With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
For the uninitiated, shot-on-video (or “SOV”) horror films were a genre of movies that made their debut during the VCR boom of the early- and mid-80s. VCRs had been readily available since the mid-70s but didn’t really take off until home rentals (via mom & pop video stores) became popular in the early 80s. Around the same time, camcorders had become available to the public. Fledgling, optimistic directors who aspired to make names for themselves seized this opportunity to make their own products and get their videos on the shelves of local and national video stores. Through pure chance and desperation on the part of these emergent video shops (who at the time, had little rentals to offer), these home movie maestros were somehow able to get their analog features on the rack right alongside big Hollywood productions. It was an amazing and exciting time for cinema and home video.
Another important thing to note: just as “digital” nowadays can mean something shot on a $600 Canon T3i or something shot on a $50,000 Epic Red Dragon, “shot-on-video” too covered a spectrum, ranging from really bad (think home movie quality) to semi-professional.
Cannibal Campout was a late entry to the SOV boom, and also one of the cheaper looking productions.
Directed by SOV staple Jon McBride, Campout is about four friends who head into the woods for a weekend camping trip, but bump into some super weird hillbillies before they’re able to set up camp. The story is quite similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that the group of friends have a brush with the then-unknown killers who eventually seal their fates. Additionally, the trio of hill people in Campout almost mirror the clan of cannibals from Chainsaw exactly: In this movie there’s the leader (the cook in Chainsaw), the deranged one (the hitchhiker in Chainsaw) and the silent masked monster (Leatherface in Chainsaw.) The only difference in this movie is that the masked killer wears a jet pilot helmet/mask combo, and looks like Toxie when he’s finally unmasked.
The movie is fairly typical z-grade SOV fare. And when I say “z-grade”, I mean ‘zee-ro’ budget. Zilch. No money. There is gore throughout the film, but all of the viscera looks like it was purchased from a local butcher shop, and the severed limbs look like leftovers from a mannequin. If I were to guess I’d say the entire budget went to the masked killers prune-like face.
One of the endearing aspects of SOV horror films is that they’re a group effort. You can tell the people involved really want to make this thing happen. Watching this movie, you get the sense that the director simply asked a group of his friends if they wanted to shoot a horror flick on the weekends, and they agreed, if nothing more than be a part of the magic of filmmaking. Most of Campout feels improvised, which adds to the bizarro vibe of the final product. Another thing I love about the SOV era of horror films is that they combined the sleazy look and feel of b-grade 70s exploitation trash with the stalk-and-slash killer trend that took hold in the 80s. It’s everything you could ever want from classic slasher horror, if that’s your bag.
Even though the movie is pretty poorly acted and cheaply shot, there is one stand out: Richard Marcus.
Rich portrays the ‘deranged cannibal’, and he’s easily the star of the show. Googling him won’t do any good because there’s another (famous) actor with the same name. Regardless, Rich is a goddamn treasure in Cannibal Campout. The man should be arrested for stealing scenes. I couldn’t get enough of his squawky, bug-eyed performance. He has this wonderfully thick Brooklyn accent which makes him sound like an extra from a Three Stooges short. And by looking at his thin frame and curious gait, I’ve decided he has some sort of real-life disability, which makes the scenes where his inbred brother calls him “retard” all the more uncomfortable. But I’m telling you: Rich is the only reason you need to watch this movie.
Some quick observations before I close:
- There’s a pretty shocking scene involving a pregnant girl at the end of the movie. I’m impressed with how far they went with it.
- This nerdy dude (who reminded me of William Butler in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) also composed the music, and it kept reminding me of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”.
- There are two tertiary characters who are pretty much Beavis & Butthead. In fact, I would be surprised if Mike Judge wasn’t directly inspired to create Beavis & Butthead after seeing Cannibal Campout. I mean, look at these two:
If you haven’t seen Cannibal Campout yet, I highly encourage you to seek it out. It’s one of the low-end SOV classics. It’s not the best, but it’s certainly not the worst — and when it comes to shot-on-video, that means something!