Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Camp Massacre

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Camp Massacre
Directed by Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor
Deviant Pictures / itn distribution / MVD Visual
129 minutes, 2014 / 2015

Slasher spoofs range from the good (such as Bloody Bloody Bible Camp [2012]) to the bad (A Haunted House [2013]). This one, originally released under the title Fat Chance? Well…

After the seemingly mandatory opening killing during a mandatory full-nude shower scene, we are presented with a behind the scenes story (not found footage, gratefully) of a reality television show called “In for a Pound,” where the winner of $1 million will be whomever loses the most weight in the month of shooting.

Among the group is a few Redneck bullies (one well played by co-director Daniel Emery Taylor – which is not surprising as it was filmed in Marion, ‘Bama), an exceedingly offensive gay stereotype, a jumpsuit wearing paisan from Jersey (Soprano’s reference, I’m pretty sure), an old white rapper self- branded as Two Ton, a Marilyn Mason-type goth named Darc Ness, a Latino who doesn’t speak Ingles, and the nice and shy guy who writes poetry named Jeremy (Nick Huntsman in his first film role, a great horror actor name if I ever heard one). He has a crush on the show’s inadequate nurse, Stefani (Megan Hunt), and she just may be warming up to him – or not – or…

Among the others surrounding this gaggle-plus-three of bears (you heard me) is the sadistic exercise coach (G. Larry Butler, a kingpin in manga voice-overs), an equally sadistic “babysitter” to make sure the contestants stay in line (professional wrestler Al Snow), the also equally sadistic food nazi, Arthur (David Coffin), the also sadistic power hungry host, Warren (co-director Jim O’Rear, in the first role I have ever seen anyone vaping), a New Agey Dr. Phil-modelled doctor, James (Carl Donovan), and the one sane and somewhat professional person on the entire crew, the producer Natalie (Ava Cronin).

Oh, and the masked killer is a wonder, and possibly the funniest thing in the film. Diminutive, with an apron on (food kind, not industrial), and for a mask a bucket from a chicken shack that has two small holes cut out for the eyes.

Using what I call the James Balsamo School of Cameo (meant totally as a compliment), the top liners of the film who are actual “names” are all in it for brief periods, probably available for the day. In this case it’s ex-porn star Bree Olson of Human Centipede III (2015), the above mentioned Snow, Scott Tepperman of the Ghost Hunters International cable show (which I’ve never seen), and classic genre actor Dick Warlock. But that’s not fair, in this case, because most of the cast has a huge screen credit list (though most of them are sort of One Day Shooting appearances, as well).

The idea of the film works well as an homage to the genre, and Independent Film Quarterly’s quote on the back of the DVD box, “It’s The Biggest Loser meets Friday the 13th” is actually quite accurate, but much of the humor falls flat in its reach for the gross (partially melted chocolate bars under man-boobs and a slab of human crap-in-the-face for example). But the SFX, which is appliance rather than digital, is superb. Lots of blood, guts, gore and mayhem, and the using various weapons is amazingly effective.

Also impressive is that I did not figure out who was the killer beforehand, which is rare. I made a guess (though I wasn’t sure why), and was completely off. Kudos on that. Plus there is a fight scene with Snow that is funny and feels somewhat partially improvisational. What drove me crazy, though, was sometimes it seemed the humor outweighed (pun unintended) the reason we are there. For example, the blade of the machete that the killer uses is not only way too thick and looks plastic, but at one point, the killer actually grabs the damn thing by the blade. Purposeful? One would hope.

There are three major issues I had with the film. First of all, there are way too many dialog scenes that do nothing to further the story, and trimming them would have easily cut 20 minutes off the film length. For example, when the two romantic leads yak it up discussing each other rather than the events, it was repetitive and went on too long. Also, the obligatory opening with Olson and two others sitting on hotel beds discussing what to do with the evening just goes oooooooooon; I said to the television, in a British accent of course, “C’mon, move it along, there’s nothing here to see here.”

Speaking of the opening, my second point, other than having Olson there and her do a full frontal nude shower scene, it added nothing to the story, or at the very least was not well explained, other than a reference in the film’s coda (if the directors want to tell me what I’m missing, please feel free in the comment section; and why the scabs?).

For me, the biggest contention in the film, and this is true for many low budget genre flicks, is the bad and overacting is over the wall. Yes, I understand Lithgow did it and got a ton of awards for it on Third Rock from the Sun, but as much as I respect him for his work, I hated what he did in that show. Here, again considering the large volume of credits some of the actors have, I wonder if either there was a lack of commitment, purposeful scenery chewing to add to the “humor” or lack of competency. That being said, there was one standout in the film by a mile, and that was Ava Cronin. Her timing was mostly spot on, and you really got the feeling she was pissed off. When she spits out a line, I bought it. Yeah, there was some facial mugging towards the end, but mostly her scenes were the highlights for me.

So, it’s a mixed bag. The film was shot well, the gore effects (especially in the opening) were totally enjoyable, the sound was really good, the choice of music was enjoyable (my mind has erased the one rap song), the editing cohesive albeit a tad long, as I said, and the lighting was just right so it was easy to see what was going on at night; and then there is everything else I whined about previously. If you know what you’re going in for, though, you may actually find some of the faults charming.

To be fair, I would like to acknowledge that it did win Best Horror at the Dark Zone Film Festival, and was official selections at the Alabama Phoenix Festival, Marble City Comic Con, and the Creative Con.

Take it this next comment or leave it, and I understand why you would, but for a reality show, there really was a lack of cameras around. In fact, it’s only there in one scene. But that’s just me… Other than that and the DVD having no extras except the trailer, the only thing really missing is the Rodney Dangerfield jokes: “He’s so fat, when he sits around the house, he sits around the house. He weighed himself on one of those talking scales and it said, ‘One at a time, please.’ He’s so big, he has his own area code.” Thank you and good night. Try the veal!


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