Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Spirit Camp
Never underestimate the power of cheer!
Back when I reviewed Bring it On for my birthday series, I seriously spent a large amount of time fantasising about what if this vacuous crap was actually a slasher movie and a big lug in a melted William Shatner mask would jump out and slaughter the cast of single-dimensional tarts in the film. And lo, as if by magic, someone called Kerry Beyer heard my prayers and decided that he would reinvigorate the tired slasher genre by, er, remaking Friday 13th but with a camp full of cheerleaders.
This should be joyous, surely?
Contains an inexplicably large dildo and spoilers below.
I am genuinely astonished at the amount of glowing reviews out there for this little film. Seriously, almost every review (aside from Fangoria) seems to rate it close to maximum. I’m a bit nonplussed, to be honest. In a way I do admire Beyer’s achievement here in writing/ directing/ editing/ starring in/ doing the catering for/ cleaning up afterwards/ fluffing the lead actors on Spirit Camp, but there’s really not a lot to write home about here. It’s billed as Friday 13th meets Bring it On, which is, in a nutshell almost exactly what the film is. To be honest, the only refinement I’d give that quote is that it’s not Friday 13th, but instead Sleepaway Camp without the bollock stomping ending meets Bring it On. However, that’s needlessly petty, because Sleepaway Camp is a Friday rip off anyway, and did it not have the blood-curdling last scene would not be a lot to write home about.
Plot synopsis wise, this is dead easy: group of pretty interchangeable slutty teenagers including Julin Jean as Rachel, Megan Moser as Missy, Katy Rowe as Amber and some fat bird are on their way to Cheerleader Camp (awesome). En route they pick up Roxy Vandiver as Nikki, a tough-as-nails goth chick with a sordid and tragic past. Up at camp they are under head cheer bitch Lyndsay’s (Amy Morris)stiletto pump and get up to all sorts of illicit antics, you know the type, drugs, booze and shagging. Anyhoo, unfortunately for them there’s a nutter on the loose and he starts slaughtering them one by one leaving Nikki to fight for her life in a taut-as-Adele’s-Knicker-Elastic finale (more on this in a moment).
OK, this is actually quite good fun for much of its run time. Julin is better here than she is in Cherry Bomb, and much hotter too (although no nudity again), and the other girls may be single-dimensional but give it their best. Special marks to Vandiver as Nikki, who has the best moments of the film and the relentlessly cheery Moser who will no doubt follow the Briani Evigan/ Danielle Harris career path of cheesy horror. The male cast members are uniformly crap, particularly John Paul Burkhart who puts in the single most stereotyped and faintly obnoxious frat boy impersonation of a homosexual this side of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Spirit Camp is a strange kind of throwback, actually. It’s, if anything, at least 20 years if not 30 out of its time. Had I seen this in the early 90’s and it had been made in the early 80’s then I’d have been all over it like a rash. Unfortunately it was made in 2009, so cheap rip-offs of Friday 13th just don’t cut the mustard for me any more. Furthermore, the “whodunnit” side of the film is both obvious and astonishingly cack-handed and once again I was wishing that modern slashers wouldn’t persist with this tired and annoying trope.
Where Spirit Camp is at its strongest is in the interaction between Rachel and Nikki. Rachel is a top-drawer alpha bitch, and Julin nails it more often than she misses. Nikki, on the other hand, has the tragic backstory and credit to the film for not going with the obvious survivor girl (Missy), instead taking the damaged goth with a heart of gold, getting her tits out and making her our survivor, while Vandiver oozes nothing but contempt for the other cheerleaders. The two contrasting women get all the best lines and there’s some real chemistry between the pair of them.
Then there’s the final scene itself. I’m not quite sure what Beyer was thinking of here, because Spirit Camp goes completely off the rails. There are conventions to Slasher films, particularly successful ones, and it basically works on a formula of tits, gore, inventive kills and dumb-assed entertainment. We all know the rules about survivor girls/ virgins etc (and if you don’t then go and watch Lesley Vernon) and the final scene should usually be some kind of chase with the killer getting blown up/ decapitated/ squashed/ fired into the centre of the sun/ turned into a mushroom and so forth.
That doesn’t happen here. Beyer is clearly trying to shatter the convention, and, sadly, the current dominant trend in horror is Torture Porn. So, the final scene is some kind of half-arsed and non-committed foray into Torture Porn. Thankfully it doesn’t go full-out (even if I could have done without the rape which to be fair isn’t that explicit), but really, man, what were you thinking of? A little cheesy slasher film should not have scenes like this in it. Anyway, it’s unpleasant and sours what is up to then a reasonably enjoyable little schlockfest.
Overall, Spirit Camp is so close to being a light and enjoyable bit of fluff. It’s very nearly a damned good homage to the 1980’s slasher films that I grew up with and loved. Sadly, it’s too out of time, and thus feels more than a little bit redundant. When you throw in the severely unpleasant climax of the film, then this really is a funny little mish-mash that doesn’t necessarily work. Up until then, though, the film was pleasantly amusing featuring buckets of nudity, mostly gratuitous (which, let’s face it is the best kind), and reasonably entertaining and silly kills. Sadly, and it is really sad, the climax really takes the shine off the film and so I don’t really recommend it. However, at the same time, it’s so obviously full of the *cough* spirit *cough* of the early slashers, that it strangely doesn’t feel right giving it too much of a kicking. Spirit Camp can have a “meh” but really should have been a lot more.
Kind of a pity really, because it’s so close- and Spirit Camp is streets ahead of most of these films, being that it is, for much of the run time actually fun.
Until next time,