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June 24, 2018

Movie Review: Tales from the Campfire (2017; Night of Terror Films)



…ya’ know?? This able-scribing reviewer…nay, even more so, this ardent devotee of the cinema macabre and fantastique…hath seen it hundreds of times. Uh, no…not the rather cool lil’ movie, which will momentarily get a sweep of keenly focused and illuminating spotlight, herein. Rather, we’re talking the multitude of times having been in the attentive audience of special screening personal appearances, movie-based lecture events and film convention forums…the film stars, the genre writers, the directors, the filmmakers and behind-the-scenes contributors…often times, once fans themselves, and now embracing their own fans…with the unrelenting gauntlet of varied questions asked by eagerly inquisitive forum attendees…’what was it like, working with (fill in the blank)’…’how did you manage to…’…’what are (you) doing now/what are (you) doing next?’…and so on…

…and time & time again…from the more ambitious few in the audience…the same, if not similar question of ‘…if I wanted to get started, how would I get started…how could I get my stuff out there??’ And without missing a beat…to a varying degree, the seasoned response is almost always, ‘…really?? Just get out there and do itdon’t be afraid of taking the chance, given an unswerving passion, and a respectable measure of resources…even the smallest and unpolished projects, given one’s heart and passion, may be well enough to get the ball rolling…even towards something bigger…’…or well, something along those lines…


…getting right to the point, in having recently been afforded a screening of a ‘little engine that could’ micro-budgeted anthology film, unassumingly titled “Tales from the Campfire”, this reviewer optimistically jumped into the viewing ‘fray’ with the highest hopes that this reportedly ambitious little film might measure up to that gritty, maverick, put it all on the line, and ‘git’ it dun’ by hook or crook’ attitude, given a lot of well-applied heart and passion…all the best of what one might suggest the make-up of a good, micro-budgeted independent genre film production. So, the question remains…is ambition, heart, passion, attitude…not to mention, a reportedly mere pocket-change budget of $5,000…enough to carry this one though?? Hmmmm, let’s see, shall we??…..

