One of the positives about living in America is that I am granted this wonderful freedom to decide whether or not I want to sit in a building every Sunday morning and listen to a preacher talk about God, the devil, and the like. It’s pretty straightforward: if I want to hear this, I walk into the building labeled “church”, and if I don’t, I stay away. That clarity is important. With Camp Hell, it’s as if I walked into a sporting goods store on a Friday night, and was forced to sit through an hour and a half long sermon, because all the way from the genre classification to the cover art, the viewer is being deceived.
Oscar-nominated Jesse Eisenberg’s face is strewn across Camp Hell‘s DVD cover, making the potential buyer think that Eisenberg followed up his incredible Social Network performance with a direct-to-video horror film (even though Camp Hell was actually filmed before The Social Network). Eisenberg couldn’t have spent more than 12 hours on set, filming Camp Hell, yet his face and name dominate the cover as if he’s the star. Hell, he even takes up one of the two screenshots on the back of the DVD case. Now I’m not ignorant, and I understand that there are very few rules when it comes to marketing. It’s my job, however, to set the record straight: Jesse Eisenberg is in this movie for less than 10 minutes total. Have no worries, this is not his vehicle to start a career in terrible films.
Instead, Camp Hell tells the story of Tommy Leary (Will Denton), an awkward teenager that has been raised in an extremely religious family. Tommy visits Camp Hope each summer, which is a religious camp where boys and girls become young men and women through the word of God, or more accurately, through the word of Father Phineas McAllister (Bruce Davison). Tommy, who has been having nightmares containing signs of the devil, is starting to question his sanity, and his sexual being. His girlfriend, Melissa (Valentina de Angelis), is also at the camp, and the two of them want more out of their relationship than the camp promotes, which allows this demon in Tommy’s dream all the passage it needs to leave his dreams and take over Camp Hope.
From the description – and the aforementioned misleading cover art – one would expect a horror film. If Camp Hell is a horror film, than something has gone drastically wrong with the genre that I love. Sure, there are demons and some possessions, even a couple pools of blood, but this is little more than an after Sunday school scare tactic. Just because a filmmaker throws in five minutes of creepy moments in a feature film that runs 99 minutes, does not make it a horror film. Aside from the flashing of a demon in the opening 10 minutes, there is nothing in Camp Hell that makes it scary through the first 45 minutes. The audience is preached to about the wrongdoings of society, how God can save, and how masturbating is a vehicle for the devil. Wait a minute. Maybe this is a horror film after all!
The acting performances are overshadowed by the terrible dialogue, and pointless story. Valentine de Angelis is fine as the love interest, but her part is only memorable because she manages an incredible fake orgasm. Eisenberg, who luckily found David Fincher after this, is a great actor, but looks mediocre in his small role here. Bruce Davison and Will Denton are forgettable and lack any kind of chemistry or charisma. Andrew McCarthy, playing Tommy’s father, is a decent actor, but he looks like he is having a miserable time playing this stereotypical role.
There is nothing to enjoy about Camp Hell. It isn’t a horror movie, and Jesse Eisenberg only plays a forgettable minor character. The only lesson to be learned from Camp Hell is that if you dry hump in the woods, a demon will kill a priest. Do with that what you will, and avoid Camp Hell at every opportunity.
This DVD release has below average video quality. A lot of the scenes look like they have a fog that muddies the picture. The colors never pop, and a lot of detail is lost in the dark scenes. There is a day for night shot that looks like the director followed this YouTube tutorial. If you don’t want to watch the video, just know that it looks amateurish. The sound is a bit better, but little is asked of it. It rarely carries more than dialogue, and the occasional background music. There are English and Spanish subtitle options.
The special features include three deleted scenes (1:06, 2:16, 1:29). Two of them are as pointless as 90% of the rest of the film, and one is an interesting scene between Jesse Eisenberg’s character and his sister. I’m not sure why any of Eisenberg’s scenes would’ve been cut out. There is also the Camp Hell trailer (1:40), as well as trailers for Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (1:37), Siren (1:26), Psych 9 (1:47), and a new FearNET series entitled Psychoville (0:32).
There is no reason to purchase this DVD. The main feature is rubbish, the special features are unremarkable, and the A/V quality is mediocre at best. Forgetting Camp Hell even exists is the best route to go, and I’m sure that’s exactly what Jesse Eisenberg is trying to do.
Lionsgate presents Camp Hell. Written and Directed by: George VanBuskirk. Starring: Will Denton, Connor Paolo, Bruce Davison, and Andrew McCarthy. Running time: 99 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: August 9, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.