Not to be confused with the 2004 horror comedy Club Dread, Camp Dread is a movie that will give you a different impression of what it’s about based on the box art. The tagline suggest that I pitch my tent, which is irrelevant to the film, since they all stay in cabins. Kinda stretching that one for a tagline, but whatever. Films do it all the time, but sure enough, there is a photo of a tent right on the front there. I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking and perhaps I am, but another thing that will come to bother me is the image of Danielle Harris, front and center, as well as her name in eye sight. Hell, there’s even a photo of her on the back, so she occupies a good chunk of the overall box art (even the spine). Don’t get me wrong either, I’m not complaining because she is in the movie, but I won’t spoil it now. As we talk about the movie, you’ll see why it bothers me.
So where do we start? Well, there’s a diner scene with Julian (played by Eric Roberts, turning in the only convincing acting), who plays the director of a fictional slasher movie series called Summer Camp and is now producing a reality TV show based on his horror series and Danielle Harris, is the Sheriff of the small town… and that’s it. I was excited to see her in the role of a sheriff, since it seemed to be something different for her, but this is where the disappointment starts, seeing as after this scene, you won’t see her again for a very long time.
So a reality TV show themed horror movie, sure you’ve seen this before, but there’s a spin. Seeing as these are all troubled “kids” (clearly in their thirties, but this is even pointed out by Eric Roberts that they aren’t kids, but in their early twenties…), mixed up with drugs, violence or what have you, they have two choices; be a contestant on the show and possibly win a million bucks or face time in jail or rehab. To be honest, what would you go with? On a side note, it is pretty cool that this was filmed at an actual camp in the Poconos. Within moments of exceeding frat boy levels of obnoxious, you come to the realization that these are the characters you are supposed to be identifying with and there’s the underlining problem. NONE of them are identifiable. From the insipid prankster, loudmouth idiot who whenever he spoke, I was screaming “SHUT UP!” at my television to the girl whose dialogue pretty much consist of hate filled, vile homo bashing. Now, I know this can be used to set up a loathsome character, but it becomes so redundant to the point where it’s ineffective and comes off as ignorant. To be fair, there are two other kids that are given some back story and would have been likable if the film had given them a little more development. The only other character that is given a sliver of sympathy is a girl who murdered her brother after he was raping her, but by the end of the film, they manage to strip that away from her.
It takes serious talent to set up a character with that kind of back story and still make them unlikable by your film’s finale. Wait, is talent the right word?
Julian invites his old producer, John, out to be a part of the show and to bury the hatchet. You see, Julian was notorious for disregarding his actor’s safety and John blew the whistle on him, which in consequence got him black listed from ever directing again. Of course John flies first class to tell Julian off and doesn’t partake in this project. Also joining Julian is Summer Camp actress turned counselor (yeah… quite a coincidence), Rachel, played by Felissa Rose. I was happy to see her come back, but disappointed with how little she is used in the movie and by that I don’t mean she isn’t in it enough, I mean they don’t use her character for much. Come to think of it, they don’t do that with any of the characters in the movie. Like I said, some of them are given a back story or a skill that could be intricate to the plot, but it’s never utilized, because the film makers would rather raise the body count. Hoo-f***ing-ray.
That’s all it is from here… just watching characters die, one by one. The film even drops the ball in this department, often shying away from gore, never really showing much or paying off with its kills. Although some of the kills are creative, such as a prosthetic leg being used to bash someone’s head in and killing another character with a decapitated head. So there is that, but even then it hardly feels worth it. While people are getting picked off, you see Julian has an ulterior motive, a secret plan, but it doesn’t come as a surprise, since you see it coming from the beginning of the film. The killer is exactly who you think it is, certain characters turn on each other the way you thought they would and Eric Roberts is more sleazy than he leads on to be, just as you expected. Speaking of not coming as a surprise, we have a predictable twist ending to get to…
And just when you were thinking, “Hey, wasn’t Danielle Harris in this movie?” She pops up at the end to unconvincingly tie up the predictable, tired and cliched ending you were really hoping the film wasn’t going for, although it was evident it would, as the movie falls apart in the final act. Well, thanks anyway, Ms. Harris. Your check is in the mail.
For the majority of its run time, Camp Dread walks that fine line of a good bad movie or just bad… and during the final act, it leaps way past that line. This is a film that plays it safe, never taking any risks by sticking to the same predictable cliches you’ve seen done to death and are bored to tears with. It’s almost frustrating at moments when you realize the alternate route they could go in terms of the story and you so badly want it to, but it never does. It tries to push itself at times, trying to be “in your face,” with homophobic bashing and shocking you with potential rape, but it all comes off as annoyingly mean spirited. There is a huge difference between shockingly offensive, controversial and seeming ignorant. This is something the movie can’t seem to figure out, most likely due to the one dimensional, meat headed, bigoted characters, that all seem to be those stereotyped Jersey Shore jock types (because that’s exactly who the majority of any audience wants to spend a 90 minute movie with…). You can’t just have several characters spew out dense, childish homo-bashing lines and expect it to flesh out a character, especially when all of your characters are despicable to begin with. And that’s where one of the major flaws of the movie is; there are too many characters and all but a few are sympathetic, not that they do anything with them anyway. Which brings up another issue… there are WAY too many characters. Camp Dread opts for more characters to increase a body count, rather than a few well developed, solid characters to focus on. It’s a story with too many unlikable, selfish characters with absolutely no character or anything to round them out as a human being. They are just slasher fodder. I can’t tell you how sick and tired I am, or a good population of the horror community for that matter, of horror films that set up horrible, unlikable characters for the sake of getting killed off in the name of a body count. This is a movie will fall into the void of forgettable dime-a-dozen slashers.
It’s frustrating because although this plot is so generic and uninspiring, there are moments where if the filmmakers had taken a risk, it could have been something unexpected and possibly good. It often teases something scandalous, like a lesbian sex scene, but never goes that route. It’s a film that really wants to shock you with sex, violence and imagery, but it comes off as annoying instead. Like those vegetarians that have to constantly remind you they are a vegetarian and scoff and get upset when there aren’t more vegetarian options at places to eat. It really pains me to experience what I felt while watching this film, because it sounded interesting, but alas, just a diarrhea wolf in sheep clothing. Overall, there isn’t much to be offered here in terms of story, gore, nudity… nothing to really give fans anything they want, unless you are looking for a shameless body count. Perhaps you should go to space camp instead.
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Watch the trailer for “Camp Dread!