I have been chomping at the bit for months to see Camp Dread. I first heard about it in an issue of Fangoria, and with such a great cast, plus my love for reality TV, I was sold before even seeing it. After a few frustrating days of trying to find a copy of the film locally, it popped up on the VUDU service, so instead of renting it, I quickly bought it. Yes, my excitement was that high, and you all know what they say about setting the bar too high.
Camp Dread has a brilliant horror plot. Some kids in their early twenties are sent away to a summer camp to be rehabilitated on a reality show. There’s a catch, though. A famed horror director, who made some camp slasher films in the ‘80s, is in charge. To help the kids rehabilitate, he hires the killer from his original films, who is now a professional therapist. The kids are then “killed off” one by one as part of the show.
There is so much to work with here that it’s just absurd to think that it could fail. Sadly, I have to admit that I’m very torn on this film. The premise is there, and it works with what it has, but by the end I felt cheated. I don’t want to ruin anything, but once the body count starts rising, and it rises very fast, the film loses track of the genre it’s trying to play homage to. I guess there’s no way around these problems, though.
We have an all-star horror cast here. Eric Roberts is fantastic as the director of the reality show, and he has just enough creep-factor going on that he becomes a prime suspect early on for the slayings. Danielle Harris (this generation’s Scream Queen, thanks to her role in both the original and rebooted Halloween series) also shows up, but only for a brief cameo at the start of the film. She does have some fun with the role of a horror-film-hating cop, though. Finally we have Felissa Ross as our Psychiatrist, and she’s best known for Sleepaway Camp. Note that if you haven’t seen Sleepaway Camp yet, I highly recommend checking it out before watching Camp Dread because it will add a lot to your experience. The fodder for our killer is all typical young up and comers. Most probably won’t get out of the horror genre, but I really enjoyed Gnomi Gre as Missy, whose character is easily the most interesting. Unfortunately, she is underutilized, and her character is never fully explained.
Camp Dread isn’t a film about plot, or acting, or reviving a stale genre. Instead, the film sets out to pay homage to everything we love about ‘80s slashers, and throws a campy reality sin on it (think Wrong Turn 2, but actually good). From the very first kill (Friday the 13th style) to the final slaying – which is the most absurdly, uniquely awesome thing I’ve seen done in a horror film since the double sleeping bag tree slam in Jason X – Camp Dread perfectly captures the rude and crude youth at a camp, and some of the dialogue is hysterical. One of my favorite lines has to be, “you’re so good looking that if I slept with you I’d become a lesbian”. Not an exact quote, as the film uses a more offensive term, but it falls right into character.
Every horror film requires two things: blood and nudity. The last can be passed on if the plot is good (Scream), but that rarely happens. While the nudity in Camp Dread is tame by most standards, the film does offer up one of the best ejaculation scenes, and it had me laughing. We also get a few, albeit brief, topless shots. The film does love its gore, though, and there are a few great, bloody kills.
Camp Dread was almost everything I wanted it to be. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I wanted a full throwback to the subgenre that I love. I actually viewed the film twice for this review; it holds up really well on a second viewing, and was almost more enjoyable because I had my expectations in check. Hopefully Camp Dread does well enough on the digital market and DVD scene to warrant a sequel because I think they can really do something more with the set up they have created in this first film.