Twisted Nightmare (1987) Review by RevTerry

What the fuck is summer camp? Is it like camping school? That sounds terrible. Why let the school do to camping what it already did to shit like books? In the movies, it's some kind of breeding ground for teenage drama, steamy romance, and extreme (scarring) harassment. Which makes sense--but that's also how high schools are portrayed in cinema, so I don't quite trust it. It is fun to watch though. Shit goes does down at camp apparently--there is always some kind of life-changing event that takes place while there. The subject range is wide, beginning with romantic tragedy, stopping at comedy and ending with surprise genitalia. Kids “come of age” at summer camp, fall into a life-defining love, learn a fucking important lesson or two, and in some cases, commit a truly cruel act of violence against another human that will come back to haunt them. Whatever the case, whether love or murder, we are given an impression that the effects of that summer at camp will last a lifetime (although that will be shorter for some). No matter what the actual events of summer camp (or maybe cheerleader camp, etc) turn out to be, it changes the lives of those in attendance forever. The ripple of summer camp can be felt years later for a film's character (s) through something like a lost love returned, or in those times when it turns out the token summer camp dead-kid isn't really deceased as initially thought. Movie summer camp is like a long high school prom in the woods, and that's a great petri dish when it comes to horror antics. Since I'm not a “first romance” kind of guy, most of the summer camp movies I usually dig end in carnage, but for the most part, they start with the same shit. Usually, at some point early (sometimes very early), some gang of camp dick-bags does something fucked up to someone else (because camp is just a little like kid prison in movies but with pinecones). The act can be all kinds of shit, and isn't relegated to camper on camper violence. It comes in a few flavors, and each varies a little, but sooner or later, everyone is running around the campgrounds getting stabbed and shit. You know, the fun stuff. Something 1987’s Twisted Nightmare did not forget to include.
The film opens with a narration that sounds like it was taken from a twice recorded VHS tape of Tales from the Darkside. Afterward, we meet a large group of young adults that have all been called back to a summer camp they attended collectively as kids, by way of a mysterious reunion. The anonymous event invite strikes a few of the attendees as strange right off the bat, because the original summer was marked by a somewhat accidental death, but they decide to go anyway because… they’re promised free booze? (best guess). Not long after they all start getting into the party and discussing the possible reason for the meeting, people start leaving for ridiculous reasons, never to come back. At first, everyone is too drunk or whimsical to notice or care. The dwindling crowd goes on arguing, drinking and removing clothes, but increasingly it grows evident that someone is killing off each of the former campers. As the bodies mount, the remainder of the group begins to point fingers at one another, but none of their paranoia is effective, and one by one they are picked off in ridiculous ways, usually during or after sex. Oh yeah, and there is this grumpy “Indian” dude that pops up in some overalls every once in a while to mumble something about evil and tell them to bounce.
The storyline has all the makings for several simple horror films and just kind of lays them out there next to each other. It's not so much that the pieces are not connected but none are developed enough for real depth or purpose.  It has some mystery to it in the beginning but shakes it early in exchange for scene after scene of borrowed sexy kill setups, grunting and implied revenge for several various wrongdoings. There are some early attempts at misdirection that turn mostly into subplots, which serve little purpose aside from making sure every camp killer cliche can be displayed. There is a great deal of ridiculous detail needlessly given to some of the characters before they are dispatched but little offered to explain the supernatural elements it uses in it's supposed main plot. Without spoiling anything (that I haven't already), the film not only liberally borrows most of its plot from the Friday the 13th movie series but also seeks to streamline the issues surrounding Jason's inexplicable magical Lazarus powers by way of Pet Cemetery. Like every other piece of the patchwork film, it just kind of lumps a magic burial ground in without a flinch or legitimate logic. It misses the point on a lot of what it tries to take from more beloved franchises. Tragically, a little bit of the sympathetic monster gets lost in the jumble somehow, and there isn't much to the killer's style. With that all being said, it plays through 80s camp slasher moments the same way Now That's What I Call Music CDs featured radio hits from the late 90s. With your brain mostly off, it's packed with more than enough tasty garbage to be a blast. Once you figure in the fact that nothing is going to come to a head, aside from killing blows with a blunt or sharp object, it's a great ride through some silly horror tropes.
