As anyone who’s followed these Halloween horror roundups over the last couple of years on this blog (assuming, of course, that anyone has) knows, I love me some homemade 80s shot-on-video gore flicks. Sure, the acting’s usually either unintentionally camp or downright lifeless, the effects are fifth-rate, the stories are insipid, and the directors/DOPs (assuming they weren’t one and the same person, which they often were) had a tendency to linger on shots where pretty much nothing was happening for waaaaaayyyy too long simply because videotape was a bitch to edit. But hey, it’s all about heart, right?
Case in point — director Jon McBride’s (okay, I should stop right there for a second right there and point out that one Tom Fisher is also credited as a co-director here, but all indications are that this was McBride’s show pretty much from start to finish) 1988 zero-budget opus Cannibal Campout. In essence, this is a lot like the dreadful flick Chain Letter that we reviewed a few days back — it exists pretty much solely to drench the audience in blood n’ guts. But whereas Chain Letter had some money behind it but no heart, McBride’s movie has plenty of heart but no money. I don’t know about you, but I know which I’ll go with anytime (not to mention that this movie’s a whole lot less mean-spirited and cynical, but that’s a side issue).
As set-ups go, they don’t come much simpler than this — a mixed group of four friends heads out to the New Jersey woods (yes, they have trees there) for a weekend of camping and find themselves set upon one-by-one by a crazed trio of probably inbred mountain men who have been murdering and then devouring any poor souls unlucky enough to stumble across their path because — get his — they promised their momma on her deathbed that they wouldn’t eat any junk food!
And honestly that’s all you need to know because everybody’s in this thing for one reason and one reason alone — to get killed. Slowly, painfully, brutally, graphically, creatively — hell, damn near lovingly — killed.
I can’t say for certain, but I’m thinking that McBride’s biggest motivation in putting this thing out there — keep in mind most of these backyard SOV horror flicks were released on VHS by unscrupulous, fly-by-night distribution operations that basically all offered the same deal, namely we’ll release your film and keep pretty much all the money and you’ll have the chance to get your name out there and more or less nothing else — was to show off his chops as a Tom Savini wanna-be and maybe land some work on the makeup and effects crew of a picture with an actual (hell, any) budget.
He certainly wasn’t trying to impress anyone as the next great screenwriter or director, that’s for certain — this flick crawls along at a snail’s pace even when the killing starts and there are interminable lengths of absolutely nothing go on that you have to wade through in order to get to the good (relatively speaking, of course) stuff. But hey — it’s pretty obvious everybody’s having a good time regardless of whether or not they actually know what they’re doing and yeah, once the blood starts flowing and the entrails come spilling out and the faces get gnawed on and the organs get ripped loose it is impressive enough in a dime-store kind of way. Sure, you might be able to do just as well with all of it yourself if you had the time, inclination, smarts, and most of all the single-minded determination to do so, but you didn’t and Jon McBride did. Regardless of how amateurish most of what’s on display here is, you gotta give the guy credit for that.
Cannibal Campout is available on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures as part of its “Retro 80s Horror collection” series, and features a nicely done full-frame (of course) transfer of the film (whoops, better just call it a movie — it was shot on videotape, after all), pretty decent remastered stereo sound, a veritable feast (get it? cannibal flick? feast?) of extra including a feature-length commentary track with McBride, interviews with many of the cast and crew, a lengthy selection of deleted scenes and still photos, a bunch of trailers for other Camp titles. In short, it’s stuffed to the guts (get it again?) with goodies.
I won’t kid you — Cannibal Campout is so far removed from a masterpiece that the two words don’t even belong in the same neighborhood as each other, much less in the same sentence. But if you’re in the mood (and I freely admit that it’s entirely possible that your humble reviewer is one of the only people who actually gets in this mood) for a warts-and-all labor of love that seeks nothing more than to do as well as it can in the gruesomeness department and doesn’t even really care, much less try, when it comes to anything else, then hey — you could certainly do a whole lot worse.