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Campfire Tales (1991)

DVD Cover (Sub Rosa Studios)
Genres / Traits:
Horror, Horror Anthology, Slasher Film, Supernatural Horror, Christmas, Urban Legends
Directors:
William Cooke William Cooke
Paul Talbot Paul Talbot
Starring:
Gunnar Hansen Gunnar Hansen
Robin Roberts Robin Roberts
Tres Holton Tres Holton
Courtney Ballard Courtney Ballard
Lora Podell Lora Podell
User Lists:
> Holiday: Christmas

4.6 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: September 19, 2005
Three teenage boys are out on a camping trip when they encounter a bum who identifies himself as Ralph (Gunnar Hansen of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, in case you needed a reminder). Ralph asks the boys if he can sit by their fire to warm up for a bit and the kids reluctantly agree. In exchange for their kindness, Ralph offers to tell them a few campfire stories to pass the time. The boys also agree to this, and we have an anthology horror on our hands.

"The Hook"
We've all heard the story of The Hook. This one uses that urban legend as a basis for the storyline, but takes the tale much further than the original story. It starts out just as you may remember; two young lovers park their car out in the middle of the woods for a little private romance, when a report comes over the radio detailing the escape of a psycho from the local mental hospital. They go into graphic detail about how he had a hook implanted into his stump after he lost his hand in Vietnam and how he uses said hook to murder his victims. These two lovers encounter the hook-armed psycho, but it doesn't end quite how the original tale told it.

The first story of the movie happens to be the weakest, in my opinion. There's some great grindhouse-era gore effects and I do have to give them credit for trying to make the story slightly original, but in the end, the entire storyline is completely predictable and plays out like a bad slasher film. The psycho turns up, the lady runs away from him for a bit, the final showdown between the two happens, yatta yatta yatta... it's all been seen before. This also happens to be the goriest segment of the movie, so pure gorehounds may enjoy this one more than I did.

"Overtoke"
The second segment of the movie centers around two teens who are out prowling the streets in search of weed - marijuana - Mary Jane - whatever you want to call it. They eventually find a man who assures them that he can get them some bud if they give him a ride to his friends house. They take the man up on his offer and they arrive at your typical drug-dealer house. One of the teens hands over five bucks with the expectation of receiving a small bag of the plant, but what he gets is a huge bag stuffed with it. Overjoyed at the good luck they had, they rush home to begin their night of smoking. What they find out, however, is that some weed has additional additives inserted into it...

Whereas the first segment suffered from a lack of originality, this one comes across as completely original. The basic gist of the segment has been done before, but never quite like this (to the best of my knowledge, anyway). The acting is a bit cheesy here, and the storyline tends to get a bit goofy towards the end, but overall, this was a pretty entertaining piece. You get an original storyline, plenty of gore, and some neat ideas used to show the demise of the characters. My only real complaint about this piece is that I couldn't help but feel as though I were watching an anti-drug commercial in spots... it seemed as though key pieces were inserted merely to show how bad drugs are and why you should avoid them at all costs.

"The Fright Before Christmas"
The third segment centers around a young businessman returning to his mother's home for the Christmas holiday. He immediately starts a fight with her, claiming that the few thousand dollars that she gave him wasn't enough for him to get his business started and that he needs more cash if he ever wants to get ahead. She tells him that she doesn't have any more money for him, and also that she won't until she's dead and her insurance checks get cashed. Our hero gets the great idea of getting that insurance check early, so he proceeds to dispose of his mother in the most loving way possible - by pushing her down the basement steps. He then goes over to his brothers house for a while in order to have an alibi, and while there, he hears his brother's kid talking about the "good" Santa Claus and the "bad" Santa Claus. You see, if you reverse the letters in Santa, you get Satan... and this is the evil version of Santa that shows up if you've been a bad kid throughout the year. Our murdering adult laughs the story off, but when he returns to his mother's home to phone in the "accident", he finds out just how real it is.

This was easily the best segment of the movie, and quite possibly one of the best segments from any anthology horror film that I have seen to date. The storyline flows along beautifully, keeping you intrigued from start to finish, and you will not see the ending coming. The director sets the story up so that you expect one thing, but when the end rolls around, you're left completely shocked at what you just witnessed. This episode was eerily reminiscent of a Tales From The Crypt episode (in style, not of any particular episode) with the way that the villain receives his poetic justice at the end, and being a huge fan of the old EC comics, I completely loved this. There's also some excellent special effects here, with some visuals that you won't soon get out of your head. If none of the other segments sound interesting, I'd still recommend at least giving this movie a rental for this segment alone; it's just that damned good.

"Skull & Crossbones"
The final segment of our feature presentation revolves around a pirate who, after his ship wrecks, washes up on a deserted island. Just when he seems to be destined to live out the rest of his life in solitude, he encounters a black guy (that he constantly refers to as "Black Dog") that was also washed up on this island years ago. Black Dog proceeds to tell the pirate of a treasure that was buried on this very island, and he also tells him of the curse placed on this island. You see, once you set foot on this island, you can never leave. It's easy to get to the treasure and it's easy to see how rich you would be if you could get it off of the island, but you will never be able to leave. Well, our pirate friend decides to put this curse to the test, and he soon finds out how deadly this curse really is.

<Spoiler>I love a good zombie story</Spoiler>, and mixing these characters with pirates actually works out better than one would imagine. Also, just like the previous segment, this is a good tale of revenge that is quite similar in style to a story one would find in the pages of Tales From The Crypt. While this episode did tend to drag a bit in spots and the pay-off at the end was a bit predictable, I couldn't help but be entertained as the story moved along. It's nowhere near the best that I've seen from the genre, but it's far from the worst and I think that most horror fans would get a bit of a kick out of it.

One thing that I would like to point out about this movie is that all online sources say that it was released in 1991. The copyright at the end of the credits confirms this, but I would be completely shocked if this movie was filmed any later than 1980. The picture quality is very similar to that of a late-seventies flick, the clothing styles and slang seem straight out of that era, and the general feel of the movie at large just screams late-seventies. While being from this era doesn't necessarily make a movie bad (and it didn't in this case), I couldn't help but feel a bit misled when this realization hit.

The picture quality is pretty bad, thanks to the suspected time of shooting, but Sub Rosa has done a good job of cleaning it up. It's far from perfect, but you can tell that it's leagues better than what one would have gotten from a VHS or quickie DVD release. The movie wouldn't win any awards in this respect, but it's easily watchable regardless. Also included on the disc is the short film "Tenants" by one of my personal friends Mike Watt which stars his lovely wife Amy Lynn Best. This is a very entertaining piece and is a great bonus feature for the disc. I can't really go into detail about what happens and such for fear of spoiling it, but horror fans will enjoy this one as well.

Overall, we get a good movie and a good set of features from Sub Rosa. I'd recommend that any fans of b-movies and / or horror anthologies check this movie out. Just like the pirate episode, this movie is not the best that the genre has to offer, but you could certainly do far worse. 7/10.
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