Today in Rockwood Cinema Review we look at another outdoor-themed movie, the relatively unknown Horror movie, Campfire Tales (1997). Campfire Tales is very much in the tradition of Creepshow, an anthology of many different horror stories in one movie, but has the very distinct look and feel of horror movies at the time in the 90’s (e.g. Scream). However, the title is somewhat misleading, and as the old adage goes, “you can’t judge a camping movie by its wooded cover.” More on that later….
The wilderness, by campfire light, in the dead of night is the perfect environment for telling scary tales. You are out there, exposed and vulnerable to nature. Your fellow companions hanging on the words of a tall tale and, like the slightest sound in the quiet forest, it has the power to stoke the imagination. Just like a stick prodding the illuminating fire. Here, I am of course speaking in cliches and so is Campfire Tales (1997). It asks: “Hey, did you ever hear that scary story about the man with the hook? Or the one with girl who is unaware that the intruder is in the house?” Well, Campfire Tales takes a “stab” at these well-known urban (or in some cases rural) legends and popular campfire favourites.
Again, Campfire Tales is an anthology of horror tales, much like the Creepshow (1982) format, with a collection of short stories that are seemingly unrelated. Each segment made by different directors, although in this case, they are arguably by lesser known directors, Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel.
While, the directors and the movie itself may be relatively unknown, many of the actors are quite well-known from the 90’s/ 00’s. Campfire Tales features many of them here, early in their careers. These collection of sordid tales, are centered around an overarching narrative about a group of four teens, which included Christine Taylor and Christopher Masterson. These teens take refuge by the side of the road to do what? To tell ‘campfire tales‘, of course.
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From the onset there are noticeable similarities to I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scream (1996), aesthetically and otherwise. Get a bunch of teens destined for stardom and put them in the same horror movie (sounds like a “tale” we have heard before). It begins with a story in black and white, “The Hook“, which is a variation of the “killer with a hook for a hand” urban legend. It involves two kids on lover’s lane set in the 1950’s, played by James Marsden (X-men series) and Amy Smart (Varsity Blues) here in her first role, as they come into to close contact with the hooked killer. All the while, they are unaware of how really close they came into contact with a insatiable killer. However, the reveal is pretty anti-climactic. As the story progresses, you wonder why even include it? Except to say, yes this movie is dealing with the stories that everyone has heard. However, it doesn’t totally fit as we move into present era, with no more black and white footage and a totally new narrative.
So, we turn to the present and a group of teenagers, who take refuge in an old ruined and abandoned church, after they run their car recklessly off the road. By firelight and surrounded by the woods they tell each other horror stories, which culminates in these Campfire Tales. So, this sequence, “The Campfire” becomes the over-arching narrative as they relate these tales to each other: “The Honeymoon”, “People Can Lick Too” and “The Locket”.
The first tale the teens recount is one about an RV trip gone wrong, so it fits into the whole outdoor-theme of a Campfire Tale. Historically, urban legends with honeymooners are all too frequent: sometimes its a hotel, an abandoned house. Here, more interestingly, its an RV. Although, it should be acknowledged this isn’t the first RV horror movie. Here, the ‘monster’ is spurned on by the sexual activity of the couple, which seems to happen all to often. Why is that? The monster is not cool with hanky panky, no sky rockets in flight, no afternoon delight (or at night for that matter). Perhaps, it is just that its an opportune moment for the beastie because the couples are distracted. Anyways, “The Honeymoon” is a mildly amusing, mildly scary story, which also features Hawthorne James, a famous African-American actor, who is famous for his roles in Speed (1994) or my favourite, One-Eyed Sam in I’m Gonna Get You Sucker (1988).
“People Can Lick Too”
A cautionary tale about using the internet, which considering the time of the film was actually quite inventive. Considerning that in the mid-90s, the internet was only in its infancy and the world was just coming to terms with what it meant to be interacting on the internet (ie. internet profiles). “People Can Lick Too” is a take on the urban legend of the babysitter and the phone call, here minus the babysitter and the phone call (if that makes sense). Again, mildly amusing and scary but at times lacks clear direction. As we run through the dark, the story seems to narratively run through the dark, as well.
The third story is more or less “the farmer’s daughter” type story, where this young man takes refuge in a mysterious country house occupied by an even more mysterious mute girl, who looks like Shakira. That’s right her lips don’t lie, they also don’t speak.
Conclusion – Campfire Tales (1997)
Campfire Tales is mostly enjoyable. Again, the tales told within have little to do with camping, but rather are told by the campfire. Like most anthology horror flicks Campfire Tales spares you the indignity of having to sit through an hour and a half of any of these stories on their own. Carved down to 15 minutes bits, they are easily digestible s’mores sized bites, as it were. Some of the stories are even mildly amusing. It’s more like TV in that sense, with just enough intrigue to keep you watching. Plus, there are some familiar faces: Ron Livingston (Office Space), Christine Taylor (Zoolander), James Marsden (X-men) & Amy Smart (Just Friends) all here, early in their acting career.
Now, grievances: Campfire Tales seems very aware that it is dealing in cliches, but doesn’t take it further. Not even close to Scream, which revels in the genre, so much to be almost self-consciously, self-effacing. However, it’s not enough to acknowledge that, but to do something different with it.
Listen to “Gimme Shelter” on Cottage Country vol. 2 instead, I guess.
Rock And Roll References In Campfire Tales (1997)
Otherwise, for the sake of cottagemixtape.com, there are some rock and roll connections to the film. The trailer for Campfire Tale features the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter“. However, it is nowhere featured in the movie itself. In fact, there are not many rock tunes featured in this movie, choosing to go with an original soundtrack option instead. In the movie, Christopher Masterson does wear an Iron Maiden T-shirt. At the end of the movie, it features a pretty horrid cover of “Monster Mash“. However, this song is pretty indicative of what Campfire Tales is: a ‘mash’ of narratives, as it were, loosely tied together but still a bit a fun.
Length: 1h 28m
Rated: R (violence, sexuality)
Best time to watch: I would recommend watching Campfire Tales at twilight, early evening. The length of each segment lends well to late night watching but might not be amusing enough to keep you awake. 6pm -11pm, I would say.
All Maiden T-shirt and no Maiden music…
Listen to Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes To Midnight” on Cottage Country Vol. 16: