live or die within the first ten minutes, and the identity of the killer within the first thirty. This isn’t to say I wasn’t hopeful somewhere within my horror-loving soul; we’re always hopeful, aren’t we, Fellow Fans? We have to be. I knew the cast was impressive, the director had some praise under his belt…still, so many times I’ve been down that road and been betrayed. Thus, it was with that same “hope for the best but expect the worst” that you take with you when your boss unexpectedly calls you to his office that I settled in to watch…
…one hour and thirty-four minutes later I was already planning on when I’d watch it again. Although I’ve seen a lot of horror films I’ve enjoyed, it’s been a while since I’ve had that particular feeling.
Julian Barrett was a big wheel in horror back in the ‘80s; his “Summer Camp” trilogy was the name to beat in the day. Unfortunately, some bad press (and poor decisions) caused him to fall from grace, and he faded out of the spotlight. Thirty years later, he’s found the backing to do a reboot of the series (all the rage, you know), and to make this happen he’s hit upon an ingenious idea. Auditions of a sort are held amongst troubled young people, bound for either rehab or, in some cases, incarceration. A group is chosen for what they believe to be an alternative “Outward Bound” program at a summer camp. Once they arrive, Barrett himself informs them that although they will be receiving help from a certified counselor (the star of his original trilogy, Rachel Steele, who has since become a licensed therapist), the real reason they are there is to participate in a reality show; a ‘killer’ will be taking them out, one by one. Maybe he’s one of them, maybe he’s an outsider. The objective is to survive; last one standing wins one million dollars. Cameras throughout the camp and worn by the contestants will capture the game, and Barrett plans to use this footage as a storyboard template for his “reboot”. Of course, most of the ‘contestants’ are all over this idea…and as always when money is at stake, true colors are revealed. Shaky alliances begin to form, as well as heated rivalries. Rachel tries to keep the peace, and seems genuinely concerned with helping these people with their problems…unfortunately, the biggest problem that they have isn’t their personal issues; it’s that the ‘killer’ seems to have forgotten that it’s only a game.
First and foremost, writer/director Harrison Smith’s greatest strength here was that he got me buying into the “formula” of the story; the setting (coulda been Camp Arawak with a paintjob), the lake with the docks (or mebbe Crystal Lake), the little “caught out of time” town with the old locals, and the usual characters (The Douchebag Jock, The Slut, The Nice Guy, The Dork…they’re all here). I was convinced that the plot I was seeing was a rehash of every slasher movie from the last thirty-five years…then Smith turned around and kicked me squarely in the ass with it. Things are not what they seem. You spend time with the “stereotypes” and find out they aren’t what you think they are. Everything you have “figured out” turns out to be wrong…then right…then wrong again. I was very pleased with the turns the story took; by the end, I was convinced I’d seen the first really original plot in a slasher flick I’d seen in a long time.
The acting was impressive across the board: Eric Roberts brought Barrett to life with that cool, cocky vibe that is his trademark, and he owned every scene he was in; Felissa Rose showed her chops with a tough yet compassionate performance as Rachel Steele; and although I found myself wishing we’d seen a bit more of Danielle Harris, her contribution to the story was spot-on, integral, and contextually perfect. The rest of the ensemble was equally strong. They come at you as the same ol’ slasher fodder you’ve seen a hundred times before, but as you dig down some layers, real people come out through the performances; real people that I found myself actually giving a damn about…a rarity in the genre. Gorehounds, take note: there are some very nice goodies waiting for you here (practical effects, guys!); granted, with the aforementioned character development, it takes a bit to get to it, but it’s made all the more valuable once you get there. I have to say, this flick has one particular kill scene that I’ve never seen before; and at no time does the grue disappoint.
I really liked this one, people. I can’t recall a hack ‘n’ slash I’ve seen in quite some time that I had as much fun watching. I was surprised, I was fooled, I was stumped, and I was gratified. It took me back to those glory days of the slasher film, yet gave me something new to take with me.
If any of you folks are like me and have sought a fresh take on this genre, I highly recommend this movie. If not…well, there’s always the gabillion other connect-the-dot hack-fests out there.
Of course, this is merely my opinion…but personally, I’m sold on this one.
CAMP DREAD will be available April 15th from Image Entertainment and RLJ Entertainment.