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September 6, 2011
Review - " Camp Hell "  -  (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Camp Hell
Directed by: George VanBuskirk
Starring: Dana Delany, Andrew McCarthy, Will Denton, Caroline
London, Bruce Davison, Jesse Eisenberg, Valentina de Angelis

The story takes place at Camp Hope, a spiritual retreat run by a
devout Catholic community, deep in the woods of urban New Jersey.
At the end of each summer teenagers are sent to the camp by their
parents to escape the evils and temptations of the outside world, and
in the process be brought to a closer relationship with God. The camp
is run by the puritanical priest Fr. Phineas McAllister (Bruce Davison),
whose influence over the young people in his care is mirrored by the
hold an evil spirit has on him. A spirit hellbent on the priest’s
corruption and that of those he is seeking to save, especially Tommy
(Will Denton), a boy who seems particularly susceptible to the ways of
the flesh.

In recent years there has been a significant decrease in the number
of films that could be said to fall inside a recognizable group within the
field of horror. Until the 1980′s the religious horror film, though
perhaps never a fully recognized entity in its own right, certainly had
had enough entries to qualify it as a legitimate sub-genre in the wider
spectrum of the macabre. From early studies of the occult, such as
Danish director Benjamin Christensen’s documentary Häxan:
Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) through to Ken Russell’s
notorious masterpiece The Devils (1971) and the archetypal good
versus evil shocker The Omen (1976), filmmakers have found the age
old battle between the church and the Devil a rich mine of inspiration.
However from the late 1970′s onwards the decline in this type of film could be seen as an indication of the church’s waning
influence on secular society as a whole. Modern classics, such as John Carpenter’s revered Halloween (1978), which could
be taken as heralding a new era in films that take a humanistic approach towards the sources of the evil found in everyday
society, focus more on the human beings themselves as the source of evil, rather than any imagined battle between the
Devil and God.

So has American-born director George VanBuskirk succeeded in reviving this long stagnant sub-genre, with his take on the
summer camp horror film made popular in the 1980′s? Well, yes and no.

As an homage to the
teenager-in-peril films, such
as Friday the 13th and The
Burning set in and around that
staple of American childhood,
Camp Hell does little to inject
life into that particular
neglected field. There is not
much, if any, stalk and slash,
with the evil spirit which haunts
Fr. McAllister only manifesting
itself as a hood shrouded
monk-like creature at the
climax. Apart from an effective
mass possession scene in the
girl campers’ cabin, there is
little more than the standard
rustling in the bushes to scare
the viewer.

What is unsettling, however, and serves to redeem the film from what might otherwise be a standard cookie-cutter camp
slasher release, is the way the influence of the Catholic church is depicted. The strangle-hold it has on young and
impressionable teenagers, or adults too scared to search for the truth themselves in fear of the consequences they have
been taught will be meted out to them if they fail to follow the strict guidelines set down by their priests, is truly disturbing. Fr.
McAllister’s treatment of his young charges, with a particular emphasis on the suppression of teenage sexual urges, clearly
results from his own failings and inadequacies in this area, something which may well be a reflection of the recent
controversies surrounding the real life Catholic church. His hellfire and brimstone preaching, as he warns the youngsters
what will happen if they stray from the straight path, certainly places him amongst the higher echelons of movie land’s mad

If taken on a deeper level, though Camp Hell may not necessarily deliver the kind of terror its poster and advertising
campaign would first lead you to believe, it taps into a much darker vein of horror for the discerning student of sinister
cinema. To me, the real life horror is much more satisfying than any supernatural based demon.