In writer/director Harrison Smith's Camp Dread, Eric Roberts plays a director named Julian Barrett. In the eighties, Barrett's three Summer Camp films were riding high on the slasher movie craze and racking in money hand over fist. When the craze finally wore out its welcome, however, the downtrend took Barrett's career along for the ride.
When we meet up with him in the modern day, however, Barrett is excited to be bringing back his classic horror trilogy in hopes of finding a new audience for his work. To make this happen he's going to bring it all into the present day by using a reality show to find its contestants and to bring in the funding that he'll need to get it moving. Barrett brings in a cast of hot young talent, all of whom have been sent to participate on the show because they've done one thing or another to annoy their parents, to draw the eyeballs of people that matter to the project. The concept being that these guys will be on site to slove a murder mystery that plays out in the camp for a chance to win a million dollars. Barrett also brings back the two stars of the original films, Rachel Steele (Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp fame) and John Hill (Brian Gallagher), for good measure. So it would seem things are off to a great start for Barrett's comeback, right? Right! Until someone starts killing off his cast members. There's a foxy local sheriff on the scene (Danielle Harris of Halloween IV and Halloween V) but it looks like things are going to get a whole lot worse for Julian's reality show contestants before they get better… but there's something wrong with the whole concept here and maybe a few of the contestants will figure out before they get the axe.
Shot on location at an actual summer camp in The Poconos, Camp Dread gets full marks for authenticity in terms of its setting at least, even if it doesn't really jive all that well with the whole reality show idea that is at the core of the movie's concept. The movie starts off reasonably well, it introduces us to Barrett's character and sets up the ‘twisted film director' concept making us think that maybe this'll play out somewhere along the lines of Fulci's Cat In The Brain. It never gets that inspired, nor does it get that insanely gory (though it does, to its credit, feature some decent gore effects). It also fails to really do much with the reality show idea. It's mentioned, it's set up, and then once the kills start it's more or less tossed off to the side in favor of some mildly amusing stalk and slash scenes full of characters we don't really care about.
Danielle Harris, as lovely as she is, doesn't have a whole to do here and her top billing on the cover is misleading in that she's really only got a glorified cameo here. Know that going in if she's the reason that you're drawn to this. Eric Roberts is the real saving grace here. He's quite watchable and at times unusually likeable in the role. He has a weathered appeal to him here, we have no trouble at all buying him in the role. Felissa Rose is also decent here and she gets almost as much screen time as Roberts does. The supporting cast? They're all pretty disposable, but at least the girls are cute.
In the end, this one never quite reaches its potential. There was the chance to do something a little more off the beaten path here, maybe make some sort of statement about the way that talented filmmakers can and are treated by a fickle public and how that affects them. It doesn't happen. We get some okay scenes of suspense and gore and nice photography for a movie made without major studio backing but the story, unfortunately, falls a bit short. It's not terrible and it is entertaining but it isn't really all that memorable.
Camp Dread is rolled out onto DVD in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. The movie, for the most part, looks fine so long as you keep in mind that it was obviously made on a modest budget. Shot on digital video there's obviously no print damage to note and the colors used throughout the film are reproduced nicely, if not particularly consistently (some shots look quite a bit bolder and brighter than others that look a bit washed out). There is some crush in the darker scenes and some minor compression artifacts that plague scenes with heavy blacks but outside of that this movie looks fine on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the disc is also fine. The levels are well balanced and there are some occasional instances where well placed directional effects are used nicely. Bass response isn't overwhelming but your subwoofer will spring to life when the movie calls for it. Dialogue stays clean and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.
No extras, just a menu and chapter selection.
Camp Dread is moderately entertaining, bolstered quite a bit from a fun performance from Eric Roberts even if Harris is underused. Throw in a few good kills scenes and you can almost look past the fact that it's all fairly predictable. As a tribute to the slasher films that obviously inspired it though, it's okay. The DVD looks and sounds fine but it's about as barebones as they come. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.