October Horror Movie Challenge: CAMPFIRE TALES (1997)


I tend to be an anthology apologist (also known as an anthologist), but with even that slight bias in mind there’s enough to be gained from this shiny-faced portmanteau that is thankfully and generally free of any of the self-referential smarminess that proliferated Gen Y horror in the wake of SCREAM (1996). CAMPFIRE TALES–which is not the one with Gunnar Hansen narrating spooky stories to some kids or the one with David Johansen narrating spooky stories to some kids–uses urban myth as its bedrock, giving little twists to tales that will be all-too familiar to any self-respecting horror hound who thumbed through their share of ghost books as a youngster. The majority of the vignettes are competent, each helmed by a different director and featuring a host of “What ever happened to them?” personalities, with only “The Honeymoon” delving into some Idiot Plot contrivances that entail slaughtering the Helpful Ethnic character when he uselessly stomps around the forest immediately after warning a pair of newlyweds to stay in their RV until sunrise if they want to keep their skin. Truly unnerving in moments is the second story, “People Can Lick Too,” especially as it pits twelve-year-old Alex McKenna against a garden shear-wielding pedophile who sneaks into the girl’s home after posing as a friendly member of an online chat room. Those who are sensitive when it comes to staged animal deaths–particularly that of friendly house pets–are advised to use caution here. “The Locket” is a hoary old chestnut outfitted with new time-warp duds that do little to unnecessarily mask what the creative team must have thought was a goofy stinger, but it’s nice to see it played straightfacedly for the duration. Binding these stories together is a lark of an opener that plays up on that ol’ saw “The Hook” and a wraparound involving the teenagers who are spinning this trio of yarns after they have a close call on the nighttime highway. The punchline of this grim joke is refreshingly delivered, one that takes the time to wink at the audience but is nonetheless played for its inherent tragedy, asking its brash, handsome lead to look into the faces of his friends and confront the gravity of his actions. Now that’s scary.

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