The film was written, directed and filmed by Paul Hunt. Hunt was instrumental in the production of several obscure genre films during his twenty-plus years in the business, including the equally mixed up, awesome sleaze fest The Toy Box (1971). Additional camera work was provided by Gary Graver, who gave us over forty years of awesome trash flicks like The Toolbox Murders (1978). Charles Philip Moore also served on the crew in several roles, he would later work with Hunt on goofy classic Demon Wind (1990). Twisted Nightmare was originally developed under the spoilerific original title Ancient Evil, but it was changed sometime shortly before being released. Ever the proponent of recycling, it reuses the Friday the 13th part III (1982) set with little to no alteration in some parts. Despite a release date in 1987, the opening card lists a copyright for 1982, giving some possible indication that it went it into production or was maybe even filmed, in part, shortly following Friday 13th 3D in ‘82. But there is no official word or documentation of the work (in any name) until shortly before its release five years later (as far as I know), and some scenes seem to be inspired by later films.
The films technical quality seems to deteriorate for some reason. The beginning scenes are crammed with bad dialogue and silly moments but in a quality no different than most studio slashers from its time. As it progresses however, its bad dubbing and dark lighting come closer to something that could have been shot on tape. There are a few moments hindered by low light to the point that it gets annoying, but the relentless grunting that accompanies the scenes gives it an almost unseen scuffle effect, like something from a cartoon (which on second thought, I can get behind). The soundtrack, provided by Bruce Wallenstein (he worked on Demon Wind as well) is pretty much on point for film’s motif, with slightly borrowed synth and dreamy dramatic tones. If anything, the background music gets a little generic in its quest to match the example set down by those before it, but it works. There are quite a few surreal moments. Intentionally or not, the mix of film qualities and irrelevant scenes ends up looking like something that the second season of Twin Peaks left on the cutting room floor.  Gore effects are all pretty nice, including a few beautiful cranial impacts. It straight up rips many of the kills, sometimes by the shot, there is even a rendition of one of my all-time favorites the “coitus-kabob”. It racks up at least fourteen bodies by the end of the movie, and a more-is-better philosophy transfers to the nudity as well, which is sprinkled in at the same frequency. It probably packs more tits than worthwhile dialogue ( or definitely does).
You have to give it to Twisted Nightmare on one thing at least-- it doesn't skimp on victims. The initial scenes with the whole group in the cabin look like the party from Animal House (1978), packed with ill-fated reunioners. As a favorite character, I lean towards the resident asshole Dean, played by Kenneth Roper Jr. He is given some terrible one-liners through his relatively long lifespan and is just God awful, but like all the highlights he, somehow, is fucking perfect. Rhonda Gray plays a witch (or something) that spends a good part of the film in the bathroom, which is cool but not as fun as it sounds. Cleve Hall who provided all special effects and makeup also spends some time in front of the camera as the extra crispy plot device Matthew. Brad Bartram plays Shawn, and I still don't remember what else I have seen him in, probably something with “Bikini” in the title. Whether it’s for direction given, dubbing or ability, nobody really comes out looking good here, but it's all very in line with the rest of the film.
Twisted Nightmare is garbage, but it's well-recycled garbage, in a good way, plus that kind of shit is environmentally responsible. The film works as a melody of slasher elements with a focus on the summer camp subgenre. It's a brainless, fun, hollow flick that knows what you came for and attempts to make a buffet of its fan service. It is like the cheap off the strip casino buffet, but it's still pretty tasty and above all, plentiful. Really though, it probably has most films beat on summer camp drama. I mean, there was like fifteen dead people, a pound of tension, and shit even got kinda orgy-ish at this camps quasi-reunion. It kind of makes me wish I had gone to summer camp-- some of us only had the school year to make our bad choices and scar people for life.
(I couldn't find a trailer, below is a slightly revealing clip)
 1h 35min | 1987
 Director: Paul Hunt
Writers: Paul Hunt and Charles Philip Moore

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Review by:
RevTerry


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