Campfire Tales (1996)


USA. 1996.


Directors – (The Hook, People Can Lick Too) Martin Kunert, (The Campfire, The Locket) David Semel & (The Honeymoon) Matt Cooper, Screenplay – Cooper, Kunert & Eric Manes, Story – Kunert & Manes, Producers – Manes, Lori Miller & Larry Weinberg, Photography (some scenes b&w) – John Peters, Music – Andrew Rose, Digital Effects – Hollywood Digital (Supervisor – Andrew Mumford), Special Effects Supervisor – Bruno Stempel, Makeup Effects – SOTA FX (Supervisors – Roy Knyrim & Jerry Macaluso), Production Design – Shay Austin. Production Company – Vault/Kunert-Manes


The Hook:- James Marsden (Eddie), Amy Smart (Jenny). The Campfire:- Jay R. Ferguson (Cliff), Christopher Kennedy Masterson (Eric), Christine Taylor (Lauren), Kim Murphy (Alex). The Honeymoon:- Ron Livingston (Rick), Jennifer MacDonald (Valerie), Hawthorne James (Cole). People Can Lick Too:- Alex McKenna (Amanda), Devon Odessa (Katherine), Jonathan Fuller (The Internet Man), Michael Dempsey (Dad), Suzanne Goddard (Mom). The Locket:- Glenn Quinn (Scott Anderson), Jacinda Barrett (Heather Wallace), Denny Arnold (Father)


The Hook/The Campfire:- While speeding along a road, a group of teenagers tell the story of ‘The Hook’. In the story, two teens making out are scared by noises when they hear on the radio about an escaped maniac with a hook hand. However, those telling the story are driving too fast and crash off the road. Building a campfire, they sit to wait until help comes and spend the time telling each other scary tales. The Honeymoon:- While on their honeymoon, Rick and Valerie are interrupted by a crazy man who talks about creatures out there that steal people’s skins. They dismiss him but then their RV breaks down. While Rick goes for help, Valerie is attacked by unseen creatures that surround the camper. People Can Lick Too:- Twelve year old Amanda’s parents go out, leaving her in the care of her teenage sister. However, her sister decides to go out partying, leaving Amanda at home alone. Amanda’s online chat friend turns out to be a stalker who enters the house after her. The Locket:- Scott is riding cross-country when his motorcycle breaks down. He seeks refuge in the farmhouse of the beautiful, mute Heather and the two spend the night together. She warns him that the house is haunted and he fears her father returning with murderous intent on his mind.

Campfire Tales is an effort that was a complete unknown when I sat down to watch. The creative team are all unknowns, it has no name cast – although some of the names present, Chris Masterson, Devon Odessa, James Marsden, Jonathan Fuller, Amy Smart and Jay R. Ferguson, have since gone onto better-known works. The film received little genre press and it was released direct to video (although the end credits reveal that it was originally intended for theatrical release). All of which usually spells low-budget independent horror film. The surprise about all of this is what a good little film Campfire Tales actually is. Occasionally, it has an over-earnest enthusiasm about it but the episodes are all written with originality and intelligence.

The first episode, The Honeymoon, sets the mood particularly well with Hawthorne James’ creepy hunter offering ominous warnings about what is out there: “At least you’ve still got your skins” and neatly spooky images like a pair of hands that mysteriously come up from below the campervan to cover another pair silhouetted against the window inside. That incidentally is all we see of ‘the things out there’. Ron Livingston and Jennifer MacDonald strike up a convincing on-screen relationship and the episode develops a more than reasonable intensity when she is being attacked in the camper alone by unseen forces. There is also a good gory shock ending to the piece.

The second episode, People Can Lick Too, hits similar highs. Just the idea of setting it around a child at home being threatened by a pedophile stalker goes out onto a limb that you can be sure any mainstream effort would feel a little leery about doing. There is a marvelous sinisterness generated to the episode at all times – the cut from the chat room companion asking “Not Scared?” [at being left home alone] to the masked man typing in his apartment and then revealed to be screening camcorder videos of her, and other images like the hand coming up through the dog door or almost right down to touch her head as she crawls into the bushes. The ending wherein comes the title is a real kicker too. Young Alex McKenna gives a highly credible performance.

The third episode, The Locket, is arguably the best episode, although it should be said for an anthology where one is always tempted to pick a best and a weakest, that the competition among all three episodes is exceedingly narrow. The episode contains a particularly strong atmosphere of hauntedness – although it does tip its hand as to the denouement a little too obviously. Jacinda Barrett has a mysterious beauty and the score for this episode is excellent. The final twist ending is the best of all the jolts that comes throughout the film.

The wraparound is well drawn too, with some good characterisations drawn among the four campfire characters. The ending makes it another variant on the final twist of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), which is starting to seem ever so slightly gimmicky by now. The film opens with a black-and-white reconstruction of the urban legend of The Hook, which it then starts to amusingly deconstruct: “Why a Hook? Couldn’t he have had an artificial hand?” One looks forward to further entries from any of Messrs Kunert, Manes, Semel and Cooper.

Full film available online here:-

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