It has happened to every horror fan at least once. 2:45 am. You’re sitting there alone on your couch. Bag of chips in your lap. Channel surfing for something to watch. Then it happens. Something that you have never heard of catches your eye. You turn up the volume and relax. The movie finally ends and you’re like, “Holy shit! That was great! I need to get a copy of that movie like right now!” Campfire Tales is just such a movie.
After my initial viewing of it, getting a copy was virtually impossible. Years later I tracked down a Japanese bootleg DVD thanks to the wonders of eBay. Well, I am happy to say that FINALLY after eight years Campfire Tales has gotten its long awaited (by me at least) DVD treatment. No more HUGE unremovable Japanese subtitles for me! WOO HOO!
Anthology films are great. Just like candy, they can give you a quick fix that leaves you wanting more without any time to get bored. However, a lot needs to go into an anthology film for it to be successful. For one, you need a great story to wrap around your other great stories. Without this common thread, an anthology can turn into a mess. Campfire Tales has two different wrap-around stories that coincide with each other. Sound a bit confusing? Don’t worry, it plays smooth as silk and it’s a lot of fun! As for the main stories, we get three — all based upon real life legends that we have heard an infinite amount of times but modernized a bit for the film.
The first tale focuses on a pair of newlyweds fresh off of having “Great Sex” that decide to do a little sightseeing for their honeymoon. Unfortunately for them, what they end up seeing is some of the darkest sides of humanity. I swear, the woods are just not a good place to go. Give me buildings and working toilets anytime over madman infested trees and the prospect of having to wipe my ass with a leaf! Screw camping!
The next story is quite timely in its subject matter. The Internet can be a strange place and, for some maniacs, a new type of stalking ground. What happens when a teenage girl befriends someone over the net who turns out to be not who he said he was? What makes this scenario all the more frightening is that this type of thing happens every day. Real terror hits home. This installment serves as a helluva scary ride and a great cautionary tale.
Lastly, we have a good old fashioned ghost story. A biker breaks down on a road near an old house whose inhabitants aren’t all amongst the living. In this house the dead are doomed to walk the Earth and forced to repeat the very deeds that led them to their purgatory-like hell. Obviously they’re pretty angry about this, so you can bet our hero wont be running into any Casper-like friendliness.
Each of these stories is well written and slickly directed. The troop behind the film — Matt Cooper, Eric Manes, and Martin Kunert — are horror fans that know how to get the job done. Other films that have tried to capitalize on the whole handed-down story thing such as Urban Legend do not even come close to handling the subject matter as smartly as it is done in Campfire Tales. Honestly, there are twists, turns, and twist endings with enough energy for two films to be found here, none of which feels tacked on or forced.
However, if there is one thing that’s wrong with this release, it’s the lack of DVD extras. The disc is bare bones with only some trailers for other films to be found. Don’t let that sway you from purchasing it though. Campfire Tales is a film that horror fans of all ages can enjoy. It’s well worth a purchase for the film alone.
So dim the lights, grab those chips, and hold on tight. There are many things out there waiting for you in the dark. This is one campfire that will chill your bones instead of warming them.
Campfire Tales (1997)
New Line Home Video
Directed by Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel
Starring James Marsden, Christine Taylor, Amy Smart and Ron Livingston
4 out of 5