Campsite Massacre 1981
aka The Final Terror aka Carnivore
Directed by: Anthony Davis
Starring: Ernest Harden, Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the golden age slashers that is often overlooked – and no more so than by myself, Campsite Massacre has recently become something of a cult classic in some circles. I have owned it on VHS since I can remember, but haven’t really ever watched it more than once until I picked up a budget DVD in a newsagents recently.
Pencilled in 1980 and filmed in ’81, it would never have secured distribution if it weren’t for the rapid rise to fame of a few of its cast members. Check out the amount of ‘soon to be stars’ in this listing: Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed, Ernest Harden, Lewis Smith and even Joe Pantoliano – phew that’s some ensemble.
It was directed by Andrew Davis who has had quite a prolific career of mid to large budgeted features. Although admittedly, his resume boasts more misses than hits. The Fugitive and Holes are both very good films that received positivity from audiences and critics alike.
A group of youngsters head off deep in to the forest for a work project. It starts off normally enough, but when one of them goes missing, all hell breaks lose. Before long, they are left alone with a maniacal mad man and a deadly cat and mouse battle of wits begins…
There’s no better feeling than unearthing an undiscovered gem. Although it can be said that Campsite Massacre is hardly ‘undiscovered’ and it’s not really a ‘gem’ either, but I must admit that I enjoyed it a damn site more this time around than I remembered upon my last view 20 something years ago. As far as slasher movies go, it’s very well made with razor sharp cinematography, good editing and an overall feeling of competence from the production team. As it includes such a qualified group of performers, you’ll find no surprise in the fact that it’s competently acted. Even if none of the characters are given a great deal to do, they do each build an identity for themselves. The film seems to mould itself more on Deliverance than Friday the 13th, but it does still manage to pack in most of the clichés. These include the classic campfire tale scene, the have sex and die rule and some stereotypical killer-cam shots.
Andrew Davis pulls off some very good set pieces, including an exciting ‘rooftop attack’ aboard a bus. It’s a credible sequence that sustains its frantic pace by providing regular shocks and jumps. There’s not much gore to brighten up our screens, because it seems that the modus operandi was to aim for chills through a grim slow boiling atmosphere. It almost pays off thanks to a smart use of sound that helps to create a menacing tone. Massacre doesn’t really have a pulsating score to rival the likes of Halloween/Friday the 13th and instead uses low-chords or spooky effects in places that are fairly unsettling. The killer also warrants a mention as he is a backwoods loon of the old school type. He stalks his prey almost like The Predator, often camouflaging himself amongst his surroundings. There’s a good example of this halfway through, where he blends in with the scenery whilst the gang row past on their way down a winding river. He reveals himself only briefly to throw a corpse on to their raft and create panic.
Perhaps the most authentic thing about Campsite Massacre is that it doesn’t have a final girl and instead leaves a group to do battle with the psychopath. There’s also a cool role reversal in the story for the players, because the hunted become hunters and look to get revenge on who they think is the assailant. Much like Lance Johnson from Apocalypse Now, their leader swallows a bag of magic mushrooms and spends the majority of the conclusion wildly hallucinating. It’s intriguing, because despite being in a dazed state, he is still followed by the rest of the group, which must have been because of his aura of toughness and natural leadership skills. There’s a twist also, which I have tried my hardest not to give away, but you will probably figure it out anyway.
Campsite Massacre is a good enough slasher yarn that’s deserving somewhat of a better reputation. I think the reason that it has been pushed to the bottom of the pile is simply because there’s not much of a body count (6), it’s sometimes too dark to see clearly and it may be a tad too slow-moving for some folks.
If you are a fan of period pieces however and appreciate neat attempts at suspense, you can most definitely find worse entries floating around. A good cast along with a few moments of superb creepiness and a beautiful location give it a high five from a SLASH above. Just don’t go expecting much of a Campsite Massacre…Oh, hold on that’s what it was called… hmmm…
Killer Guise: √√√