Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: B. Harrison Smith
Writer: B. Harrison Smith
Producer: Brian Gallagher, B. Harrison Smith
Stars: Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris, Joe Raffa, Nicole Cinaglia, Ashley Sumner, Montana Marks, Gnomi Gre, Alexander Mandell, Davy Raphaely, Angel Valerio, Kyle Patrick Brennan, Angel Sanchez, Brian Gallagher, Felissa Rose
Ten participants in a reality TV show created by a former horror movie director discover that a real killer is on the loose in their camp.
Without the presence of Eric Roberts and Danielle Harris, “Camp Dread” would still be recognizable as a typical cabin in the woods teen slasher, although it would be nearly unrecognizable as a professionally made feature. A wrinkle or two in the story and a few isolated moments keep interest in the movie somewhat level, but it is frequently a demanding duty to look past the clumsy technical side of the production.
Eric Roberts is Julian Barrett, a fallen from grace director whose trilogy of “Summer Camp” horror movies made him a film industry titan in the 1980’s. Barrett now plans to remake “Summer Camp” by using a phony reality show as his template. Thinking they are contestants on a TV program with a $1,000,000 prize, ten troubled twentysomethings are forced to participate in a murder mystery boot camp when they are actually storyboarding an improv script for Barrett’s new movie.
There is also a $1,000,000 prize for any viewer who can remember just two of these ten characters’ names once the movie is over. With a premise set around a fictional 80’s horror franchise, it would be logical to think “Camp Dread” might employ stylish homage or in-jokes capitalizing on the genre-related scenario. Instead, the stereotyped cast of hotheaded jock, chubby goofball, slutty hot girl, brooding loner, and the rest of the ho-hum lot really are just clichéd characters and not clever takes on genre tropes.
Worse still, the ten of them are all on the brink of jail time, rehab, or some sort of institutionalized punishment for abhorrent behavior up to and including murder. It basically makes every single one of them a rotten person who is impossible to have any sympathy for, and thoroughly annoying to be around for 95 minutes.
When it comes to his B-movie appearances, Eric Roberts is hit or miss, with more performances falling in that latter category as opposed to the former. “Camp Dread” is actually one where Roberts brings exactly what the role calls for as he slides effortlessly into the part of a filmmaker past his prime, but still cagey enough to bare his fangs at the talent while asserting his authority. Roberts is in the right mood to give the part weight as well as casual slyness, though the written material lets him down by not providing any creativity to let him, or anyone else for that matter, truly shine.
“Camp Dread” is guilty of the old dangled carrot con of casting a fan favorite whose screentime is grossly disproportionate to his/her billing. Empress of the modern scream queens Danielle Harris has her face on the cover art, her name above the title, and second billing as a star performer. Yet her two inessential scenes clock in for a total of barely a tick over four minutes.
It may be an oft-used tactic to draw fans to a film, but it is also a great way to jilt everyone who leaves feeling misled. Low-budget indie horror films have to be forgiven for doing all they can to draw an audience, yet when so much of the production is rough-edged, you have to question if that budget chunk allotted for Harris’ day rate should have been spent polishing up the film’s underachieving look.
Particularly glaring is the shoddy color timing. Temperature and skin tones change mid-scene on a regular basis. Some exterior shots look like they take place at different times of day, not because they were shot during different hours, but because the color balance is inconsistent.
The film has a composer, but there are long stretches where music is sorely needed, yet conspicuously absent. The script and the cinematography already have their work cut out with creating mood. Noticeable silences only add to the flat feel and lackluster atmosphere.
Cleve Hall’s special effects are disappointingly uninspired. Kills are created with a number of bland setups including the old dangling eyeball gore, a barbed wire garrote, and one guy even dies boringly by eating a poisoned sandwich. A gag involving a severed head and a slingshot is meant to be original, but it comes across goofily and at a time when the movie has already exhausted all hope of committing something memorable to the screen.
Considering the terrible dialogue, milky visuals, and lacking attention to detail, the 11th hour unexpected twist and reliable performance of Eric Roberts in the lead are too little to take “Camp Dread” out of mediocre territory and qualify it as good. When so many other horror films with similar scope display so much more ambition, dedication, and commitment to putting forth a quality effort, giving “Camp Dread” a pass for being merely okay simply does not feel fair.
NOTE: “Camp Dread” was originally titled “Dead.tv.”
Review Score: 50