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Quarantine Bad Choice: The Camp Blood Films Revisited

When one is in quarantine, one can make bad choices. My current bad choice is to systemically go through the Camp Blood series… all ten of them. My predilection for slasher films is well known in some circles and I have been circling the various casts and crews of this series professionally for a couple of decades now. Let’s do this.

Camp Blood (2000)

I appreciate the SOV (shot on video) revolution that I caught the very tail end of as a young filmmaker/actor-type and that tail end is where Camp Blood landed, too. Directed by Brad Sykes (like the two subsequent installments) with editing and DP duties by Jeff Leroy, CB tells the tale of a secluded, formerly abandoned campground menaced by a lunatic on the loose. VERY familiar territory.

The campground, as you may imagine in this micro-budget thriller, is just the woods surrounding our performers. As a veteran of the “move three feet to the right and you are in a new location” school of filmmaking in the forest, I get it. What Sykes and Leroy do here well, though, is vary the shots and provide enough of a motivated edit to keep things interesting.

Our cast is, predictably, sleepy-eyed and young, except for a rich cameo by filmmaker Ron Ford and a yeoman performance from our young lead Jennifer Ritchkoff. We do have some major limitations: equipment, time, money, and story. There is nothing too new here in terms of plot aside from a couple of genre anti-tropes in our climactic battle. For the most part, though, simply replace your Jason Voorhees with a killer in a clown mask (that will grow on you) and the script is set. It’s trash movie making, for sure, but it has heart and everyone really did try. At first glance, this looks to be a straight-to-video cash grab playing on the successes of other campsite slaughter films, and it is, but, for some inexplicable reason, this one had legs and spawned NINE sequels (including two number threes… I don’t know why).

The sequels are easy to figure out: this type of film, shot mostly during the day without having to use lights, using crude effects and pretty young people in danger is cheap.

But sometimes, cheap is good.

Camp Blood 2 (2000)

Another entry and another Camp Blood feature! This time, Brad Sykes returns to helm and Jeff Leroy is back on the DP/editing duties. Jennifer Ritchkoff also returns as Tricia (and, oddly, Tim Sullivan is back but as a completely different, and alive, character… hmmm). The continuation of the CB franchise picks up about a year after the initial massacre. While under the care of physicians, Tricia is asked to become a technical consultant on a very cheap movie version of the real murders and is taken back to the forest preserve-esque ‘camp’ and does just that.

A wacky crew of micro-budget Hollywood stereotypes round out the characters, especially a new actress that gets the part of Tricia in the new movie. The cast is a lot of fun in this one and really feels as if they were allowed to play around with their characters a bit.

Sykes’ uneven direction is back, largely saved by Leroy’s camera work and editing. This isn’t to say that Sykes is terrible, he isn’t. There are real flashes of vision here, but, like always, hampered by time, money, and available talent, I don’t think he really had the time to shine.

The best part of this is the story. Picking up on the VERY pedestrian plot of the first one, this is an early example of a meta film. A film about a horror film starring in a horror film. This was probably being shot and conceived at the same time as Scream 3 with eerily reminiscent story elements. Do we have a no-budget version of ‘Great Minds’ here? Could be.

Still, the things that hamper the film are the things that give it character. The fun, goopy, low-rent special effects, the over and under acting, respectively, and an undeniable bargain basement charm round it out. Again, Ritchkoff holds it together and the denouement makes sense (well, as much sense as any of it does).

Within the Woods (2005)

Within the Woods, aka Camp Blood 3, means another entry in the franchise. This one, released in 2005, is five years removed from the first two, and in those five years, consumer-level video technology made a MASSIVE leap forward. It shows here and the “stuck in the woods without any real set shot mostly during the day” sub-genre benefits from it. Brad Sykes returns, but no Jeff Leroy this time, with a whole new crew and cast of nubile youngsters to be decimated by the guy in the cheap clown mask.

