Camp Hell: Movie Review

Camp Hell
by Michael Pickle,

Despite what I say in the following paragraphs; I enjoyed CAMP HELL. A lot. Does it have some flaws? Yes. Is it what the title suggests? No. It doesn't even have many of the elements that make a great horror movie. What it does have is an interesting story, endearing characters, quality acting and a narrative that, while slow at times, pulled me so far into the drama that I didn't care that the name was deceiving or that, while it did have some scary moments, it was almost unrecognizable as a horror film.

Another misleading thing about CAMP HELL is that, despite the DVD cover art, it does not star Jessie Eisenberg. He plays a bit part that is an integral piece of the story, but a bit part nonetheless. The real star here is Will Denton who turns in a stunning and natural performance as the confused, but well meaning Tommy Leary. An innocent young man who is pit against evil forces. He is one of the main reasons to give this film a chance.

The original title of writer / director George VanBuskirk's religious coming of age horror drama was Camp Hope. A title that would have served it much better. The film is heavy, dramatic, tackles some profound issues and is treated in a justifiably serious manner. The supernatural / demonic elements are just a part of that drama, but it's being sold as just the opposite which may turn off some horror fans.

CAMP HELL is based on true events within a Christian community in New Jersey. The teenage children of the community are sent off to Camp Hope. A Christian summer camp deep in the woods where they are sent to share and study their faith. Evil rock music, magazines or youth culture of any kind are strictly prohibited. Any amount of fun is stamped out by the tyrannical camp counselor Christian (Christopher Denham) with ridiculous warnings of God's wrath if the kids don't fall in line.

Bruce Davison is brilliantly cast as Father Phineas McAllister. The camp's charismatic leader who means well, but whose religious scare tactics only succeed in leading the children closer to evil. Especially in the case of young Tommy Leary (Denton). Tommy's parents (played by Andrew McCarthy and Dana Delaney) send him to Camp Hope in hopes that Father McAllister will steer their son's life in the right and Christian direction. The only thing that Camp Hope succeeds in doing is further confusing a young man who has potential and throws him headlong into the very demonic forces that the community desperately tries to steer their children away from.

Upon arriving at Camp Hope, Tommy starts having escalating nightmares that soon manifest themselves into demonic forces stalking him. When Tommy falls for fellow camper, the promiscuous and seductive Melissa (Valentina DeAngelis), it further complicates his stay and gives Father McAllister reason to torment him with accusations and ominous warnings of hell fire that weaken Tommy's spirit to the point where the evil forces threaten to consume him and the entire camp.

"CAMP HELL" is not a horror film for horror fans. It's a sometimes intense religious drama that waits until the final act to introduce the horror elements that it's marketing promises. It may take a while to get there, but if you're a patient viewer and you invest yourself in the characters then you might get a kick out of this charming little film. It's an occasionally obvious amateur production, but the writing and the acting save it from mediocrity. The film has a lot of things to say and a certain level of impact that it wants to achieve and it's not in a rush to get there. I really liked this film. The good outweigh the bad for me, but there are some other flaws besides the misleading name and lack of horror that I had to overlook.

The score and soundtrack in one word. Unfortunate. It might have single-handedly obliterated the potential for this film. The musical score, on some segments, was simply horrendous. Everything from cheesy '80's guitars to typical church organs to melodramatic piano and even smooth jazz were used to create one of the worst film soundtracks I have ever heard. Some segments seemed to be thrown together as a parody of themselves. Some of the orchestration ranged from after school special to sad attempts at religious overtones to B-movie cliches.

It's regrettable to think about the impact or appeal this film could have had with better score and music, but with strikes against it for being marketed and named like a horror genre staple then the music is not likely to turn off that many more people. There's a lot to overlook, but CAMP HELL ultimately rises above its shortcomings to be a solidly entertaining movie-watching experience that had the potential to be so much more.

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