Camp Dread (2014) **1/2
D: Harrison Smith
C: Eric Roberts, Felissa Rose, Joe Raffa, Nicole Cinaglia, Danielle Harris, Montana Marks, Davy Raphaely, Brian Gallagher, Gnomi Gre, Ashley Sumner, Angel Anthony Marrero, Susan Moses, Kyle Patrick Brennan,
Plot Synopsis: The "Summer Camp" horror trilogy was one of the most popular franchises of the 1980s. However, the decade ended and so did director/writer Julian Barrett's career. Now Barrett has a plan to resurrect "Summer Camp" in a modern reboot that entails using a reality show as its template and source of fundraising. Should it succeed Barrett would once again be at the helm. Bringing together an eclectic group of young "contestants" as well as his former stars Rachel Steele and John Hill, Barrett seems to have put together a sure fire recipe for success. Then people start dying. For real. And "elimination" takes on a whole new meaning as "Dead.tv" clearly shows the slasher film has grown up.
Review: Most horror fans are going to watch Camp Dread either, because it is another variation on the summer camp slasher films that they grew up watching and / or for the casting of either Eric Roberts, Felissa Rose or Danielle Harris. Now the question is, does the film deliver?
In a way, the answer is both yes and no. As a summer camp themed slasher, fans of the genre will probably feel disappointed by the lack of on screen gore, but in my opinion, horror is not about gore. It's about suspense and in that regard, there are some suspenseful scenarios in the film. In regards to the reality show elements, some of the commentary is spot on. Some of it's even thoughtful, but some of the more sensational aspects, such as a death scene involving a decapitated head being heralded towards someone, cheapen the film.
As for the film's three headliners, Eric Roberts turns in a competent performance, but is miscast. You see, Roberts plays a ruthless film director hoping that this reality show will give him another chance at glory. Roberts has that showy kind of personality that you would expect of a public figure, but what the film needed was someone that captures the idea of a character who has seen better days and is willing to do anything and everything to get back to where they once were. Imagine someone like Christopher Lee playing this type role. An actor in his vein would be more fitting to capture that ruthlessness that the role required and would have brought more nuance to the part. Eric Roberts casting, which I'm sure brought marketability to the film, brings it down a notch.
As for Danielle Harris', her screen time is pretty much limited to the beginning and end of the film. She turns in a solid performance. It's not the kind of role that would stand out in her filmography, but she does justice to the material. And finally, there's Felissa Rose. She, perhaps, had the most difficult role in the film. She's a washed up film star looking for another chance to be in front of the camera, but at the same time, she does care about the kids that she is supposed to be counseling. The campers are WOW'ed that they are getting to meet a legendary scream queen, but at the same time, they don't take her seriously as someone that is supposed to be counseling them on the issues that they face.
Felissa Rose not only looks the part, but I was genuinely surprised at the subtlety that she showed in capturing the various facets of this character. I was also surprised by the sincerity of her performance. I genuinely felt like this was a person who cared about wanting to help people, but is not only trapped by their past, but is also trapped by that part of them that wants to relive their past glory.
In my opinion, I think a lot of scream queens kind of coast along on the good will that they established earlier in their careers, but Rose is different. I often find myself surprised by her. I remember that show stopping presence that she showed in Return to Sleepaway Camp's finale and that maniacal laugh of hers that was so incredibly piercing. I remember that ethereal kind of presence that she brought to a small role in the finale of Horror. I even appreciated her as a gun totting bad ass in Silent Night, Zombie Night. She's shown real variety and she's a better actress then she's given credit for.
That gets me to what I appreciated about Camp Dread. The supporting cast really has something that intrigued me. I appreciated that the film tried to bring depth to such a wide variety of characters, instead of treating them as cardboard cutouts. I appreciated how these characters got to share insights into who they are. There's one scene in which a former athlete talks about the accident that not only caused him to lose his leg, but his girlfriend as well and how he's haunted by what happened. In another scene, a character talks about the brother that abused her, but how her family still resents her for defending herself against him. Or another, in which a gay camper and a straight camper share a cabin. At first, the straight one feels animosity towards her gay roommate, but as they get to know one another, the two of them end up clicking and the straight / gay thing falls by the wayside.
That leads me to my overall dilemma with Camp Dread. I found these characters, their backstories and the actors that play these characters to be a breath of fresh air. I didn't know who any of these supporting actors were other then the film's three headliners and yet I was completely won over by them. A part of me felt honored to see such promising talent in the place that I least expected it. On the other hand, I wished that these supporting characters and supporting actors, including Felissa Rose, were in service of a film that had been better thought out. [Not Rated] 94 mins.
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