Sykes’ return guarantees a couple of things: some of this will be pretty inventive and the initial plot and structure will have some legs. Unfortunately, Jennifer Ritchkoff is not back as Tricia (although they do tell her story). This time, a slimy producer sets up a reality show where contestants must spend 24 hours in the large field and forested area known as Camp Blood. Chaos ensues but it is a clever way to get a group together, and we expand the sets a bit by having said producer in a small, garage/studio. There are flaws, though.

The charm is still there. The standout cast member here is Erin Holt (who sang the theme song for the film and went on to much more in terms of Hollywood work). She wasn’t our ingenue, that went to Stephanie Mathis. Without someone with the performance skills like a Ritchkoff (Holt would have done well), the ‘final girl’ glue that holds the production together just wasn’t tacky enough. I mean, it was tacky, just… you get it.

The technological leaps and another five years of directorial experience really aided this entry in the series, but some desperate casting and pace issues hampered it. Jeff Leroy’s editing and camera work were missed and, for the first time, Sykes’ writing felt ‘padded’, as if he simply included scenes to expand the run time. The other films had that as well, granted, but this time they were bereft of the FUN.

Camp Blood First Slaughter (2005)

Nine years have passed. Camp Blood has lain dormant… until Mark Polonia throws his hat in the ring. Polonia was a pioneer in the shot-on-video schlock film pioneering days (with his late brother John for a great deal of it) and was responsible for films as early as 1985 through the present day. Films like Feeders and the newer Land Shark are fun, goofy, ‘bad film’ master classes and Polonia is beloved among fans.

And yet, Camp Blood First Slaughter just doesn’t have it. For some inexplicable reason, this is the second “third” sequel, so I guess this one is 3.5? Sykes has left the franchise he started, yet producer Sterling and composer Ghost (not THAT Ghost) remain… but as is obvious, they weren’t the quirky auteurs behind the Camp Blood fun. And that is what is missing here: fun.

Polonia sort of tries, and I think that the film was more of a ‘work for hire’ deal. The script is patched together and owes a large debt to the Urban Legend film series. It is 2014 and technology is very indie filmmaker friendly, yet that technology isn’t exploited at all. The mix of standard micro-budget practical effects and bargain digital blood effects (and some of the worst foley I’ve ever heard… and I’ve heard some horrible foley, some of it my own) really pushes this lower than the Sykes’ era of CB films.

It is unexplained why Camp Blood has been moved from a field in California to a field in Indiana, I believe, complete with Midwestern fall foliage. That includes leaves on the ground. That means that every performer shuffled through leaves as they delivered dialogue.

The performers, too, really took a step backwards. In California, the availability of unknown performers of quality, hungry and willing to schlock it up, are relatively common. Whatever small Indiana town we’re shooting in for First Slaughter doesn’t seem to have a deep talent pool and it shows.

The Camp Blood Twist is present, even if it is inexplicable, but, again, this one feels like Polonia was simply doing a job. The Clown is a hulking Voorhees rip-off, officially this time, and the real lack of attention to script and direction shows. In one instance, a character is asked to deal with the kayaks next to a houseboat before they float away. He agrees to it and promptly walks into the middle of a field where a single kayak waits.

That’s kind of a metaphor for the rest of the film: a lonely boat WAY out of the water.

Camp Blood 4 (2016)

Well. In this ever-shifting real estate market, Camp Blood has moved to what I believe is Nebraska. Inexplicably, much like the rest of the film. This one is headed up by Dustin Ferguson, known mostly for making knockoff sequels of established properties, and this is no exception (see his two Amityville films for confirmation). This is… this just is. I never thought I would be longing for the Camp Blood salad days when Mark Polonia would phone in some fun, but here we are.