…before the opening credits roll, we meet our hapless ‘storytellers’…two young couples, bickering and debating about this and that, as they load up the car for an evening of fun in the woods. The game plan here at least officially, is to find a comfortable campsite, and kick back with a roaring fire, as they talk and tell ‘urban legend’ scaries, before retiring for the night…though un-officially and hardly secretive, there’s a good measure of underlining (…read ‘horny’) hopes of having a little more playful fun, than just merely telling horror stories 'round a fire…
…though, strangely enough, as the dusk-orange skies turn to starry black, and as our fateful four find their way to the campsite, settle in, & begin telling their varied torrid tales of terror, …each of which unfolds quite uniquely unto each other…it becomes ironically clear that each one of their stories, as they are unfurled, appear strangely connected with each other, in supposed suggestion of shudderingly ‘real’ incidents, having reportedly occurred in the surrounding area of the very campfire site which they reside, though from different times and perspectives. Tales of sheer horror, involving cemeteries appearing out of nowhere…evil stalking bird men…haunted houses, harboring bloodied, restless and vengeful spirits…practitioners of black arts, dead-determined to revive a long-suppressed, hellish master…the rotted flesh-hungry dead, rising from their tombs to appease their appetites…and a 300-year-old witch hunter, back from the grave, in order to exact a most blood-thirsty vengeance…
…and as an eerie, mysterious fog rolls in & about the camp site…as strange and creepy shadows dance flittingly about the cold mist, made all the more unsettling by the glow of the moon…as chilling, unnatural and inhuman sounds, chatter and echo from all directions…coming closer…and closer…and closer…our ‘eager to out-scare each other’ storytellers find themselves faced with a dreaded, unearthly truth…in more ways than one… that their stories may well not be as much the stuff of urban legend ‘fiction’, as their boasted and dramatically exaggerated tellings might suggest…so much so, in fact, that the possibility of them not making it through the night, with their lives…nay, even their very souls intact…slowly and surely, becomes more and more apparent…
…it’s been noted often enough, that anthologies can be measurably tricky in their execution, whether it be due to some of the stories standing out more than others (…sometimes, in the sense that in ending things in a bang, the director might save the best story for last…though, some might think otherwise, i.e. for prime example, see Mario Bava’s classic 1963 multi-faceted tales of terror, “Black Sabbath”, and the ongoing debate as to whether ‘Drop of Water’ was better than ‘Wurdalak’…in a matter of speaking, ‘to each, their own’, ‘one’s trash might be another’s treasure’, and so on…), or whether or not the wraparound story amiably links the singular stories. With “Tales from the Campfire”, first-time director Tim Bell has wrought a good measure of success on both counts, with all of the stories linked, directly or indirectly, as well as the ‘telling urban tales around the campfire’ motif of the wraparound; in the end, none of the tales really stand out over each other, because they all contribute to the overall ‘legend’, which makes up the whole of the film's ghastly proceedings, yet are uniquely individual unto themselves...like pieces in a frightfully macabre and gruesome puzzle…or as the old saying goes, ‘the sum of the parts greatly outweighs the innate value of the singular parts’…
…and as if that’s not enough…that is, for those who are keenly genre-savvy…”Tales from the Campfire” is deliciously chuck-ful of direct and indirect nods & wink-winks to genre films of the past…not so much as to outright ‘carbon copy’ those ideas, but rather used in balanced and clever moderation & inspiration, so that the film…despite it’s tendency towards scattered, inspired homage, still manages to run on it’s own steam, and stands quite well on it’s own two feet (…or three…or four…or six…oh yes, tentacles included…)…ya’ know, kinda like what the higher-profile filmmakers did for 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods”, but herein on a smaller scale, and not as self-realized. Point in case, if you take a gander over here, you can’t miss a nice ‘Evil Dead’ visual style to the proceedings, with perhaps just a smidge accent of Antonio Margheriti’s ‘Castle of Blood’, for good measure. Further down the line…why, that’s a nice little ‘Night of the Living Dead’ overcoat, you have there. And what’s this up ahead?? That thing, with the thing, and the thing, where the stories of dread, like evilly intrusive tendrils, tie into & affect the wraparound…not to mention, the stories themselves, featuring actor performers from the wraparound?? Why, that sly little elbow poke seems to recall 1979’s “Screams of a Winter Night”. Even the extended, pre-credit ‘nicey-nice’ opening setup…way too suspiciously ‘nice’ to consider that anything could possibly go wrong, considering the film’s title…the shape, or rather, the horrors of things to come?? Couldn’t help but recall a familiar twinge from 1984’s “Fall Break”, on that one. And of course, leave us not forget about the instilled ‘Scream’-like red herrings…damn, those are slippery lil’ suckers, ain't they…
…as might be expected for a film of this ilk, the main cast is able-bodied, albeit fairly standard to their roles…not overly standout, but hardly negligible; the overall feel of the performances seems to be an enthusiastic level of ‘…hey, let’s make a horror movie…it’ll be fun…’, and any respectable semblance of character, which is there…clearly stems from that enthusiasm. In contrast, it is the faceless and goopy made-up characters…the zombies…the black-hooded, garbed and bird-faced spectres…the ghostly apparitions, in bloodied aftermath…appear to be the choice ones herein, who are having the most fun, creeping about menacingly…and to a degree, the most challenged, as well; for instance, all due credit to one of the ‘scary’ characters, sporting what appears to be pitch black sclera lenses (…speaking from experience, those suckers are a @#$%ing bitch to wear, for any length of time!!)…
…probably due to budget restrictions, the special effects and make-up work in “Tales…” seem to vary across a spectrum, as far as quality, from forgivably slipshod & hurried, to adequately creepy & accomplished. As best as possible, the patchwork ‘don’t look too closely’ make-up effects are hindered by diminished lighting, and mask-like effects are de-emphasized with strategically applied editing. The more accomplished effects are well lit and executed, though…throat slashings, fleshy & bloodied aftermath ‘damage’, inspired ‘cutting into flesh’ effect illusions, etc. To the film’s credit, it is the costumes which stand out, overall…very creepy and unsettling (…an understatement, especially as far as that freakin’ coal-black, mist-enshrouded, raven-headed menace, featured herein…sure as hell wouldn’t want to see this creepy lookin’ sucker at the other end of a well-lit frozen food section, let alone in a chillingly dark, albeit moon-lit fog-blanketed cemetery…Ooooo!! Scar-r-r-r-ry!!!)…

…”Tales from the Campfire” is not a perfect film, by any means; in fact, it plays more like a bargain-basement, rehearsal first-draft, with aspirations towards something more polished, providing it was afforded additional time, money and resources…to a degree, kinda like how Sam Raimi’s “Within the Woods” was a scratchy, first-draft template, later expounded and retooled into what would invariably become an ‘80’s classic…namely 1981’s “The Evil Dead”. To his awesome credit, if this is what Tim Bell can do with a mere five grand, one can only imagine what he could do with more; heaven knows, most folks true to the genre will invariably agree, in the annuls of Hollywood's much glossier and higher-profile horror cinema past, a helluva lot worse has been accomplished by a helluva lot more, as compared to "Tales..."…

…that been said, ‘bargain basement’ or not, there’s an overflowing abundance of heart, ambition, attitude, cleverness and resourcefulness in the core of this film. From the scratchy, drive-in style opening, to the twist ending’s final frame (…and hell, what horror anthology doesn’t have some sort of ‘EC Comics’ inspired twist ending, right??). It’s the kind of permissibly distracting and appreciation-worthy first-film effort which makes one wonder what else these guys might have up their sleeves next, given more prominence and exposure…not to mention, additional resources…

...we, as well as they, can only hope, right??

...although there are respectable scares a-plenty in this respectably chilling and atmospheric film, there's definitely no 'fear' in production, as far as the filmmakers and all involved, in braving the waters and getting it all out there, as said before, 'by hook or by crook'; for the former, as well as the latter, that's inspiration enough to check out this lil' flawed gem of a movie...



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