Friday, 15 February 2013

Camp Blood

Director: Brad Sykes
Writer: Brad Sykes
Producer: David Sterling
Cast: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Joe Hagerty
Country: USA
Year of release: 1999
Reviewed from: UK VHS (Film 2000)

From Film 2000, your sign of cheapo-cheapo crap, comes a film which even that label should be ashamed to release. Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that we may have found a feature-length motion picture even worse than The Blair Witch Project.

Comparisons with The Blair Shit Project are inevitable. Both films involve a small group going into the woods, both were shot at least partly on cheap video tape, both cost about five bucks to make, both are as short on artistic talent as they are on technical skill and neither is even remotely scary or entertaining. Sadly, the makers of Camp Blood didn’t think to create a ludicrous hype around their film which would enable it to make a huge profit by having a strong opening weekend in each territory before being killed off by word of mouth.

No, these chaps just sold their film to a bargain basement video label and left it at that. And you know what? I don’t hate Camp Blood as much as I hate Blair Witch, because although it’s rubbish, I wasn’t the victim of a con. I expected a not very good film; maybe a tad better than this, but still my expectations were low. Also, although I have just wasted an hour and a half of my life, at least my only monetary outlay was a quid to a charity shop.

The story is formulaic in the extreme: five young people in an isolated situation being killed off one by one, the murderer being a non-speaking lunatic wearing a rubber mask and toting a machete. To see how this cliché can nevertheless produce a worthwhile film, check my review of The Pool. To find out how bad it can get, read on.

Steve (Michael Taylor: Lethal Seduction) and Tricia (Jennifer Ritchkoff, also in a David Mamet movie!) are the sensible couple. He owns a hunting knife, manufactured by his grandfather and handed down via his father, though it looks like it was bought yesterday. Jay (Tim Young: the actor who was in Scarecrow, not the carpenter who shares his Inaccurate Movie Database entry) and Nicole (Betheny Zolt: Alien Arsenal, Serum) are the slightly crazy ones. He loves to swear at people on his mobile phone, she goes hiking in a mini-skirt, both are prepared to make out at the drop of a hat.

In a prologue we see Sally (Meredith O’Brien) and Vic (Vinnie Bilancio, who wrote, directed and produced Azira: Blood from the Sand after handling both sound and cinematography on Stephanie Beaton’s Evil from the Bayou, and can also be seen in Things 3, Tales from the Grave, Witchcraft XI and Blood Gnome) out looking for a rare bird, the Aquarius anthropophagous. Sally recounts facts about this thing, of which there are “only a couple of hundred left in North America”, as if reading them from a text book. I have never ever met a birder who refers to birds by their scientific name in casual speech and, while the name may be a great in-joke for fans of old video nasties, anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of Greek knows that ‘anthropophagous’ means ‘man-eating’. So they’re looking for a man-eating bird. Good start.

At this juncture, and indeed on a few other occasions, it did cross my mind that Camp Blood might be a very silly spoof of crappy slasher movies. I eventually dismissed this theory on the grounds that I only laughed in about three places and I don’t think I was supposed to.

Anyway, Sally hears this bird midway through making out with Vic, and he promises to go and photograph it (even though he doesn’t seem to know what it looks like). While attempting to get a picture (using an SLR with a standard 50mm lens!), he comes face to face with a guy in a clown mask who kills him. And then attacks Sally.

We are introduced to Tricia as she reads a newspaper with the headline ‘Famous wildlife photographer killed’ rather inexpertly added by sticking a piece of white paper on the front page. Presumably this refers to Vic. Tricia recounts to Steve how a woman has gone missing (presumably this refers to Sally) at Camp Blackwood - which is where they are off to with their pals Jay and Nicole. From this we can surmise that Vic’s body has been found but not Sally’s. Subsequent events will suggest that no police investigation is happening around Vic’s death and that no-one is searching for Sally. Or possibly the film-makers just decided to forget about the prologue.

Actually, we do see Sally one more time. Two comedy relief hunters, Gus (Ron Ford, director of Dead Season) and George (Tim Sullivan, director of Eyes of the Werewolf), with only one rifle between them, find a blood-caked but still breathing Sally lying in a stream and are promptly decapitated by the Clown. Why did he not kill Sally straight off? Who knows? Who cares?

So anyway, Steve, Tricia, Jay and Nicole head off for Camp Blackwood. Soon they are in the middle of nowhere, with Jay unable to even get a signal on his mobile phone, and only the houses clearly visible through the car windows give doubt to the believability of their isolation. On a lonely road they encounter a mad old guy named Bromley Thatcher (Joe Hagerty: Deadly Scavengers, Witchcraft IX and XI) who warns them not to go to Camp Blood and, if they do, to beware of the Clown.

The quartet arrive at the campsite, identified by a wooden sign on which the word ‘blood’ has been painted over the word ‘Blackwood’, about an hour late and are annoyed to find that their guide, Harris, is not there. So they trudge off into the woods themselves. Here we see one of the many, many problems with this script, which can never decide what it wants to be. Are they going trekking in the uncharted woods, requiring a guide to avoid getting lost, or are they going to stay at a clearly marked location named Camp Blackwood? I don’t see how they can do both and, to be honest, they never look like they are more than about twenty yards from a main road.

Harris turns up and proves to be a girl (Courtney Taylor: Sins of the Night, The Dragon Gate) which annoys and surprises Jay even though he is the one who spoke with her on the phone. She carries no tent but the others have small bags and Nicole carries a large, impractical (but clearly empty) case. Nevertheless when they set up camp (“It’s getting dark,” observes Harris as the sun beats down from a cloudless sky) two tents appear from nowhere and later Steve turns out to have an acoustic guitar with him. It must be a spoof, surely...