Picking up immediately at the end of Camp Blood 3.5 (or First Slaughter), we get into it. Picking up, in this parlance, means repeating the last ten minutes of footage right up until… well, for all intents and purposes, the clown is back. Or, A clown is back. This time a group of teens, on their way to a concert, plan on stopping off at Camp Blood. Before they do, though, there is a long scene in a thrift store and a long scene doing hair and putting on make-up and a long scene driving and a long scene walking in the woods to the campsite (which still has no cabins) and then a long scene partying around a campfire (I think, it was murky… we still have the ‘no lights’ rule instituted).

Now, the legend of the clown is much different here, even from CB3.5, so the mythology has been skewed. Even more so than the introduction of the ‘Camera Killer’ from the last film with a slightly modified clown origin, this goes way off the rails and gives our killer a real Myers/Leatherface/Vorhees background. Now, this is a Camp Blood movie, so the identity of the real killer will knock your socks off. Theoretically.

Just over an hour with about 20 minutes of repeat footage (all the kills from 3.5 were repeated in the middle of the film) and shopping/driving footage, leaves precious little time for any genre stuff, like things that happen in Camp Blood on the regular. Which is good. This fails on every cinematic level, from cast to story to effects to camera work to edit… to the credits. The credits are so long! Oh, and the best part… it is ‘to be continued’. Mr. Ferguson isn’t finished with me.

I dig the poster, though. Solid exploitation artwork. Dear God, on to Camp Blood 5.

Camp Blood 5 (2016)

Taking up at the end (and the final 10 minutes of Camp Blood 4), Dustin Ferguson is back with Camp Blood 5!

God help us all.

In this sequel, which was shot back to back with CB4, Schuylar Craig returns as our young ingenue, Raven! After surviving the last film, and completely ignoring the ENTIRE ending, she goes shopping. For a long time. The last film featured a thrift store, and we know that sequels up the ante, so this time she was in a Halloween store. Cutting edge, baby, cutting edge.

Shawn C. Phillips is back in a fun cameo as the concerned brother, and then Raven sits down to watch TV. In a brilliant piece of avant-garde cinema, she watches Dennis Devine’s Things (not the bizarro, DIY homemade epic by Andrew Jordan, sadly). We know this because we watch it, too. Fifteen minutes of the film is cut into CB5, and it appears to be digitized from an analog master. Raven wakes up after falling asleep and we have more footage from CB3.5 one more time. Nostalgia is fun, so then Raven goes to her therapist and recounts the deaths of CB4… with convenient footage from the last film. Raven even says, “I haven’t blocked anything out. I remember every single detail of that day.” We know. She showed us.

So, Ferguson has shaved 3 minutes off of CB5 from his previous effort, bringing it in at 66 minutes. Lean and mean. From what we can tell, there is about 25 minutes of actual footage, including the Halloween store, shot for the film.

The final 12 minutes provide an explanation for how Raven survived and why the Camp Blood Killer is still menacing folks in the woods. Really retrofitting the entire mythos. If CB4 is Friday the 13th Part 5, then CB5 jumped all the way to Manhattan. Oh, and watch out for the Camp Blood Twist… you might not see it coming (if you were scrolling on your phone or something).

Rant over. Sorry. See the previous entry on technical incompetence.

That poster is really, really good, though. Kudos.

Camp Blood 666 (2016)

Camp Blood 666 takes us back to Camp Blackwood (who knows why it was changed for CB4 and CB5) and, more importantly, there is no Dustin Ferguson in sight. I don’t know if that is coloring my assessment here, but as frightfully poor as this is (nowhere near the fun of Sykes or even the Polonia entry), it is leagues ahead of the past two entries. Sigh. My bar is so low.

Digging in, after the death of the clown in CB4 and CB5, respectively, and conveniently ignoring the thrilling twist of a NEW killer (hint, it was Schuylar), a Satanic cult has resurrected the original killer… STAN CUNNINGHAM!

Yeah. It gets complicated. This goes right to the idea that our original clown killer, way back in 1999, never encountered the ‘original’ off camera Camp Blood Killer and now he has been brought back to life via a ritual giving praise to Satan. Camp Blood also appears to have been relocated to the East Coast. That camp has legs.

