Written by William Drew
Once upon a time, there were some vicious murders in the woods around Camp Twilight. Since then the camp has reopened and everything is totally fine now, we are told in the form of some kind of local news report at the very beginning of Camp Twilight. Cut to a couple of lustful teenagers about to go skinny dipping in the lake next to said camp before they get brutally murdered. Cut to a bunch of high school students who are told that they have to come spend the weekend at Camp Twilight (which is totally not dangerous) for the extra credit they need to graduate.
Even a total horror newbie would be wise to how things will unfold after that. The mysterious killer proceeds to stalk the teenagers, picking them off one by one.
Just from the title, it’s clear that this is a holiday camp slasher of the kind we probably most associate with the 1980s. This is no accident. The film’s star and co-writer is Felissa Rose, who played Angela in Sleepaway Camp at the age of 13. Like generations of bratty teenagers, it seems she can’t stay away from summer camps plagued by murderers with convoluted Freudian backstories.
It also operates within the slasher sub genre of the slasher/whodunnit. This may date back to Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) but it’s also a feature of many early summer camp-based movies, notably Sleepaway Camp itself (1983) and the original Friday the 13th (1980). The Halloween model of a motiveless malignity killing anyone it encounters just for kicks became a more dominant template through the rest of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Wes Craven brought back the whodunnit element to Scream alongside the meta self-consciousness that it made that franchise so famous.
Camp Twilight then is partly an exercise in nostalgia evoking a very particular type of slasher that pitched the brash optimism and sexual freedom of youth against a violent puritanism born out of the past trauma of society’s dispossessed. Like the Scream franchise and unlike the recent American Horror Story 1984, the setting is very much the present day. Where it differs from Scream though is that these high school students appear to have no knowledge of genre conventions. In fact, they walk directly into situations that are lifted wholesale from classic ‘80s slashers. I guess this is what happens when you don’t watch enough movies.
The inevitable comparisons to the films of the sub genre’s heyday don’t do Camp Twilight any favours. One of the first kills in Sleepaway Camp involves a disgusting child-molesting cook being dunked into a huge deep fat fryer. Here, every kill is the same: an axe or a knife, usually from behind and never even slightly graphic. No decapitations, no deep fat fryers. I know that this is partly down to budget but if there are plenty of low budget horror films that have placed the emphasis on tension and the terror of the unseen, often achieved through sound design and evocative lighting. That’s not something Camp Twilight ever really manages because the lighting and sound are so basic. In fact there are moments when the dubbing track cuts out entirely and you can’t hear what characters are saying.
The whodunnit element goes totally out of the window after the killing of one of the teachers. You’re given such an obvious hint that you’re left in no doubt at all as to who the killers must be. When they do finally pull off their hoods to reveal themselves, even if you somehow missed that hint, you know exactly who they are by a simple process of elimination.
Even these flaws could have been overcome if it had leaned into the comedy inherent in such a hackneyed format. This is attempted largely through the two bickering and incompetent park rangers whose ridiculous clowning is reminiscent of the jarringly incongruous comedic cop scenes in the original Last House on the Left. Like those, these scenes aren’t actually very funny at all and the few laughs there are come from Felissa Rose’s try-hard teacher: as the teenagers say to each other “she’s so extra”. There just aren’t enough gags to turn this into real horror-comedy, nor is there a cast with the comedic timing required.
While it’s not exactly painful to watch, the denouement of Camp Twilight feels dutiful and perfunctory. Where’s the passion for killing, people? Where’s the spirit of adventure? I blame television.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars