How Cynicism is Killing Entertainment

CAMP DREAD: Eli Roth, Formula and Fans

Venerated film critic Roger Ebert gets the credit with coining the phrase "Dead Teenager Movie" for the slasher sub-genre. When the time came around to doing a new film on the heels of 6 Degrees of Hell, the Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp type of killer film was the last thing on my list.



Our financier wanted a Friday the 13th kind of movie. "Gimme tits, blood and ass" -- all the hallmarks that go with this type of picture. The knee jerk response was, "that's not the kind of picture I want to write, let alone make."
I was then told I would be expected to direct it as well or there would be no deal. Since any indie filmmaker worth their salt will tell you, the goal is to continue working, I agreed to the project, if anything to keep the bills paid and the lights on.
So this is where I could easily be a hypocrite since the overall theme of this blog is against cynical filmmaking. By accepting the terms outlined above for a paycheck, there are few other words aside from cynical that can be used. However I tried to look at it as a challenge and the hope was to possibly do something different, if not the run of the mill slasher Dead Teenager Movie.

Director, writer, producer of Camp Dread (l) and cast and crew at the Philly kickoff screening

It's all been done: the nudity, the over the top splatter murders, the hulking masked maniacs or reverse sex killers...power tools, machetes, chicks smashed in sleeping bags...nothing new under the sun or on the camp ground. As with 6 Degrees, I also did not want to move it into misogyny. I sat down at the computer and tried to do something else but keep the main things the fans of the genre wanted.


Camp Dread released to solid reviews from some of the big publications: Dread Central, Film Threat, Ain't It Cool News, The Horror Honeys and of course the social media would light up with fans and haters alike as they took to Twitter and Facebook to state their opinions.



I wanted to look at one Facebook post because it so defines what Eli Roth once talked of in an interview (his video is here and above) This "review" was posted to the Camp Dread FB:


"Worst film I have EVER seen. Plot makes no sense, characters have pointless stories and to say Danielle Harris stars in it is a joke, 5 lines if that."


When it was suggested this person should see a few more films before judging ours "the worst" this reply posted:


"Don't see why I should watch several other films to enjoy this one but thanks for your irrelevant input there Jay but I'm aloud to have an opinion. Maybe the fact this film page has 700 something likes and actually decent horror movies have hundreds of thousands, millions in fact. Films today should have a bit of depth and realism. Clearly a handful of people now days are easily pleased."

Scenes from Camp Dread and Danielle Harris doing more than her alleged five lines.


Anytime you make something and put it out there you are open to criticism. However Eli Roth makes a point about horror fans. They might be the most myopic group of fans out there. They are so entrenched in the genre they can sometimes become blind to it. They know what they like, what they want and while they say they want something different, most really don't.


This person was told to watch more films. Why? Because you need to know film before you launch your mouth in a social forum. What was so hard about the plot? The reality show thing is a gimmick to the plot and the ending is very clear when the twist is revealed. There is nothing nebulous or confusing.


This person is the kind of "fan" Roth talks about. They wanted their slasher served like a Big Mac. When you order a Big Mac you want it the same whether you are in Philly, London, LA or Bejing. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese is NOT a Royale. Gimme what I want because when I bite into this, it better be what I am expecting.


Roth is talking about that fan that reveres the terrible 1981 Halloween II which we looked at in our look at the reviled Halloween III from 1982. Here is a perfect example of when horror does something different and gets slapped for it by fans who asked for something different, got it, then complained.


Read our support for Halloween III HERE.


This is a great, educated explanation of why Halloween II ('81) is a terrible film:


"The main problem is the film's underlying motivation. Halloween was a labor of love, made by people committed to creating the most suspenseful and compelling motion picture they could. Halloween II was impelled by the desire to make money. It was a postscript—and not a very good one—slapped together because a box office success was guaranteed."  – James Bernardinelli 


Camp Dread gives you the stock slasher characters. They're all here: The slut, the wiseass, the nut job, the jock, the weirdo...yep, all present and accounted for. We give them some dialogue that is expected by the formula. You get the obligatory panties, boobs, shower scenes (we actually give you two shower scenes) and the false scares, cheesy dialogue...the formula is mixed well.


