Anyone hoping for a teen gore-fest will be disappointed, but lovers of leftfield cinema should definitely have this film on their radar.
Applying horror elements to a neo-con milieu, Camp Hell bears some resemblance to Mitchell Litchenstein’s notorious gnashers-in-her-gash chiller Teeth. It shows the dangers of an overdeveloped sense of sin and points the finger at repressive ideologies.
Arriving at a Christian fundamentalist summer camp, sensitive asthma-sufferer Tommy (Will Denton) soon experiences the temptations of the flesh courtesy of teen hottie Melissa (Valentina de Angelis) receives stirring lectures on Christian virtue from the white-bearded Father Phineas (Bruce Davison) and gets lessons in non-conformity from the camp's one and only free-thinker, Jack (Connor Paolo) Also? He becomes convinced that he’s being persecuted by a demon.
Before long, evidence mounts to corroborate this wild theory. The chapel is desecrated. One of the other boys poops in his trousers when Tommy lays his hands on him in prayer. Strange, communal dreams reduce the female campers to hysterics.
What sets writer/director George VanBuskirk’s quirky, unconventional low-budget debut above and beyond Teeth is that it’s an extremely fair-minded piece of filmmaking. Tommy's supervisor, Christian (Christopher Denham), is an absurd figure who confiscates Spawn comics and lectures the boys on the dangers of rock music and 'hell phones', but he’s also caring and competent in a crisis.
Father Phineas is kindly and compassionate, the sort of preacher who can fill pews with his warm personality. Which makes it all the more shocking when he calls Melissa a whore for stepping outside with Tommy after dark.
In a sly way, VanBuskirk is vitriolic towards fundamentalist Christian values, but he portrays the holders of such views with sympathy and understanding. The young actors all give sincere, natural performances. Denton and de Angelis are touching for their sweetness and vulnerability, Christopher Denham underplays expertly, while Bruce Davison – that ever-reliable Hollywood veteran – glows with conviction as Father Phineas.
Anyone hoping for a teen gore-fest will be disappointed, but lovers of leftfield cinema should definitely have this film on their radar. Unsettling, unpredictable and often charming, Camp Hell has the makings of a minor cult classic.
At a glance, seems like another cookie-cutter horror in the Friday the 13th mould. But wait...
An unexpected and individual take on sin and the devil by a director who – shock horror – actually has something to say.
Fine performances, a thoughtful script and a maturity of directorial insight raise Camp Hell head and shoulders above most films with 'Hell' in the title.