Saturday, January 16, 2016

In short: Campfire Tales (1997)

After a short black and white retelling of the good old tale of The Hook featuring Amy Smart before she was famous, a quartet of youngster (says the old fogey) stumble from the site of a post Iron Maiden concert car crash into some ruins in the woods to await the police. It’s night, and it’s cold, so they soon have a campfire going and begin to tell each other variations of some well-loved urban legends.

First, we follow the misadventures of a honeymooning couple landing in the wrong part of wilderness, then it’s off to a bit of a licking when an early chat room predator makes a house call at a little girl’s home, and in the final story, a motorcycle nomad breaks down close to the home of a decidedly attractive mute young woman, where love and ghosts occur, and somebody loses a head.

Campfire Tales is your classic portmanteau horror movie directed by three directors – Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel – with visible love for straightforward yet effective horror tales. Which, obviously, is pretty much the only way to film urban legends, because these are stories that work much better when they are kept short and simple, with what they have to say about contemporary fears exiled to the realm of the – usually pretty darn obvious – subtext.

Because this sort of tale is quite so simple, it doesn’t lend itself to deep characters or attempts at art-housing it up through the addition of frightening things like meaning, philosophy or thought. Consequently, I’m very unironically happy the directors don’t try that sort of thing with their tales, instead aiming directly and unpretentiously for the small creeps and the decent moments of suspense, keeping their ambitions in check to actually do justice to their urban legend theme.

They’re doing a fine job with that too, ending up with a film that does the single, in theory simple but in practice often quite difficult thing of telling truly straightforward horror tales in an effective and atmospheric manner very well indeed.

In fact, Campfire Tales does it so well, I can even – if somewhat grumpily – accept that it uses the same final twist about forty percent of all anthology horror movies use. You know which one I’m talking about, but honestly, it’s okay here.

No comments: