Harrison Smith impressed with his script for 2011’s The Fields, following on from that Camp Dread is his directorial debut. Set around a summer camp reality show incepted and run by Julian Barratt (Eric Roberts), the writer and director of a classic slasher franchise. A group of young adults are brought to the location of the original films to participate in a reality TV competition; last one standing wins a million dollars.
Camp Dread is obviously supposed to be an entirely different kind of film but it shows none of the narrative promise or solid character found in The Fields. If this is indeed a hark-back aimed at contemporary media and youth then it has taken itself far too seriously. The deaths should have been practical and graphic, at least inventive, instead they just seem to happen. The camera work should have been ingenious, at least the product of consideration, instead it seems distracted and unsure. Felicity Rose (the fantastic Angela in Sleepaway Camp) should have been given a far more interesting part as should Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5, Stakeland). Also why hide the identity of the killer? Why not have Roberts flip his lid at the twenty minute mark and run screaming into the woods, hell-bent on eviscerating his band of delinquents? The film seems to lack the courage to apply itself in either direction: serious horror or B-movie comedy.
Camp Dread does show potential. Eric Roberts appears for a good portion of the film, playing it pretty straight but still finding room to be preposterous as hell and give the film much needed pizazz. Genre star Danielle Harris gets top billing but receives only a few great minutes as the local sheriff. This is the rhythm of the film: to set up nostalgic images then squander them on boring characters and uninspired set pieces.
But then again, perhaps Smith has purposefully left his characters and narrative futile in some kamikaze assault on Hollywood horror. Maybe the cold distracted camera work is a comment on the dissociative effects of reality television. Maybe the lack of creativity in the deaths comes from similar commentary, even Roberts purrs at one point, ‘That would be funny if that were funny’ seeming oddly prophetic on the state of the film itself.
A disappointing film because it’s not that bad, Smith clearly has things he wants to talk about. Roberts improves the film drastically and the OTT group of youths is so barmy that they can be pretty enjoyable to watch. When it comes to summer camp horror, I’d sooner recommend The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, or Friday 13th.
Dir: Harrison Smith
Stars: Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris, Felissa Rose, Joe Raffa, Montana Marks