AUGUST 22, 2011
As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised Catholic. Not strict, but I went to church every Sunday (actually usually Saturday afternoon) and on the Holy Days, and 8 years of Catholic school. Never had much of an issue with it beyond the clothes, and even continued going to church for a while once I went to college and thus didn’t “have to”. I didn’t switch religions or have some sort of epiphany - I just sort of let my obligations drift away, not unlike how I stopped watching The Simpsons. Missed it once or twice, got used to it, and before you know it it’s been like a decade since I went to mass. Sorry, God/mom. But anyway, I think that should make me an ideal viewer for Camp Hell (formerly Camp Hope), since it doesn’t seem to really take a stance for or against religion.
Now, they’re marketing this thing as a horror movie, and while I don’t have a problem qualifying it as one (there’s a demon lurking around), what I found most terrifying was the idea that these places exist as depicted in the film. I mean, I know some forms of Catholicism are stricter than others, and that these religious camps can be found pretty much everywhere, but are they THIS strict (read: insane)? I get that they teach kids about the importance of abstinence and require them to pray seemingly every other hour, and even when one of the counselors finds/destroys one kid’s "Spawn" comic book, I figured it was within the boundaries of what they actually do (since Spawn is actually from Hell and depicted as a hero).
But then a kid has to apologize for listening to Journey, and he is reprimanded. I’m sorry: JOURNEY? The band whose big hit is called “FAITHfully” (not a religious song, but you know what I mean)? If they wanted to condemn the idea of listening to evil rock music, why pick one of the least offensive rock bands of all time? Even fucking Train is more hardcore. Marilyn Manson or even Metallica would have been at least somewhat understandable, but by name-checking Journey, I suddenly realized that the filmmakers were possibly depicting the religious folks as the evil ones.
And then throughout the film I remained confused as to whose “side” the filmmakers were on. It’s a “Christian horror film” so you assume that the movie exists to promote and maybe even recruit folks (youths, specifically) to religion, but even The Exorcist makes a stronger case for the importance of having religion in your life. Hell, the only character in the film who is seriously harmed (catatonic, in fact) is the priest! Bruce Davison is the head of the camp who tells the kids that they’ll go to hell if they masturbate and all that good stuff, and even though he never does anything against God, he ends up being “fouled” by the demon and basically left for dead. So it’s anti-religion, then? Make up your mind, movie.
It certainly couldn’t possibly inspire any kid to pay more attention in church, let alone devote his life to his beliefs the way some of the older characters do. At one point our hero Tommy has to apologize for making out with and dry humping his girlfriend (well, I guess friend that is a girl, for these yahoos) to his very religious father (Andrew McCarthy, for some reason), who tells him that he is disappointed in him and he will burn in hell or whatever. I’m sorry, but if I told my dad that I brought a girl to orgasm when I was 16, I think he’d buy me a beer, and he didn’t even drink! But jokes aside, it doesn’t make it look like a very fun or even worthwhile way of life, since they pretty much keep you from doing anything fun (they’re not even allowed to go to a carnival). Nor does it seemingly present any sort of cautionary tale – Tommy does these terrible things (this is the most vivid dry humping I’ve ever seen in a movie, I think, the girl even comments about his now sticky pants) and then the demon takes out the priest and leaves him alone. Then he renounces his faith and throws his bible out the window. So uh... win-win, I guess? No demonic possession, and no more waking up at 7 am on Sunday. What is the drawback? I could see if he renounced his faith and then got run over or was diagnosed with instant death cancer or something, so the movie could just be a giant “You see what happens when you go against God!” message, but the movie seems to suggest God would rather you just enjoyed your life as long as you weren’t doing anything too terrible.
Oddly enough, the girlfriend is named Melissa and played by actress Valentina de Angelis, who played a Melissa in yesterday’s Bereavement. Oddly, both films were shot in 2007 and have been on the shelf for a while as well. I like to think that it’s actually the same character; after her shameful dry humping escapades that got her kicked out of Camp Hope, she was ostracized from her family, and moved on her own to a small town in neighboring Pennsylvania (this movie takes place in Jersey), where she got a job at a shitty diner while working toward completing high school. And thus, God, much like Final Destination’s Death, finally caught up to her and used his mysterious ways to have her killed for her sins. That or it’s just a weird coincidence.
The DVD case prominently features Jesse Eisenberg and even puts his name above the title, even though he’s only in two scenes (actually one scene and a shot) and never even sets foot in the titular camp. He’s another kid who has “let the demon in” and is thus all messed up (so now we’re back to “Believe in God... OR ELSE!” land), and Davison, who visits Eisenberg in the mental institute before heading off to camp, believes that the same thing is now happening to Tommy. It’s pretty obvious that this thing is just seeing release now thanks to his newfound fame, but the funny thing is that it’s actually one of his more unique performances, in that he’s not playing a snarky, “smarter than everyone else” type of guy (it’s closer to Donnie Wahlberg’s performance in Sixth Sense, if anything). Good to know he CAN actually play other types of roles, just a shame we had to learn about it in such a silly, pointless flick.
His abbreviated 2nd scene is presented in full along with two other, wholly worthless excised bits featuring more praying at the camp, as if the movie didn’t have enough as it was. The only other extra feature is a trailer, which misspells Dana Delany’s name and shows pretty much every horror shot in the film. It also employs the “Heavenly gates” version of the Lionsgate logo, whereas the film itself goes with the “Dungeon/Hell” version (so even the damn logo can’t decide which side the movie falls on). Sadly, there is no commentary or making of where first time director/writer (but longtime producer) George Van Buskirk explains just who in the hell he was making this movie for, exactly, because I swear it exists solely to be made fun of by people like me. You hardly need a movie to convince a regular person that extreme religious beliefs can endanger people, and any random pamphlet you find on the ground outside a ball game or concert can do a better job of promoting a particular faith. Camp Hell seems to suggest both things are true, and thus just wastes the time of a bunch of good actors.
What say you?