Now, we do have tech issues. Not like the previous entries, but akin to the very z-grade issues our original three had. Odd edits, effects that aren’t quite effective, the inability to keep everything in focus, etc. Ghost (again, not THAT Ghost) has returned to score the film and Sterling still produced. So, some things really never change. There are some distinct differences, though.

We FINALLY have a director in Moehring that is playing it for comedy. Sure, characters walk around a lot and we watch them watching television (at least it felt shot for the film)… but the sense of fun has returned. The cast is the best we’ve seen to date. Tina Krause, longtime b-movie screamer, is in a small cameo, and our lead actress, Shoshanna Ruth Green, is a solid performer. There are wonderfully fun, over-the-top characters spitting their horrible dialogue in the form of the sheriff, park ranger, deputy, and, best of all, George Stover! Any time you have a John Waters regular in your cast, pure fire, especially when he is a part of the Camp Blood Twist!

Oh, and new mental powers. Don’t forget the mental powers.

Still, it is a Camp Blood movie, so any expectation of quality is a long reach, but after the Ferguson films? Pure cinema gold summed up in one exchange:

“So, sheriff, where do we start?”

“Everywhere.”

It Kills: Camp Blood 7 (2017)

Back to Camp Blood, this time in Pennsylvania! Thankfully, and I never thought this would be the case, Mark Polonia is back at the helm of the ship. So, at the very least, we are going to get some fun backyard filmmaking. There is a monumental shift in this entry, though.

No, it isn’t the legend of the clown. We are still stuck with Stan Cunningham.

No, we don’t have a switch in composer. Ghost (not THAT Ghost) is still on board.

The big news is… Camp Blood FINALLY has a cabin! That’s right, after 18 years of desolate California, Indiana, and Nebraska fields, we have found our first cabin (where our cast conveniently hides).

This is a Polonia piece, so we know that interested amateurs, family, and friends will make up the cast. He always makes interesting choices. Although I don’t know if the actor playing Terry (Kyle Rappaport) is truly disabled, but the character in a wheelchair vibe gives us a bargain basement Texas Chainsaw feel… with even more budgetary challenges. Interestingly, Polonia did not write the script this time. Those duties went to Amy Suzuki. The dialogue has clever moments and there is a lake and things besides trees to look at. It is a marvel.

Our death scenes are of the average Camp Blood variety with a killer that changes size and shape depending on who was free to wear the mask, so that is standard for the franchise. Again, a majority of the story is daytime exteriors so, like its predecessors, it has been ‘Gaffed by Nature.’

Still, Polonia is fun. The bizarre choices, shots that hang too long, and bizarro pacing are all hallmarks of the auteur. Characters travel distances instantly, escape the killer and then are confronted seconds later in a different location. My theory is that they phase between dimensions, but that’s just me.

The best part? The blatant rip-off of IT in the title and marketing. No one said Sterling Entertainment was stupid, that’s for sure. Oh, and that Camp Blood Twist? Same as it ever was, dear readers, same as it ever was.

The Ghost of Camp Blood (2018)

In this, the 9th entry in the Camp Blood series, we are back in the forests of Pennsylvania with Mark Polonia! Stan Cunningham is still our killer and Ghost (not THAT Ghost) has scored the latest epic.

After the events of CB7, which we saw one more time, we see good ol’ Stan (after being resurrected by Satanists in CB6 with super powers, lose the super powers and get his mask taken in CB7 and finding the ORIGINAL clown mask in the garbage in this epic) finally gets his comeuppance as the police find and eliminate the Camp Blood Killer.

So. That’s that, right? NEVER! This is a Camp Blood film, so an overly convoluted story element needs to be introduced. As you know, this is called Ghost of Camp Blood. Even if Stan is dead, again, and there are no Satanists in sight, again, then his ghost can possess the mask.