But we don't go all New Coke in our formula change up. We do indeed take a stab at the reality show culture, but the reality show itself is a McGuffin. If you're asking yourself, "what's that?" then you don't know horror and Roth is again validated.



Fans expect twist endings. The staple of the 80s twist ending was the sudden resurrection of the killer in the final seconds of the film. The eye snaps open, the hand moves or the survivor is suddenly snuffed and that worked for awhile. The best horror also works as a social commentary. George Romero's 1979 Dawn of the Dead comes to mind as a critique of our consumerism as well as the redneck, animalistic "civilization" we degraded to.


The issue with the Friday the 13th series is that aside from Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis, there really isn't a single stand out young character audiences remember, let alone care about or identify with. Yes, there's Jason and Mrs. Vorhees, but they're villains. When you think of the constant array of counselors and young folks parading along the death march, few can name character names or really care too much about them.


Sleepaway Camp killer, Felissa Rose all grown up, now a counselor with her campers onset of Camp Dread


There had to be real characters, people with backgrounds and some you're gonna root for and others you hope get it in the worst way. There had to be solid character development and most of all a good story instead of the "kids gather at a camp/cabin in the woods and die one by one." It was not going to be Ten Little Indians with blood and boobs.


I wrote the film for Felissa Rose, the cult actress best known for her mind bending ending in Sleepaway Camp.

I saw that film when I was 15 and it so freaked out my date, she had to rethink our relationship if this was the kind of horror movie I thought was fun. Since then I wanted to put Felissa Rose in a movie and I wrote the part of Rachel Steele solely for her. Thanks to associate producer Joshua Emerick, I got the script into her hands and she took the part and was Rachel in every way I could have hoped.


Felissa Rose as Camp Sunfish counselor, Rachel Steele in a scene from Camp Dread


Casting was important. Danielle Harris is a strong female figure in the horror community. Her role as sheriff Donlyn Eldridge was something different for her and it was hoped that would appeal to her. It did and we locked her in. While there are female victims in Camp Dread,  the guys are up for slaughter as well and the killer(s) may be both sexes. This is NOT a "Binders full of women" horror film concerned with degrading females. In fact it's one of the things we turned on its ear.


Our fan above said she had "five lines, if that." Wrong. Danielle occupies quite a bit of screen time and she is used well. While we sure wanted her in more of the film, time and money dictate otherwise, however as most reviews pointed out, she was used to great effect.


Danielle Harris with Eric Roberts in a scene from Camp Dread


Eric Roberts rounds out the cast as horror director Julian Barrett. His legendary status as an Oscar nominee for Runaway Train, his roles in The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Dark Knight and The Expendables...he was at the top of the list for the role. Roberts laid back LA style, his light Southern twang and his silver fox appeal brought a legitimacy and uniqueness to a horror film like this.


Oscar nominee Eric Roberts in a scene from Camp Dread


Camp Dread  works. If you're a fan of blood and gore, relax...Cleve Hall, SyFy Channel's Monster Man designed and executed the makeup FX. No CGI here, folks. Real, practical makeup gags, lots of blood and violence and all the things fans of the slasher want and will expect.


Cleve "Monster Man" Hall did the makeup FX for Camp Dread


All of the expected things are here but there's more. The slasher film has grown up, this isn't your father's 80s killer movie. Instead it has a slamming take on the reality TV obsession and the Cult of Celebrity and the voyeuristic society we have become. The line between entertainment and reality has never been more blurred...bloody.


Yep...the quasi homoerotic lesbian suntan lotion scene is in and lots more hijinks...and terror.


The film's website: Follow it on Twitter: @campdread


A smart script, solid and detailed performances and top notch makeup effects makes Camp Dread a more mainstream and wide appealing horror that dissembles Ebert's Dead Teenager Movie and approaches the sub-genre from a whole new angle.


So what would you do for your fifteen minutes of fame?








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