Here’s a cool little flick that takes an interesting approach to the camp slasher but tanks in the end. Harrison Smith’s Camp Dread has a solid premise backed up by wickedly menacing performance from the great Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight). The rest of the characters are really weak, sadly, which drags the film way down for the bulk of its running time.
Eric Roberts stars as Julian Barrett, the director of the cult “Summer Camp” trilogy from the ’80s. His career took a dive in the toilet when word of his negligence in regards to his cast’s safety got out, which led to him being blacklisted by the studios. To resurrect his career, he stages an elaborate reality game show hoax. Under the guise of a rehabilitation program, 10 troubled kids are brought to the summer camp where Barrett’s trilogy was filmed. Cameras are set up all over the place (including inside their private cabins) and if every single kid makes it through the challenges, a million dollars will be rewarded.
Barrett is full of shit, however. He’s really filming this experiment as a “Summer Camp” remake or reboot or whatever. While the 10 campers go for each other’s throats, endure “challenges,” and rub lotions on their ultra fit bodies, Barrett sneers in his control room as visions of dollar signs dance in his head. Eric Roberts (who recently had a terrific one-episode stint on Justified) plays such a good bastard. Barrett is a cocky prick and Roberts really has fun with the role. He’s easily the most interesting character in the film to watch. I didn’t root for him or anything, he’s just such a good actor.
The reality show experiment thing goes along swimmingly for a couple days or so. The kids play that American Gladiators q-tip fight game on a dock and get in some volleyball before they start being picked off one by one. None of the kids are all that interesting though, so I didn’t really care. Out of the 10, only two of them have any depth. There’s Adrienne (Nicole Cinaglia), an insular, meek girl who killed her brother after he raped her for a year and this burly guy who left the armed forces after his brother died. Both of their brothers died under entirely different circumstances, so they manage to gravitate towards each other through some cosmic force. Or just because everyone else is getting killed.
The weakest character is the goth girl, who happens to be a huge fan of the “Summer Camp” series. During the scene where a “therapist” (Sleepaway Camp‘s Felissa Rose) reads aloud all the shit the kids did to get in trouble, she’s got nothing on the little miss goth. Smiling, the girl draws attention to her black lipstick, black gloves, black tights, and goes “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” Like everyone who dresses like an asshole is inherently trouble or something. Maybe we’re supposed to figure she got busted for shoplifting some studded wristbands from Hot Topic, I dunno.
Camp Dread goes through the beats of a typical slasher, but what’s interesting is that Barrett’s true intentions remain cloudy throughout all the impaling and throat gashing. Does this prick expect to sell this as a “Summer Camp” reboot when kids are dying for real on camera? Does he even know they’re really dying? Who put up the million dollar prize money? All this shit keeps you guessing until the final minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the 88 minutes leading up the revelations to be all that interesting or entertaining. Eric Roberts is the only engaging presence, but all of the parts with the kids were flat in tone (I keep saying “kids” but they all look like they’re in their late 20s).
While I dug the premise a lot, Camp Dread blew it on its lousy characters. Roberts is great (as always), but those damn kids were nothing more than stock characters and I didn’t care if they all got killed. Murder the lot of them and serve their guts in the mess hall, it doesn’t make any difference. I think it’s worth checking out as a rental though. It’s an amusing take on the genre, just don’t expect to be blown away or anything and you’ll probably have fun.
Camp Dread hits DVD April 15.
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