This isn’t a snipe hunt! Seriously! Then again, maybe it is… but with Camps of Horror, you never know until it’s too late.
So pitch your tent, roast your weenie, and watch out for the guy behind you with an ax to grind, as we explore Camps of Horror. We’ll look at the tried and true, from Friday the 13th to Sleepaway Camp, to a few places your parents failed to leave you for the summer.
This is your last bit of fun before the lights go out, the place gets quiet, and you start to sleep when you hear that branch break outside. Yeah, you know what’s coming next with Camps of Horror, and it ain’t pretty!
This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:
@loveandmonsters @vitotrabucco @palkodesigns @THETomSavini @GorillaProducer @WeinsteinFilms @stycks_girl @GrumpyOldRick @JohnnyVeins @Felissa_Rose @nicolemalonso @JonnyTiersten @OklahomaWard @IjasonAlexander @RonGizmo @dkarner @fastelk @AtlantisKane @MelanieMcCurdie @RealRonJeremy @d_m_elms @Scream_Factory @FriscoKidTX @RSBrzoska @dixiefairy @MachineMeanBlog @LoudGreenBird and Paul J. Williams
I was having dinner with a good friend the evening of July 16 when I heard the news. As most folks do these days, my dinner guest and I occasionally glanced at our phones to check notifications and create replies on social media during our meal. Don’t judge. We’ve known each other for a long time now, and we’re comfortable that way. At one of her Twitter checks, my friend turned to me and said, “Some big horror person named George has died.” The name that automatically appeared in my head and from my lips was, unfortunately, the correct one. The father of the modern zombie apocalypse, George A. Romero, had passed away at the age of 77 after a brief battle with lung cancer.
It wasn’t long before the Twitterverse exploded with tributes, all well deserved.
Contrary to many kids of the 1970s and 1980s, my first encounter with Romero’s work was not an airing of Night of the Living Dead on late-night independent television. I believe the first Romero movie I ever saw was 1982’s Creepshow, the EC Comics tribute collaboration with Stephen King. I think I saw it in a hotel room while on a trip with my parents. The hotel in question just happened to have HBO – I believe that it was HBO, anyway – and that particular night HBO just happened to be showing Creepshow. I was both amused and terrified, and I think that might have been the point that I became not a fan of Romero, but of King.
I am ashamed to say that I learned little about Romero in the years after I first saw Creepshow, aside from what I later read in a mass market paperback edition of Stephen King’s 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre. I don’t know whether I should attribute that to my own teenage horror fan laziness, or the fact that Romero was routinely shafted and rebuffed by the larger film industry, so I was less likely to notice him. It was not until I started college in the very early 1990s that I first saw the original Night of the Living Dead. I believe I saw it on an episode of the Joe Bob Briggs B-movie showcase Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater, back when it aired on The Movie Channel, which was Showtime’s other cable property at the time. Briggs aired Night of the Living Dead as a double feature along with the 1990 Tom Savini remake of the same name, bookended by interviews with some of the original cast.
Over time, Romero has developed an enormous iconoclastic reputation in horror filmmaking, and his films have been dissected over and over as social commentary. Although I was of college age the first time I saw the film and attending a liberal arts university, I didn’t at first get the apparent 1960s subtext of Night of the Living Dead. I grew up partially in the me decade, so I suppose my natural instinct at that time of my life was to try to make the films I watched somehow about me. And so it was with Night of the Living Dead.
My early college days were a dark time for me. Yes, the United States was engaged in the first Gulf War, and rushing headlong into an economic recession. However, above all that for me was the fact that I knew my childhood was officially at an end. In my youth, I doubt anyone could ever have accused me of wanting to grow up too fast. I was happy being a kid. At the time, my impression of being a grown up meant nearly killing yourself every day to make ends meet, feeling like you were a failure at family, and being angry all the time. I figured that was no way to live a life, but I could also see no way out of that eventuality. I knew that once I graduated college, the immediate expectations for me would be to nail down a comfortable salaried job, start a family, and buy a house. It was the American dream, yes, but it wasn’t my dream.