We are introduced to a paranormal show producer and his big comeback is a special on Stan and the murders of the past decade (not the past TWO decades). With this entry, Polonia has channeled the meta-film run from Sykes in CB2 and CB3, albeit in a much more confusing manner. He has the mask and, apparently, the mask contains the essence of Stan. A planned special on the Camp Blood Killer brings a group of paranormal enthusiasts out to help our ghost hunter (including an actress from CB7 that died playing a different character).

There is a run through of all the nudity that has ever been displayed in a CB film in a weird flashback and we are, again, asking “Who the hell is shooting?” News footage, flashbacks, etc. All of them have shots of the killer and victims and gore and nudity and, dang it, where did the news people get that footage? How did that character have a memory they weren’t a part of? Gahhhhh!

We have a bizarre series of interludes with one scene (footage of it used multiple times and throughout the film) of scream queen Elissa Dowling. She is slaughtered in a garage by the dead CB Killer. And she takes a shower.

The mask joins the machete in a paranormal rite of passage or something and Stan Cunningham is back in the real world, a’ la Freddy Kreuger, if Freddy Kreuger was legitimately played by everyone in the cast and crew at some point. Stan Cunningham changes shapes, sizes, races, and genders so quickly you’d think it was a super power… but those were abandoned two films ago.

Needless to say, the Polonia effect is all over this one and, even for what that is, this is fun. It is both overly simplistic and overly complicated all at the same time. It all leads to a sit-down interview (in the film department of a school) between the Clown and our ghost hunter. See-it-from-a-mile-away Camp Blood Twist ensues.

I need a drink.

Camp Blood Kills (2019)

The final film in the franchise! So far! One hopes! To be fair, this isn’t quite a film… well, it is as much a film as the Ferguson efforts, but I digress. This compilation of the kills and nude scenes from the franchise really sends home a salient point:

The machete to the abdomen is THE go-to kill in the franchise. A vast majority of the kills in this series were that aforementioned gut shot. I get it. You have a regular machete and a similar one with half a blade and the script just writes itself. Nine times.

EXT. FIELD SOMEWHERE – DAY

A GUY stands in the woods. The CLOWN approaches from behind.

The Guy has no idea the Clown is there, even though the Clown is walking through LEAVES.

The Clown rears back with a machete. He plunges.

GUY

Gurgle. Gurgle. Gurgle.

The machete is halfway into the body. The CAMP BLOOD SPLURCH SOUND resonates as the machete is twisted, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and… etc.

GUY (CONT.)

Gurgle. Gurgle.

Blood flows freely from the mouth of the Guy. His hands clench and unclench.

The Clown pulls the machete free with the CAMP BLOOD SPLURCH SOUND.

The Guy falls to the ground. We hold on the Clown.

And hold. And hold.

EXT. ANOTHER FIELD SOMEWHERE – DAY

A GIRL and OTHER GIRL walk aimlessly through the woods…

***

If we’re lucky, maybe David Sterling has another version of the same story up his sleeve. If we’re lucky.

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About David C. Hayes

David C. Hayes is an author, performer and filmmaker. His films, like A Man Called Nereus, Bloody Bloody Bible Camp, Dark Places, The Frankenstein Syndrome, Vampeggedon, Machined, Reborn, Back Woods (and approximately 60 more) can be seen worldwide. He is the author of several novels, collections and graphic novels including The Midnight Creature Feature Picture Show, Cherub, Cannibal Fat Camp, Pegged, American Guignol, Scorn and Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Ed Wood, Jr. His graphic novel Rottentail debuted in theaters in 2019 as a feature film and the mini-series The Rot has debuted to critical acclaim. As a playwright, David's full-length and one-act plays have been produced from coast to coast with a run Off-Broadway for the comedy Swamp Ho and sell-out performances in Phoenix for Dial P for Peanuts. His stand-up comedy and professional wrestling pasts are well hidden, though.

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