Suddenly it is dark and our five characters are sat around a camp fire telling ghost stories. Harris recounts the tale of Stanley Cunningham (presumably an in-joke reference to Friday the 13th producer Sean S Cunningham) who discovered his girlfriend doing the nasty with some other fellow: we see this in flashback, with Ivonne Armant (allegedly Placido Domingo’s granddaughter!) as the girl, Randy Rice as the boy (a name so obviously pseudonymous that I wonder whether that is actually writer/director Brad Sykes) and the camera as Cunningham’s POV. Armant’s character is identified, incidentally, as ‘Mary Lou Maroney’ which is the character that Courtney Taylor played in Prom Night III.

As the narrated flashback continues, we see Cunningham, replete with clown mask, march the two lovers into the woods and kill them with a machete. Why is he wearing a clown mask? Who knows? Who cares?

After a night spent making out in their tents, the two couples awake to find Harris dead, her head and shoulders charred and unrecognisable in the remains of the camp fire. And so we come to what we were expecting all along which is a series of very tedious attacks by the Clown on the foursome, killing them off one by one.

The Clown is a pretty crappy killer, it must be said, with body language that suggests he has better things to do than make low budget horror films in the woods. He generally moves at a slow jog; faster than the Mummy but still easy to run away from. At one stage he threatens Steve who then chases him away, leading to a desperately unthrilling fight among some rocks, several of which have unexplained and unreadable white writing on them.

To comply with international law, there is a single female survivor (not too difficult to work out who that will be) who makes it back to the car where she encounters Thatcher, who initially tells her that the Clown is just a story made up by the locals to scare folk away (what locals? they are supposedly in the middle of nowhere) and then tries to kill her, assisted by the Clown who is unmasked as...

Well, frankly if you can’t work that one out, you’re living up a very tall tree. The Clown actor is credited as ‘Shemp Moseley’ (presumably a joint tip of the hat to the The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) and it is clearly not the actress (oops) who plays the named character under the mask, not least because with mask in place she is about a foot taller. In fact it would appear to be a role played by whoever was on set that day and didn’t have much to do.

A lengthy epilogue finds Tricia (oops) in a mental hospital (represented by a couple of white painted wooden flats) where the doctor, nurse and policeman talking to her are played by the actors who were Steve, Nicole and Jay. Once again, the script tries to cover two mutually exclusive bases. On the one hand Tricia is accused of murder because she did actually kill Thatcher and Harris (oops) and the authorities think she killed her friends too, but on the other hand the recasting of actors makes this a Caligari-esque framing story which means that everything else was in her head and nobody was really killed. Oh, and the Clown comes into her room with a machete as a final ‘shock’ that makes no sense whatsoever.

I don’t like to be overly critical and I try to find something good in everything but Camp Blood is dreadful. God bless Brad Sykes and his cast and crew for having the wherewithal to make a feature film but something like this should never be shown in public, let alone sold or rented for money. This is amateur hour, a home movie with pretensions, the Dad-can-I-borrow-the-camcorder school of film-making. I mean, good luck to Sykes and producer David Sterling for finding somebody who would distribute this, but shame on the person who paid good money for the rights.

Jeff Leroy is credited as cinematographer and editor; his other credits include Witchcraft XII, The Bagman, The Crawling Brain, Near Death and, as director, Hunting Season, The Witch’s Sabbath and Creepies I and II. But quite what he did with the photography on this film defies explanation. I have no objection to low-budget films shooting on video tape but this seems to have been shot on the cheapest tape possible and then given some bizarre ‘washing out’ of the colour that renders backgrounds almost monochrome and gives all the characters pale green skin. This is probably a result of the bargain basement 3D process that was used to film some or all of the film; apparently there is a stereoscopic version available in the USA though Christ only knows why anyone would want to add extra dimensions to this rubbish.

Film 2000’s video box manages to omit Leroy’s name from the credit block, listing Sterling as editor and DP and not citing a producer. Music is credited to somebody called ‘Clark Ely’ on the box which may or may not be the real name of the person/group named Ghost who gets the on-screen credit. Just to make the packaging special, the sleeve blurb changes from past tense to present tense halfway through. Apart from special effects artist Justin Nelson (The Coven) there are no other credits on screen or sleeve and I suspect that’s because no-one else worked on the film.

Producer Sterling was ultimately responsible for pretty much every film mentioned in this review so far. This was the first film from writer/director Sykes after a spell as an effects assistant on a couple of Brian Yuzna pictures (The Dentist II and Progeny) and another as production assistant on a couple of Charles Band films (The Killer Eye and Phantom Town). Incredibly, he followed this with Camp Blood 2 in which Ritchkoff returned as Tricia (just to confuse matters, the 3D version of the first film uses the sleeve artwork from the second one). However, he has since directed at least a dozen films which are not Camp Blood sequels, including B-Witched, Witchcraft XII, Demon’s Kiss, Scream Queen and Lord of the Vampires. Though I haven’t seen any of it, it’s reasonable to assume that his more recent stuff is better than this.

To be fair, it’s not badly directed and some of the acting is quite reasonable. But the characters are one-dimensional (even in 3D), the story makes no sense and the film piles cliché on cliché. It’s not as bad as The Blair Witch Project - nothing could ever be - and at least it doesn’t have pretensions of adequacy like, say, The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Rock’n’Roll Musical. It’s just unremittingly cheap-looking and boring and pretty much guaranteed to disappoint anybody who buys or rents it.

MJS rating: D
review originally posted 13th September 2005

No comments:

Post a Comment