Camp Blood
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Brad Sykes
Keywords: horror, slasher, low-budget
Country: USA
Actor: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor (a non-famous one), Tim Young, Betheny Zolt, Courtney Taylor, Joseph Haggerty, Meredith O'Brien, Vinnie Bilancio, Ron Ford, Tim Sullivan (also non-famous), Ivonne Armant, Randy Rice
Format: 73 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 6 September 2012
One of the most shocking horror films I've ever seen... because it got two sequels. I nearly fainted at my computer on reading that.
I'm being flippant, of course. The movie's a waste of time. It isn't shocking unless you'd been expecting something good and rotten vegetables should be thrown at anyone trying to quote my opening line out of context. Essentially it's a home movie. Imagine something halfway between a small independent film and what you'd get from children playing around with their parents' camcorder. You can't miss it. Every frame of its 73 minutes screams at you, "This isn't a proper film." It's easy to sneer at Full Moon Entertainment and The Asylum, but there's a chasm between them and stuff like this. It's the difference between professionals and amateurs.
It tends to be the credits that give it away, I find. The font always looks wrong on these garden-shed productions. I don't know why, but it does. (He says, only having watched a few.) The film will have been made by the writer/director and a few of his mates over a summer's worth of weekends, yet you can feel the desire to do "normal"-looking credits instead of, say, a 1930s-style intertitle.
Two sequels. Unbelievable. You'd assume this film's distribution was limited to a few home-made DVDs for the cast and crew, but apparently not. In fairness I watched it.
All that said, I should judge the film on its own level. It's not Avatar, obviously. It's not even Troma. However as a silly way to waste 73 minutes, it's passably entertaining.
The film gets its worst acting out of the way immediately. A girl with big boobs is leading a man through the woods and giving us porn-level dialogue delivery. Within minutes, they're having sex. Brad Sykes knows a cheap horror film needs nudity. Enjoy. This is impressively shameless and the camera spends plenty of time showing us what we want to see. Just don't expect the rest of the film to look like this, because none of the other actresses will be getting their tits out.
Four minutes into the film, a clown appears with a machete. Here begin the horror movie cliches, unless you regard them as having already begun with a sacrificial couple going off alone into the woods to have sex and get killed. Thus our clown rigs up a sight gag that isn't particularly convincing even in the Halloween films it's been borrowed from. Why haul the body up a tree in the first place? Why does it then flop back down with such convenient timing? How did he manage to set it up so quickly in the first place? Don't ask. Anyway, soon the film needs new protagonists.
These are provided. They are Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young and Bethany Zolt, all of whom are sort of okay acting-wise and have made a few appearances in other things. Almost everyone in this cast has been in other films, for what it's worth, even if we're talking about titles like Rat Scratch Fever, Werewolf in a Women's Prison and Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood. (Quite a few were in the latter, it seems, which means I'll be seeing them again because that came out in the year 2000.) What's interesting here is that the interactions of our four new protagonists are quite good. They're not brilliant, but there's a modicum of characterisation and some sparky relationships. Young is playing an obnoxious, swearing idiot who'll order his girlfriend (Zolt) not to chew gum or paint her nails because of the smell... while he himself is smoking a cigarette and refusing to wind down the car windows. However he's got lots of money, so she stays with him. Meanwhile Ritchkoff and Taylor are trying to sort out a rocky relationship.
They also have a guide, Courtney Taylor, who's a tough-as-nails woodsman who doesn't care whether or not she's mistaken for a man and tears Young to shreds when he tries to bully her. Taylor actually did a fair bit of acting in the 1990s, apparently, and she's okay. She successfully creates a character and even can convey subtext when her character's lying.
This lot are okay. Not brilliant, but inoffensive. Ritchkoff tends to look sullen, but that's okay. Unfortunately there are also cameo characters who either aren't trying to act or else are doing some kind of distracting crazy performance that means they can't even walk along a road convincingly. Joseph Haggerty, I'm talking about you.
That's the first half of the film, before the clown returns in earnest. It appears to have been shot in random locations on a camcorder, but it's still a lot better than it might have been. The main distractions are: (a) all that non-stop kissing suggests a mental age of fourteen, (b) "Stanley Cunningham" + "Camp Blood" = Friday the 13th references?, (c) Chekhov's knife, (d) silly show-off effects in the flashback sequence that make it look like a music video, (e) the moment at the 38-minute mark where the film loses dramatic impetus so completely that it briefly becomes a home video. People move around on-screen. That's it. That's all we're looking at. They're doing outdoor stuff, but they might as well have been saying "cheese" and waving at the camera for all the difference it made to the narrative.
The second half of the film is slasher chase-and-kill. The transition from (a) to (b) doesn't really work and the film lost me for a bit, but it gets it back later with some rather nice touches. I like Sykes's ideas for spicing up this hackneyed material. Sometimes it's even amusing, e.g. the scene where two characters start fighting while the clown walks up behind them and waits. There are some twisted plot developments, a rather cool Last Survivor fight, twists involving the clown's identity and an unexpected epilogue that goes in a different direction again. Sykes gets his actors to play double roles, which on one level is a Garden-Shed Production Decision but on another level adds a reality-bending subtext that fits the material.
The movie also encourages you to think about what's going on. Attention is drawn to the fact that the clown has a real face under that mask, so you start wondering about his identity and discover that the film has provided you with quite a few red herrings. I'd actually rejected the correct answer some time earlier because of... um, better not say. Spoilers.
The sequels, in case you were wondering, are Camp Blood 2 (2000) and Within the Woods (2005). They're also straight-to-video, to no one's surprise. Looking them up on imdb, Camp Blood 2 sounds like more of the same but Within the Woods is apparently a more professional production.
Is there any reason to watch this? Not really, unless you like boobs and even that's only the first five minutes. However it's not worthless. It's better than it looks, despite having VHS-level picture quality, inconsistent audio and clearly no access to professional lighting. Anyone watching this will be sifting for the nuggets that might, in a parallel universe, have been built up into a good movie... but they're in there. The slasher movie stuff is more inventive than most slasher movies, even if it's still firmly in the usual framework. The characterisation isn't original (e.g. Young's character is both the Prankster and the Annoying Cock), but at least it has some. By normal movie standards, it's terrible and you shouldn't consider watching it. However by its own lights, I think it did pretty well, considering.