With its backwoods setting, cast of horror veterans such as Danielle Harris (Hatchet II, Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp, Satan’s Playground), and central idea revolving around the making of a slasher film, Camp Dread could have been a fun and interesting throwback to the likes of Friday the 13th, Just Before Dawn and Madman. Sadly, it isn’t. While there is a trace of an interesting idea — the now jaded and embittered cast and crew of an old slasher franchise reuniting under trying circumstances in an attempt to reboot the series, and their careers, filming the process as a reality TV show — it is never really developed. In fact the whole reality TV angle feels tacked on in an attempt to be relevant or topical, but it is never exploited to create any tension or intrigue. It doesn’t matter so much that many deaths occur off-screen, despite the fact that everything is supposed to be caught on hidden cameras, what does matter is that the lead up to each death is completely lacking in tension. When we do see anything, it’s obvious that the effects have suffered due to the microscopic budget, but there’s no excuse for the uneven tone, muddled pacing or convoluted script. Too much time is spent establishing uninteresting characters who remain as undeveloped throughout the story as when we first meet them.
Pitting troubled young delinquents against a marauding murderer (à la Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and, more recently, Wilderness) is an exciting idea, but this particular ragtag ensemble fail to inject necessary drama or suspense. The characters are underwritten and uninteresting and not only do they spout the same sort of inane and uninteresting drivel as their less self-aware 80s counterparts, they all conform to the same basic stereotypes, despite ‘characterisation’ in the guise of homosexuality, mental anguish, issues with addiction, or, in the case of one character, having only one leg. Sure, more often than not characters from slasher films are only there to be killed, and are neither interesting nor relatable, but in the better slashers, at the very least they will appear in scenes of atmospheric peril and tension before they’re dispatched.
Eric Roberts and Danielle Harris, the latter of whom receives top billing even though she’s only in two brief and arguably completely irrelevant scenes, appear in utterly thankless roles and are obviously just here for the pay cheque. Felissa Rose however, manages to have a little fun with her role as Rachel Steele, a washed-up scream queen who retrained as a guidance counsellor. Despite its attempts at self-awareness and reflexivity, it’s as though Scream never existed, and at times the knowing dialogue is painfully awkward; particularly the moments when Roberts and Harris discuss horror films.
Camp Dread tries to offer something original and pass itself off as self-aware, but in trying to be too many things, in the end it is, disappointingly, a rather vacuous and plodding mess.