If any of you Fellow Fans out there have been looking for a different take on the slasher genre, we highly recommend that you check out Camp Dread, comin’ at you April 15th; just a few days away from this writing. The film stars Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris, and Felissa Rose, and rounds out this impressive pedigree with an ensemble of talented young actors that you’ll undoubtedly see again. It’s got everything you expect from a hack ‘n’ slash, and it’s nothing like you’ve seen in a hack ‘n’ slash. Confused? See the flick and you’ll get it.
We here at LeglessCorpse had the opportunity to talk with the writer/director of this film, Harrison Smith, who generously gave us some of his time for a little behind-the-scenes insight.
LEGLESSCORPSE: You obviously have a fantastic knowledge of the slasher flick and how to turn it on its ear; God knows I personally have been waiting on a film to breathe some new life into the genre. How long had Camp Dread been on your “to-do” list? Had it been brewing a while?
HARRISON: Camp Dread came to me when an investor said he wanted a slasher film with lots of “boobs, blood and gore”. With such a simple objective, I asked if I could put my own spin on it; that’s when I went into some deeper characters. Yes, the jock, slut, wiseass…they are all there, but shaded a bit better than the usual slasher fare. So the film took shape, but it had to have Felissa Rose because of Sleepaway Camp. There was no one else I wanted for the role because she HAD to take the part…thank God she did.
LC: I was very impressed by your writing; the characters were well-fleshed out without dragging the film, and you nurture a genuine sense of feeling for them. How hard was it balancing that with the obvious problems of pacing to appeal to slasher fans?
HARRISON: This is where you have to be careful, because as much as I wanted to put my own spin on things, you have to give the audience what they want in certain respects or they will turn on you. To some the opening is “slower”; however for those who get it, it’s character development. When we see the final scene of the film, that very last image, I wanted it to evoke a human tragedy. These weren’t just stock figures, they were human beings, and what happened to them was truly horrific.
So yes, while it takes 18 minutes to reach the first kill, we give you a lot of good stuff to sink your teeth into; grab a beer, kick back, and know that when all hell breaks loose, it’s gonna go apeshit. I think we proved that with the ending.
LC: Your cast was remarkable, with your principals being a gold mine of talented icons; you’ve said Felissa Rose was a ‘must-have’; was the rest of your cast also personal choices, or was fate just kind?
HARRISON: Thank you. I agree. We wanted Eric because he’s handsome, savvy and he looks like Julian. Eric can look so Hollywood in his black shirts and jackets and he has that grin behind those sunglasses that is just enough to put you on edge. Danielle…well, she’s Danielle…Michael Myers’ niece. On top of it she is so damned talented (I loved her in Stake Land, a truly underappreciated film) in front of and behind the camera. She has also become a good friend as a result of this film. As for Felissa, well, here’s a caveat: I was 15 in 1983 and saw Sleepaway Camp with a girlfriend at the local theater. Afterwards, we walked out from that shocker ending and I said, “One day I am gonna work with that girl.” My girlfriend said “What did you think of that film?” I replied that I thought it was a fun little horror film. She turned her nose up and said “I don’t know if I can date someone who thinks THAT kind of movie is fun.” We broke up there in the lobby.
As for the rest of the cast, dammit they’re all good. I think Brian Gallagher is one of the most overlooked character actors out there, and I am telling any agent reading this to snap this guy up…Joe Raffa, who played Novak, is one of the most talented SOB’s I ever met; in addition to acting, he’s a gifted writer and director, and his first film, You’ll Know My Name, is a powerful teen drama that I would put up there with Rebel Without a Cause; just brilliant…Nikki Cinaglia throws Adrienne in our face…Gnomi Gre is so evil cool in her campfire beach slapdown of Novak…Alex Mandell is so damned good as the good-hearted Matty…Angel Valerio debuted as a real and troubled Calvin Thompson…Ashley Sumner is beautiful and most of all always layers her characters with that cool persona that’s her trademark…Kyle Patrick Brennan is a chameleon, and went from a troubled ghost hunter in 6 Degrees of Hell to the drug-addled and not-quite-right Jerry in Camp Dread…Davy Raphaely takes the shopworn role of the wiseass and makes it irresistible…Montana Marks is as deliciously nasty as she is sexy…and Angel Sanchez is so natural and easy going as the lothario, Ming.
LC: How was shooting? Horror flicks are typically known to be much more of a good time during filming than other types of movies. Was this also your experience? Any particular anecdotes or memories from the set that stick out in your mind?
HARRISON: We really did have a good time. Most of all everyone, cast and crew, stayed in the cabins at the camp. They showered there and they ate there. It was like summer camp for them, though sometimes they froze their asses off at night.
There were a lot of good memories; we shot the film in 17 days, so it went fast. I know there were a lot of parties after hours and they threw a nice surprise birthday party for me.
I stole a Jaws phrase for describing how a day’s shooting went. If it was a good day, there were “no barrels in the water.” If we had some issues, I would say “throw a barrel in.” What you didn’t want was a three barrel day, because that’s when the shark comes up. Also, if things were going well, I would say “the shark is working”, and if not “the shark isn’t working.”
I remember our DP Charlie Anderson and his AC Chris getting into waist high waders to film the ending, with Cleve Hall and Gnomi Gre out in this deep pond. Air tubes and ropes and Monster Man in his goth black shirt, looking like he was performing some satanic baptism. Quite a sight.
LC: I don’t want to ruin any elements for anyone; not my style. However, I just gotta ask: where did you come up with that amazing overall plot idea? Be as vague as you wish.
HARRISON: There were lots of influences: the Survivor TV show, Lord of the Flies, The Grounding of Group 6, Ten Little Indians, Psycho II. There’s lots there. Perhaps Psycho II is the strongest because I remember going to see it in theaters and expecting to hate it; instead I left at the end, bought a ticket to the next show, and went right back in. I expected a slasher flick and instead got this cool, winding mystery with one of the best damned endings to a horror film I ever saw.
I wanted Camp Dread like that. While many will expect the usual fare, we tried to offer up something else. If you watch the film literally, you are missing the point. Everything in the film is an illusion and nothing is as it seems to be.
LC: I picked up on some nods to several classics of the genre; what films were your biggest inspirations?
HARRISON: Psycho II was a major influence on this film. However, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Ten Little Indians were huge influences as well. Throw in a pinch of The Legacy, Friday the 13th and The Burning, and well…it becomes a nice mix of influences.
LC: What projects are you working on now that we can be looking forward to?
HARRISON: I just completed post production on the Billy Zane zombie action film, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard which is getting great industry response (note: you can check that one out here). I have a number of other things setting up, but I never like to crow until the egg is laid; however, I hope to be busy over 2014 and into 2015.
LC: Final question we always ask here at LeglessCorpse: What’s your favorite scary movie?
HARRISON: Wow. There are a few and for different reasons. I am going to say the two that disturbed me the most were The Exorcist and 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers; neither for the obvious reasons. The demonic stuff didn’t bother me at all in The Exorcist; it was the torment of Father Karras. Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is downright scary because of what is happening now around us: we ARE becoming clones…soulless conformists who turn on anyone who thinks outside the box.
I do need to give a shout out to Lake Mungo as it was the first film in years to make me sit up for awhile before going to bed; it’s such a scary film on many levels.
There are so many others and you could fill your space with them. But that’s what comes to mind.
We very much appreciate Harrison taking the time to talk with us, and we thank him for this great new take on the slasher flick! Good luck to him in his future endeavors; we’ll be looking forward to them!
Once more for the folks in the cheap seats: CAMP DREAD will be released from RLJ/Image Entertainment on April 15th…check it out!
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