Imagine – if you will – that you and your fellow yucksters from the Class of ’85 got together at a reunion to talk about the good ol’ days. Imagine that one of the things you collectively missed most were those quality, simple slasher flicks of your youth, any number of low budget knock-offs of the FRIDAY THE 13TH variety. What’s wrong with kids today, you and your aging friends insist, is that they’re way too fascinated with reality television. So you figure, “Hey, we pool our money, and we could come up with a script that both pays homage to the stuff we were watching back then as well as draw in today’s kids by dishing it out in the form of a reality farce, right?”
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Director Julian Barrett (the equally reliable and slimy Eric Roberts) made his fortune directing a handful of “Summer Camp” slasher films in the 80’s. Now that nostalgia is all the craze, he decides that he can reboot his franchise and open the door to untold millions. But how can he truly bring it back with modern gusto? Why, he’ll enlist a few of his former stars, hire a group of young good-looking contestants, and stage a “Summer Camp” re-enactment. Only this time, someone’s taking the plot far too seriously as, one-by-one, kids start turning up dead!
Ugh. CAMP DREAD is, by and large, pretty dreadful. There’s a solid idea wrapped up in it – a modern day twist on reality programming – but it all gets wasted in such an overwhelming lackluster package. For starters, Eric Roberts – the presumed “star” here – really isn’t in all that much of the movie; essentially, his role serves to book-end the picture, appearing early to set it all up and then re-emerging in the finale to ‘solve’ the case. While he does have several scenes in between, they mostly serve as filler – Eric chuckles about this, Eric raises his eyebrows about that, Eric flashes his most thoughtful glance, etc. – so they’re easily written off as fodder.
To make matters worse, this CAMP is rounded out by what might be the largest collection of untalented posers since, well, anything else Roberts has done since he assumed direct-to-DVD knighthood. The teenagers are supposed to be a bunch of hard-luck cases undergoing a form of forced rehabilitation, but they’re not given any significant depth; this puts them in the position are serving a pawns to a plot conceived by a small team of equally untalented screenwriters. Here’s my best tip to anyone seriously reading this: if the audience doesn’t care about the characters, then their associated deaths are nothing more than exploitation. Now, if that exploitation is good, handled well and gratuitous, then there may be some mild vicarious thrill in watching these ten little Indians meet their doom. Since the splatter effects are nothing new as well as being so tightly shot that can’t really be appreciated unless you want to pause, rewind, and try again (until you figure out what you’re looking at), then even that strength becomes a weakness.
This CAMP is a place best left closed for the summer and beyond.
CAMP DREAD (2014) is produced by Class of 85 LLC. DVD distribution is being handled (jointly) by RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, this somewhat ‘indie’ feature offers up some reasonable quality sights and sounds; the chief problem I had with the entire film is that I found a surprising portion of the audio to be muddled. In fact, a few sequences were downright difficult to hear. As is often the case when these smaller flicks find eventual release, there are no (zero!) special features … but I don’t consider that a loss.
(NOT REALLY) RECOMMENDED. As often happens, CAMP DREAD has a solid idea (a horror/reality slasher hybrid); the problems within lie entirely on lackluster execution, lackluster performances, and lackluster (if not downright predictable) conclusion. (Emphasis on the “lackluster,” people.) You know that when even Eric Roberts is ‘phoning it in’ that your movie is in deep, deep trouble. In fact, I find it downright inconceivable that this script is the best that four (yes, FOUR!) screenwriters could come imagine; that fact alone defies logic … or else this is one of the worst examples of ‘groupthink’ on record.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of CAMP DREAD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.