Monday, April 06, 2020

Camp Cold Brook: A Reality Show Gets Real (Again)

Maybe Network’s Howard Beale won’t be the only TV celebrity to lose their lives due to low ratings. The host of Haunt Squad, a fictional ghost-chasing reality show, is facing cancellation, but he convinces his boss to give them one last chance with a 90-minute summer special. They find someplace super-creepy that has not been trampled by every other paranormal investigation show. Of course, genre fans know what to expect when the crew arrives at the titular summer camp in Andy Palmer’s Camp Cold Brook, which is available on VOD and releases tomorrow on DVD.

Three seasons is a decent run these days, but Jack Wilson, the host (not the jazz pianist), has a family and a mortgage in arears. Through personal charm, he convinces the network head to give them one last chance, claiming they have a line on something big. Of course, he has no idea what that will be, but his shy production assistant Emma suggests Camp Cold Brook, near Wilson’s old childhood home in rural Oklahoma.

The camp has been shuttered since the atrocities and its remote location means it hasn’t been picked over by other paranormal shows. According to lore, a suspected witch caused twenty-eight kids at the Christian camp to go crazy and kill themselves, but she needed thirty to reincarnate her late daughter. Dead kids are always good for ratings, so off they go. It is only supposed to be an initial scouting trip, but weird, uncanny happenings soon complicate their plans.

You probably think you know how this goes—and you will be largely right. Yet, CCB proves how energetic execution and a game cast can still sell a familiar premise. It is hard to figure why the legendary Joe Dante signed up as executive producer and “presenter” based on Alex Carl’s screenplay, but the final product is surprisingly entertaining. The big twist has credibility issues, but the business involving creepy runes inscribed in each camp building is memorable and effective.

Both Chad Michael Murray and Hatchet franchise veteran Danielle Harris are quite strong as Wilson and his ordinarily unflappable producer Angela. In fact, there is notable moment when she takes a rosary out of her bag—it’s heavy because Harris and Palmer do not over-play it. Plus, Doug Van Liew is colorfully grizzled as Sheriff Gorton, in a genre appropriate kind of way.

Admittedly, CCB is not as sly or amusingly chaotic as Palmer’s Funhouse Massacre, but it is slickly professional. The lack of shaky-cam (explained away through the new cameras with “gimbals” used by the Haunt Squad’s obnoxious camera guy) also definitely helps its watchability. It’s pretty good, which is high praise for horror movies, comparatively speaking. Recommended for fans, Camp Cold Brook releases tomorrow (4/7) on DVD and is already available on VOD platforms, like iTunes.