Watching Ben and Barbra board up that old farmhouse while the apocalypse shambled toward them, ready to eat them and their futures alive, felt like a metaphor for my existential crisis in those days. I was Ben and Barbra, furiously attempting to maintain a small pocket universe of normal by closing up any portal to the outside world I could find. I was building walls where walls were not supposed to exist to keep out the reality that was ever so slowly closing in on me from every side of my simple little existence.
If I wanted to extend that metaphor today, I would add that attempting to build such walls is useless. The world scrambles over those walls. In Night of the Living Dead, it comes through in emergency broadcasts on the radio and the television. It breaks through even more forcefully with the arrivals of Harry, Helen, Karen, and Tom, the extended emergency family of Ben and Barbra, who bring with them their wants and desires that are antagonistic to the dream of preservation pursued by Ben and Barbra. They are united in their desire to keep the dangerous world out, yet divided as to both the why and the how of it.
“That cellar’s a death trap,” Ben says when Karl insists on squirreling his family away in the lowest portion of the house. It turns out to be prophetic for Karl and family, but not for the reasons Ben fears.
After I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time, I immediately wanted to watch it again. Fortunately for me, I had recorded that episode of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. Not only did I enjoy both versions of the film over and over again while I was in college, but I returned to that tape many times in the years after I graduated. Perhaps I wanted to remind myself of what I had been so afraid of turning into back then. Maybe I wanted to tell myself that turning into what I feared is still and always will be a genuine danger.
I haven’t owned a working VCR for many years, but I’m pretty sure I still have that old VHS recording of Joe Bob’s Drive-In stored in a drawer somewhere. I’d love to dust it off again in memory of the man who, unbeknownst to him, helped me face some genuine fears in my past.
Thank you, Mr. Romero. The horror-loving world’s everlasting gratitude might not be enough to make up for the shaft you got from the film industry many times over, but in my heart, I do hope you understand what a difference you made in people’s lives; in mine, anyway.
Rest in peace.
(Photo of George Romero from Geek Tyrant. Photo of Isaac Thorne from the author.)
Crash Analysis Support Team:
He’s the author of several short tales of dark comic horror. He’s a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Over time, he has developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. His collection of short tales of dark horror, Road Kills, will be available in both paperback and ebook formats in October of 2017.
George A. Romero brought the world a new kind of ghoul in 1968 with his seminal film, Night of the Living Dead. Since then, the social conscientious independent went on to write, produce, and helm many films around his adopted city of Pittsburgh.
Romero wasn’t just an indie filmmaker, but a career maker for some and an inspiration to others. We’ll look at this renowned gentleman and his life, and his work from the remainder of his “dead” series, to Martin, Creepshow, and more.
Horror lost a beloved director and master of the genre on July 16, but we extend our condolences and very best wishes to his family and friend because they lost much more.
I’ve only done one interview for THE LAST KNOCK podcast, but it was very special: back in early 2014, I spoke with Jessica Cameron, who was on a promotional kick for her directorial debut, Truth or Dare. I knew of her status as a prolific, hard-working actor and rabid adherent of the genre, but it wasn’t until I spent a fast-moving hour with her (via Skype) that I realized I was in the presence of a promising new horror filmmaker.
Truth or Dareis not without its flaws – which I’ll get to – but it also does a lot of things very well, considering the limited setting, cast, and resources. It’s hard to keep a feature-length movie confined to a single location interesting and exciting, but Cameron finds a way.
True to its title, the film doesn’t flinch from horrible things – it’s also so saturated with screams, shouting, and agony that my neighbors probably thought someone was being murdered in my apartment.
Other than some fleeting comedic asides and a satirical element that recalls the likes of Natural Born Killers and Funny Games, Truth or Dare takes its extremes seriously. The setup, however, is pure Saw territory that evolves, with mounting dread, into the no-(wo)man’s land found in the latter Human Centipede films.
The plot is simple: a group of friends gain online notoriety by staging “truth or dare” videos with simulated life-or-death consequences. During a local talk-show interview, the group is confronted by crazed fan Derek (Ryan Kizer), a screw-loose nutcase unable to discern fiction from reality. On the night of their latest recording session, the friends find themselves taken hostage by this obsessed fiend, who escalates the stakes by revealing everyone’s hidden secrets.
The script (by Jonathan Scott Higgins and Cameron) knows its audience, and aims squarely for the horror discomfort zone: while the initial “truth”-telling by the reluctant participants comes across as a string of contrived tabloid behaviors, fetishes, and misdeeds, the actors are committed to making these details pay off in ways both visceral and emotional. Late in the game, when a mutilated and brutalized (but still breathing) character is shocked into consciousness by a bucket of her friends’ blood, Cameron has reached a level of degradation that few horror filmmakers ever achieve. It ain’t pretty, but goddamn if it isn’t effective.
The flaws of Truth or Dare are mostly innate to the setup…and, in a weird way, could be subliminal strengths. When the reality of the game settles in, the performances take a little time to find their proper footing – sometimes the hysterical reactions are overdone, while others don’t resonate enough. There are also moments where characters, free from their constraints and armed, could conceivably get the drop on Derek, but do not (though by the time this happens, everyone is implicated and chugging along with the game’s twisted logic). And as the emcee of the festivities, Kizer (invoking a cross between Charles Manson and Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Monkeys) is charismatic, albeit the type of deranged fan we’ve seen in many films; he acquits himself well as someone you love to hate, but also whose presence outstays its welcome.
But if the intent was for the viewer’s experience to reflect to characters’, Cameron has succeeded in spades.
The consistent surprise, in addition to the character-based revelations, is the film’s unflinching embrace of bloodshed. Carrie Mercado’s practical effects in Truth or Dare are stunning in their in-your-face brutality, and the actors convey every wound with disquieting conviction – the violence here is not “cool,” but closer to the messy, handmade gore you’d experience in, say, a Jim VanBebber film. Throughout, I also found myself thinking the effects were a spiritual heir to the pioneering extremes of Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Once the credits rolled, I was convinced of Cameron’s skills in front of and behind the camera, and in watching the supplemental interview footage on the DVD, was reminded of her genuine affection for the genre. Truth or Dare is a very distinct calling card that bodes well for her future directorial outings (including the Tristan Risk-starring Mania) – I can’t wait to see what horrible things she brings us next.
What’s Jessica Cameron up to now? A lot! Get the details at her website.
(Truth or Dare is available on DVD from Invincible Pictures, and digitally via online retailers.)
Without technology, the western world would be living as if in the Dark Ages. To imagine life without a microwave, a personal computer, or a cell phone would make many souls break down in tears. However, if horror cinema has taught us anything, it’s that the things we love to cling to for ease or safety are illusions – and can be used against us at any time.
So join Billy and Jonny as they look at terror technology from Nightmare Weekend and Unfriended to Chopping Mall and Hardware – and other Frankensteinian like creations from metal, plastic, and such. Now, pat the top of your computer, treat your car to some air freshener, and don’t you dare turn your back on your wide screen television, and listen in…
Ron Shaw is a writer, author, poet, podcaster, retiree, husband, father, and the man behind Ron Shaw Media. We discuss his latest horror novel, “Uya” and its Native American origins besides bigfoot, ducks in trees, land sharks, and the haunted Victorian trunk in his garage.
Take a look at Ron’s tremendous body of work at his author’s page on Amazon, and don’t forget to follow him on Twitter.
Another interesting mix of horror with M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter. We’ll explore what works, what doesn’t, what’s cool, and what’s a far cry from worth watching.
We’ll discuss if Night’s slipping even though he’s returned to making “smaller” films. But is Oz Perkins’ star rising? Both films have received mixed reviews, but for horror fans, The Blackcoat’s Daughter seems to have an edge. We’ll weigh in, and don’t forget to share your views in the comments section.