Friday, 15 February 2013

Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre

Director: Dave Campfield
Writer: Dave Campfield
Producer: Dave Campfield, Robin Ritter, David M Brunsman
Cast: Dave Campfield, Paul Chomicki, Felissa Rose
Country: USA
Year of release: 2009
Reviewed from: screener

Confession time. I have never seen any of the Sleepaway Camp films. There have been five of them, well, four and a half. Sleepaway Camp was released in 1983, with sequels in 1988 (Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers) and 1989 (Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland). The second and third films were directed by someone called Michael A Simpson - close, but no cigar - but apparently they’re not considered canon and were ignored when original director Robert Hiltzik (who has never directed anything else) picked up the franchise with Return to Sleepaway Camp in 2008. Apparently he is planning to complete his trilogy with Sleepaway Camp Reunion in 2010.

The half-film is Sleepaway Camp 4: The Survivor which was partially shot (by editor Jim Markovic) in 1992 then left on the shelf until the existing footage was assembled into a rough cut and included in a Sleepaway Camp box set in 2002.

Felissa Rose starred in Parts 1 and 5 and she also appears in Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre, Dave Campfield’s enjoyable spoof of the genre which the series exemplifies. So, while I can appreciate the film’s homage to the killer-stalks-summer-camp subgenre, if there are any specific homages to the Sleepaway Camp films - aside from casting - then I won’t have spotted them. On the other hand, it allows me to confirm that Campfield’s film is entirely suitable for audiences unfamiliar with, or only vaguely familiar with, the Sleepaway Camp franchise.

I have also not seen Campfield’s 2007 feature Caesar and Otto, which introduced the characters. I have seen (and was impressed by) his 2006 quasi-supernatural conspiracy thriller Under Surveillance which was retitled Dark Chamber on DVD. But Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre is another kettle of fish.

The titular characters are an odd couple. Campfield himself plays Caesar, a thin, precious, self-centred, unemployed actor who does nothing all day; co-producer Paul Chomicki is his brother Otto who is also unemployed and does nothing all day, but is fat, not an actor and more amiable if not slightly pathetic. There’s a nice love-hate relationship between the two, through which shines the chemistry of the two actors.

Unable to avoid trouble, Caesar manages to attract the unwelcome attentions of the local Police Chief when he beats up the cop’s mentally disabled brother. Wanting to hide out for a while, the likely lads take jobs at that mysterious staple of American horror, comedy and horror-comedy cinema... a summer camp. While training for the arrival of the campers alongside a bunch of hapless weirdos and hopeless wannabes, C&O meet mysterious femme fatale Carrie (the aforementioned Ms Rose, who gets a co-executive producer credit, whatever that means) as well as camp manager Jerry (Ken MacFarlane, who played a similar role in the first Caesar and Otto film) and imposingly sexy camp nurse Helen (imposingly sexy producer Robin Ritter, a stuntwoman/actress with credits including Star Trek TNG, The X-Files and Buffy) who seemingly has the hots for Otto. Their father (Scott Aguilar) also turns up and soon has his two boys helping him to steal from the other counsellors’ tents.

But it wouldn’t be a summer camp massacre without a mysterious, unseen psycho. One by one the inept victims succumb to the axe. Who could it be?

Really, the plot is just a framework on which to peg the enjoyably silly characterisations. Caesar and Otto are a terrific double act, bonded by blood stronger than the antipathy which pushes them apart. The publicity compares them to a modern day Abbott and Costello which is a bit unkind because Caesar and Otto are genuinely funny. But the comparison with their situation - two comedy guys bolted onto a standard horror plot - is valid.

You know what is great about this film and these characters? They’re losers. American cinema never gives us losers as lead characters, whereas on this side of the Atlantic it’s de rigeur. Otto and Caesar are useless, bumbling, untrustworthy, idiots - but they get away with it by being mostly surrounded by even more useless, bumbling, untrustworthy idiots.

As well as Felissa Rose, genre credibility is supplied by the ubiquitous Brinke Stevens and the even more ubiquitous Joe Estevez, who between them have been in more than 300 movies. Six previous shared credits include Zombiegeddon, Hell Asylum and Dead Things. Also in the cast are Deron Miller (who was a counsellor in Return to Sleepaway Camp), Avi K Garg (Audie and the Wolf), Jen Nikolaus (Good Guys Finish Last), Summer Ferguson, Derek Crabbe (also in the first C&O film), Dawn Burdue, Trai Byers, Lissa Lauria, Keith Bush and Robert McAtee - who played Hugh Heffner in a Roman Polanski biopic!

Executive producer Michael Raso has scores of B-movie credits from 1990s soft porn horror like Caress of the Vampire and Titanic 2000 through the 21st century vogue for sticking the word ‘erotic’ in front of titles right up to a superhero movie that passed me by, IronBabe. The man has produced or executive produced about 75 films with Darian Caine and/or Misty Mundae. Or, arguably, he has produced one film with Caine and/or Foggy Tuesday 75 times. Caesar and Otto’s Campsite Massacre could be his most respectable credit to date!

Cinematographer Christian Voss is a partner with Robin Ritter in - good grief - a Beverly Hills ghost-hunting company called Spirit Seekers Investigators. Ritter claims to be ‘psychic sensitive’ or some such looney tunes. Composer Bruce Kiesling also scored supernatural detective movie Foresight. Special effects were provided by Richard G Calderon (Live Evil, King of the Lost World, Shapeshifter).

Comedy is the hardest genre to pull of at this level of indie production and comedy horror has the added problem that it’s overly easy to fall back on the horror. Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre is cheap and cheerful but it has the tone just right and is a joy to watch. I hope the boys can turn their hand to some other generic situations in future films.

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted18th August 2009

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