Julian Barrett (Eric Roberts) had it going on. He was the mastermind behind the "Summer Camp" horror trilogy, one of the most popular franchises of the 1980's.
The simple truth was that Barrett wasn't exactly a gem to work with, so by the time the 1980's had ended the "Summer Camp" franchise was done and so was Barrett's career. Flash forward and the studio is biting on Barrett's plan to revive the "Summer Camp" trilogy with some decidedly different twists including plopping the franchise down as a reality show with a couple of winners from the original film, Rachel Steele (Felissa Rose) and John Hill (Brian Gallagher), along with a handful of society's afterthoughts, young adult delinquents who think they're being recruited to participate in an "Outward Bound" program but are instead being manipulated to take part in the ultimate game of "Survivor" where surviving may be the only thing that's not actually possible.
Written and directed by B. Harrison Smith, writer of The Fields, Dead.TV is a slick and entertaining indie horror film with a retro vibe and contemporary twists that should please most fans of horror with the possible exception of those who limit themselves to the torture-porn sub-genre of horror. Due for a release in March 2014 with Image Entertainment, Dead.TV features a top notch performance from the always dependable Eric Roberts as a charismatic yet obviously devious producer/filmmaker whose depths of depravity are of the slowly building, infinitely compelling variety. Roberts sells it all quite beautifully by being just likable enough to keep us watching as the truth of what's going to happen unfolds.
The film does a slow build, almost too slow, but it's an approach that gets you involved while also giving you an opinion on the film's key players. Dead.TV is a reminder that even in indie horror casting matters, because this film really soars on the strength of its cast and their ability to sell a more complex story than we usually get in the indie horror world. Cleve Hall, of Syfy's "Monster Man," creates the film's makeup design while D.P. Charlie Anderson, who also worked with Smith on 6 Degrees of Hell, handles the lensing with superb results.
While she's primarily utilized here with bookend performances, horror vet Danielle Harris hits it out of the ballpark and she's absolutely perfectly utilized in the film. Felissa Rose, another familiar face for indie horror fans, is one of those actresses who can bring just the right touch of humanity to the role that makes everything that unfolds around her that much more horrifying. Playing one of the original winners who has since left reality television in favor of a counseling career, Rose has the intriguing task of "playing" a similar role for our cast of delinquents.
Despite a mildly slow start, once Dead.TV gets going it really gets going and Smith gives the film the perfect weaving together of retro meets real world actual plot meets traditional horror. While the whole "reality" scenario has been overdone, Smith gives it quite a bit of freshness and his cast sure seems to be having a great time with it all. Among the supporting players, Joe Raffa especially signs with some terrific delights coming courtesy of Nicole Cinaglia. While the film could be accused of using your "stock" horror characters, they are well used and even among the more caricaturish roles the ensemble cast does a terrific job of avoiding caricaturish performances.
Dead.TV is the kind of film where you think you have your finger on exactly what's going on, but then Smith and his cast and crew flip it around and take off a different direction. The film's final third, in particular, is filled with bold cinematic choices that up the anxiety level and will leave you glued to the screen wondering what's coming next.
For more information on Dead.TV, be sure to visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic