Monday, April 27, 2009

Campfire Tales (1997)

Reviewed By: Billy

There are a lot of really easy ways to crank out a horror movie script if you're in a rush. Really…we’ve seen them all. For example…

1. “Borrowing” someone else’s idea (see: William Girdler’s Abby)
2. “Borrowing” your own idea (see: Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Trauma, Sleepless, etc.)
3. Padding out the first 15-20 minutes of your story by re-hashing the prior installment (Friday the 13th parts 2-??)
4. Or better yet, chopping up the first movie, re-using the best scenes, and padding it with 15-20 minutes worth of new footage (Silent Night, Deadly Night 2)

Yes, these are all brilliantly lazy methods of cobbling together a screenplay, but one of my personal favorites is the “anthology horror movie.” I mean, really…what better way to fill 90 minutes than writing four or five 20-minute movies and figuring out some lame thread to link them together? It’s basically the movie equivalent of using a larger font in order to stretch out your English class essay to the required 10 pages (and don't pretend you didn't do the 12.5 thing, too).

Anyway…that said, anthology movies can be enormously entertaining. I’m a big fan of Trilogy of Terror II, the made-for-TV movie starring Lysette Anthony which is cornier than the Indiana farm town I grew up in. So I went into Campfire Tales with an open mind. The back of the box describes the movie as a “terrifying cross between Scream and 'Tales from the Crypt'” and upon completion of viewing, I’d say this is a surprisingly close, though slightly too lofty, comparison.

We’ll call it more of a lukewarm mash-up of Urban Legend and "Goosebumps."

Starring one of the greatest casts assembled from TV guest-stars ever, Campfire Tales open with two of its top-billed actors, Amy Smart and James Marsden, in a five-minute scene that will be the only time they ever appear on screen. It’s strange that these two should get such prime real estate on the DVD box, given that a) they have the smallest roles in the movie, and b) they aren’t even really big stars. Oh, well. The real movie begins with a group of teens crashing their car in the woods and promptly gathering around a campfire to tell some scary stories. This is not the action I would take upon crashing my car…but who am I to judge? Among this group of “teens” is Christine Taylor, who has one of the most stellar horror-movie resumes ever (who else can boast credits in both The Craft and Night of the Demons 2? Not to mention the truly horrifying Zoolander…).

Anyway, the first campfire tale revolves around Rick and Valerie, a honeymooning couple in an RV who end up in the middle of nowhere and run into a crazy guy rambling about skin-eating monsters. This crazy guy, by the way, is carting around a large shotgun. Minutes later, the couple realizes someone has drained their RV of gas. So what do Rick and Valerie do? They have sex, and then Rick leaves Valerie alone so he can go find some gas for the RV.

Now…I don’t like to think anyone deserves to die…but these two are really asking for something bad to happen. Their likeability is not helped by the fact that Rick is played by Ron Livingston, who oddly chooses to essay his role with a thick New York accent. Casting Ron Livingston as a tough-talking New Yorker is kind of like casting Linda Blair as the hot sorority girl…something just doesn’t quite gel. Anyway…something bad does happen…and culminates in an ending I’m pretty sure comes straight from “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.”

Anyone from my generation should remember the “Scary Stories…” books, and if you read them voraciously like I did, you’ll actually recognize the endings of every single one of these campfire tales. Yes…each one is actually built around a well-known urban legend (did someone mention lazy scriptwriting earlier?). Tale #2, for example, dresses up the old “people can lick too” story as an Internet cautionary tale. This story, about a little girl named Amanda who strikes up an online chat with a creepy old guy who lives in a dungeon or something, is actually pretty disturbing. In fact, the sight of the predator licking the little girl’s hand is one of the ickiest images I’ve seen in a long time. Or at least since seeing Ron Livingston’s blindingly white bare chest a few minutes ago. The third story brings us Glenn Quinn, the guy who played Mark on “Roseanne,” who essentially plays the same character here. Glenn’s motorcycle breaks down in front of an old house…he meets a strange girl…and, well, her head falls off. Sorry to ruin the ending of that one, but I kind of dozed through the rest of it. I kept hoping Laurie Metcalf would pop up, and ended up disappointed when it didn’t happen.
After the third campfire tale, it’s back to Christine Taylor and friends for one final shock ending. The ending actually didn’t come as much of a shock to me, but I will say it’s well done. It is also, however, extremely depressing. It’s kind of like tacking on the last scene of The Notebook to Witchboard 2…in other words, totally uncalled for. I’m not watching these movies to feel depressed, dammit. I want to be happy about people dying.

Like when the girl’s head rolled off. That was fun.
Anyway, I didn’t hate Campfire Tales. It bears many similarities to the other movies made to capitalize on the Kevin Williamson explosion of the mid-90s…but doesn’t have the enjoyable bounciness of Urban Legend or Valentine. Still, any movie that ends with an updated, grungy version of “Monster Mash” can’t be all bad.



  1. I didnt even make it to the review without cracking up, cant remember if I saw this one or Campfire Stories, either way I dont remember it being anything better than Bloody Murder.

  2. Well, Billy... I was really enjoying the review until I was grossed out by the "old people can lick too" stuff. Come on, man, I don't want to think about that.

    Wait a minute, it's the "old 'people can lick too'" story... That is different. Never mind.


  3. I have never even heard of this movie. Weird.

  4. Carl:
    And I haven't seen "Bloody Murder" yet...too many straight-to-DVD movies out there! I always used to get this movie confused with "Campfire Stories" -- a really cheap one with the daughter from "The Sopranos."

    This one definitely slipped through the cracks back in the late-90s...went straight to DVD. Thankfully, there are about 2,000 used copies of it at every MovieStop I've ever been to.

  5. YES!!! I've actually seen this movie!! Yeah it totally stole from everybody but I did like the last story with the girl and the chocker necklace. the middle story just creeped me out but not in a good way. The first one the girl & guy were just stupid. I'm digging your movie choices. =)