Rockwood Cinema Review: Campfire Tales (1997)

Today in Rockwood Cinema Review we look at a relatively unknown Horror movie, Campfire Tales (1997). Which is very much in the tradition of Creepshow but with the horror revivalist style of the 90s (e.g. Scream). Since, Rockwood Cinema Review is all about “outdoor movies” (cabins, cottages, camping, etc), it works but judging by the cover, it’s not exactly what you think. More on that later….

“Deep In the Woods. No One Can Hear You Scream.” The tagline is a bit misleading. Sorry :/

The wilderness in the dead of night is the perfect environment for relating scary tales. You are out there, exposed and vulnerable to nature. Words, like the slightest sound in the quiet forest, can stoke the imagination, just like a stick prodding the illuminating fire. I am talking here in cliches, of course, 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.

Campfire Tales is an anthology of horror tales, much like Creepshow (1982) format, with a collection of short that are seemingly unrelated stories by different directors. Although, these stories are arguably by lesser known directors, Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel.

Christine Taylor (“Zoolander”, “Wedding Singer”) and Christopher Masterson rockin’ an Iron Maiden T.

While, the directors and the movie itself may be relatively unknown, the actors are quite well-known from the 90’s/ 00’s era. Many of them here early in their careers. These collection of sordid tales are centered around a group of four teens (including Christine Taylor, Christopher Masterson) who take refuge by the side of the road by campfire to tell these tales.

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, they are unaware of really how close they come into contact with a killer with a hook. 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 and a totally new narrative.

So, we turn to the present and a group of teenagers, who take refuge in an old abandoned church, after they run their car recklessly of 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 Honeymoon”

Ron Livingston (from Office Space, Band Of Brothers) living that RV life with Jennifer Macdonald.

The first tale is about an RV trip gone wrong, which fits into the whole outdoor theme as well (if not for the movie, for our website). Urban legends with honeymooners are all too frequent, sometimes its a hotel, an abandoned house, here more interestingly its an RV. As always, the monster is spurned on by the sexual activity of the couple (or is it just that its opportune because they are distracted). Either way, what is that? You can still be married and sex ultimately brings death (geesh). That is some Christian guilt complex or something. Anyways, its a mildly amusing, mildly scary story, which also features Hawthorne James, a famous African-American actor, who usually has smaller roles but is still great, like the bus-driver in Speed (1994) or One-Eyed Sam in I’m Gonna Get You Sucker (1988).

“People Can Lick Too”

A early cautionary tale about using the internet and identity. Here, in the mid-90s, the internet was more or less in it’s infancy, but the lessons is still as applicable as ever. It is a bit of 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, not just narratively running in the dark, actually just running in the dark.

“The Locket”

Not Shakira, my lips don’t lie. This is Jacinda Barrett playing opposite Glenn Quinn (Roseanne).

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. Like most anthology horror flicks it 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 that are easily digestible s’mores bites for the campfire, some of them are even mildly amusing. It’s more like TV in that sense, with just enough intrigue to keep you watching. Again, there are some familiar faces: Ron Livingston (Office Space), Christine Taylor (Zoolander), James Marsden (X-men) & Amy Smart (Just Friends) are 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.

Otherwise, for the sake of, there are some rock and roll connections to the film. The trailer (featured below) has the Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”. However, it is not featured in the movie itself. There are not many rock tunes featured for the matter, choosing to go with an original soundtrack instead. In the movie, Christopher Masterson wears a Iron Maiden shirt but the movie ends with a pretty horrid cover of “Monster Mash“, nuff said. And that is Campfire Tales is, a mash of narratives, loosely tied together but still a bit a fun.

The trailer features Rollling Stones – “Gimme Shelter” but is not featured in the movie. Listen to “Gimme Shelter” on Cottage Country vol. 2 instead, I guess.

Loon logo for ratingLoon logo for ratingHalf a loon for grading/ 5
Length: 1h 28m
Rated: R (violence, sexuality)
Best time to watch: I would recommend twilight, early evening. The length of each segment lends well to late night watching but might not be amusing enough. 6pm -11pm, I would say.

All Maiden shirt and no Maiden music, no problem. Iron Maiden is featured on Cottage Country Mix:

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