In the 1980s, Julian Barrett (Eric Roberts) was the filmmaker behind the successful Summer Camp trilogy of slasher films. Since then, however, his career has been in serious decline. With rumors of a potential Summer Camp reboot, Barrett sees a chance to reacquaint himself with Hollywood, and sets out to film a reality TV proof-of-concept for a new direction to take the series, under the expressed hope it will enable him to get the gig.
Enlisting his two former embattled Summer Camp stars, John (Brian Gallagher) and Rachel (Felissa Rose), for the endeavor, Barrett tricks a group of troubled teens into thinking they’re going to be attending a rehab outward bound camp. When they arrive, he informs them of their true roles. Instead of rehab, or jail, they are to be contestants on a reality show based loosely on the Summer Camp franchise. A “killer” is loose at the camp, and the contestants have to go about getting the camp ready for opening while avoiding being, say, stabbed with a fake machete or shot with a paintball gun. The one who can survive until the very end will win one million dollars.
B. Harrison Smith’s Dead.tv tackles the slasher genre while seemingly also making statements on both horror reboots and reality TV. Really, though, most elements in this film play as misdirections for the true motives, which I’m happy to say I didn’t always see coming. Yes, people die in horrible ways, but the why isn’t as cut-and-dry as initially suspected.
Eric Roberts sinks his teeth into the role of Julian Barrett, playing the type of casual a*****e that is truly a snake, if you’re not paying close enough attention. His calm demeanor barely hides a morally bankrupt soul, and Roberts delivers a dangerous and tyrannical nonchalance that is fun to watch. I wish we’d spent even more time with him than we do, because the rest of the cast, save Felissa Rose’s Rachel, are pretty much just stock slasher fare.
There’s the Psycho (Joe Raffa), the Quiet One (Nicole Cinaglia), the Sexpot (Montana Marks), the Comic Relief (Davy Raphaely), etc. We’ve seen their types brutalized or doing the killing in many a slasher before, and while everyone plays their role well, and there are attempts to give some characters more depth, it is pretty clear who will be living the longest, sapping some of the suspense from the film. It makes sense in that they were assembled since they fit that character mold, and Barrett is a director of slasher films, and a mean-spirited one after his years of being blacklisted, but it doesn’t always make the time with them all that interesting. Not bad, just can feel like treading water sometimes.
Not that the kills in the film aren’t interesting. There are a few pretty notable moments that I’m not going to spoil here, but they’re gruesome and perfectly depraved. If nothing else, all other variations or narrative gimmicks aside, the film does deliver on the kills, if not always the suspense.
And that’s what nudges it higher than medium fare for me, the creativity and execution of some of the kills. Beyond that, I thought it was a solid slasher flick in general, though the pacing is slow early on and the work with the reality TV setting up a reboot for a long-forgotten filmmaker had much more potential than I think it delivered on. At the same time, though, aspects of that scenario falling by the way side make perfect sense when the entire film is taken into account, so whether I like how things were handled all the time, I can’t deny that they made sense within the world the filmmaker presented.
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