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John’s Horror Corner: Campfire Tales (1997), an underrated and often forgotten horror anthology with an awesome cast.

April 22, 2020

MY CALL: From werewolves and stalkers to ghostly histories and urban legends, this was a very good anthology with an outstanding cast of before-they-were-stars. Totally worth your time if you’re a fan of the anthology style.

MORE HORROR ANTHOLOGIES: Dead of Night (1945), Black Sabbath (1963), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), The Uncanny (1977), Screams of a Winter Night (1979), Creepshow (1982), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985), Deadtime Stories (1986), Creepshow 2 (1987), From a Whisper to a Scream (1987; aka The Offspring), After Midnight (1989), Tales from the Crypt Season 1 (1989), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Grimm Prairie Tales (1990), The Willies (1990), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Dark Tales of Japan (2004), 3 Extremes (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Chillerama (2011), Little Deaths (2011), V/H/S (2012), The Theater Bizarre (2012), The ABCs of Death (2013), V/H/S 2 (2013), All Hallows’ Eve (2013), The Profane Exhibit (2013), The ABCs of Death 2 (2014), V/H/S Viral (2014), Southbound (2015), Tales of Halloween (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), The ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016), Holidays (2016), Terrified (2017; aka Aterrados, a pseudo-anthology), Oats Studios, Vol. 1 (2017), Ghost Stories (2017), XX (2017), The Field Guide to Evil (2018), Shudder’s series Creepshow (2019) and Xenophobia (2019).

This feisty little anthology breaks anthology conventions and starts right into one of its segments. Which wouldn’t normally be unusual (i.e., an anthology without a wraparound or storytelling device). Only in this case, there is a wraparound and it begins after the first segment, which is a stylish black and white to match the era of its urban legend.

The Hook—Just a couple 50s teenagers necking in a parked car, Eddie (James Marsden; The Stand, Westworld, Straw Dogs, The Box, Disturbing Behavior) and Jenny (Amy Smart; Mirrors, The Butterfly Effect, Flight 7500) are trying to have a hot date. After one too many moments that Jenny thought she saw someone or something in the darkness, Jenny demands that Eddie take her home. When Eddie finally steps out of the car, he sees a bloody disembodied forearm with a prosthetic hook hanging from Jenny’s passenger-side door… just as it’s told in the urban legend.

Next, we cut to some teenagers swerving around a woodsy rode. The Campfire introduces a group of teenagers (including Christine Taylor; Night of the Demons 2, The Craft) who get stranded with car trouble, so they make a fire and tell stories to kill time while they wait for help. This is our wraparound story. While the stories of this anthology are generally unlinked, the ending to the Campfire wraparound does a nice job tying some elements together. Another reason I favor this movie.

The Honeymoon—Road tripping across the country to Vegas, honeymooners Rick (Ron Livingston; The Conjuring) and Valerie (Jennifer MacDonald) find themselves out of gas in werewolf country on a full moon. Not believing the warnings of a scared local (Hawthorne James; Speed, Se7en), Rick wanders out to find gas. This featured good acting, and a solid gory reveal at the end with a slashed up hanging body.

People Can Lick Too—On the eve of her 12th birthday, a young girl has the house to herself when her parents go out and her older sister (Devon Odessa; Pumpkinhead) sneaks off and leaves her alone with no company except her protective family dog. This is based on the classic urban legend about the stalker (Jonathan Fuller; Castle Freak, The Pit and the Pendulum) who licks a girl’s hand at the side of her bed. Like Strangeland (1998), this also serves as a cautionary tale against revealing personal information to strangers on the internet. Very creepy.

The Locket—When a wandering drifter’s motorcycle breaks down in a storm, the man approaches a lonely rural house to ask to use the phone. A lovely mute (Jacinda Barrett; Bloodline, Urban Legends: Final Cut) offers him shelter, but she doesn’t have a phone. The wanderer soon discovers that this house has a dark and haunted past, and he has a strange connection to the mysterious mute.

Yes, I know. It’s in-your-face tropey that three of the segments involve being stranded due to a vehicle malfunction. And there’s little mystery behind the storytelling. But, however blatant these stories are, I enjoyed how they were told and presented and acted. Consider this, I basically liked all the protagonists (to some degree) among five short horror stories. That’s unusual! Surprisingly good acting across the board and decent blood and gore (even if overall minimized by budget).

This fun anthology is worth your time.

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