Apparently, while I wasn’t looking, ABC Family and the “executive producers” of Once Upon A Time decided to launch a summer camp-themed horror TV series this year, called Dead of Summer. The series premiered last night and the first episode is available on Hulu or you can watch it at their official site, which you’ll notice that they’ve got next week’s episode already available? But regardless, instead of watching those episodes, you can read my Angry Recap, because ABC Family has absolutely no place making this show.
INTRO: Tony Todd playing a creepy melody the piano. I mean, if you’ve got Tony Todd to be in your family-oriented horror TV show, why use any restraint? Also, props to his character for dragging a piano all the way out to his secluded cabin in the woods.
Angry dudes with torches and Winchester rifles! They’re after Tony Todd but, oddly, they don’t want him dead? Also, there’s a bunch of empty chairs in his cabin so it’s beginning to look more like maybe this is a church and Todd is the reverend? Tony Todd is VERY determined to keep playing this vaguely familiar song and angry guys don’t want him to. They’re especially concerned with his hands, as I would be too if this dude was playing this song on a piano in my vicinity.
We cut to some other angry guys outside the cabin looking very nervous, pistols aimed out at the darkness so there’s definitely an implied threat of some kind out there.
Apparently Tony Todd knows something about a bunch of people these angry guys are looking for and the dead bodies that we glimpse floating in a lake are PROBABLY said people. Just a hunch. I get a close enough glimpse at one of the bodies to notice that these are teens. Tony Todd either misses a note/finishes playing the tune and the bodies start staining the lake with blood. Coming back from the dead, presumably? Or did he finally bring them peace?
I GUESS WE’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT TO FIND OUT.
So it’s more than a half a century later (I’m estimating), Janet Jackson’s is in vogue, and we’re now being introduced to our cast of camp counselors. The first character we see is Amy, a very unremarkable girl, square in the lens of a video camera, and it’s immediately established that this is our heroine. She’s being filmed by a black guy with said camcorder. We discover that Amy has never been to Camp Stillwater before, or so she says. I assume we’ll learn her motivation later for volunteering to be a camp counselor here, where she’s definitely going to be even more socially anxious than she already is.
Video camera guy, Joel, seems nice enough. I worry that eventually the show is going to rely on his camcorder too heavily for exposition. I expect some night vision nonsense and dread it. Cue the popped collar douche, named Alex OF COURSE. Defying type, Alex seems to have a friendly bond with Joel, as well as the “cool” kid Jason; you know his cool ‘cuz he’s got a Grateful Dead tee and a boombox that reminds you this not quite the ‘nineties yet. “Cabin 10 back together, bro. It’s gonna be sick!” Cue Cabin Fever flashbacks. Alex, of course, immediately starts trying to impress Amy, Joel recording the whole thing. Can I just say that there is no way Joel is going to be able to keep this up? Camcorders back then just did NOT have this kind of capacity.
In walks our token gay with the even more tokenly-gay name, Blair, and his conventionally unattractive gal pal Cricket. Playing against type again, Alex and Blair have a friendly bond but I think this whole scene is a bit deceptive; we know it’s been years since this group last saw each other but things have obviously changed. Amy gets a slight ribbing about her preparedness from Cricket, but instead of being a normal human being, she gets pedantic instead. That a girl this attractive has zero social grace is seriously stretching my suspension of disbelief. Enter: sports car, manly man in the driver’s seat, goes in for a kiss from his presumed bae, DENIED. This sassy lady is Jessie Tyler and apparently she’s got it going on and everyone’s surprised ‘cuz she didn’t used to. Amy does not approve. Joel, on the other hand, totally does. As the group boards the bus, Amy again does the whole “spacey loner” thing and cue my first genuine groan of frustration with this show. Is that how it’s gotta be?
FLASHBACK: Amy’s first day at her new high school, where a mysterious lady drops her off. This is not a mother-daughter thing, clearly. Is that the writers’ excuse, Amy’s an orphan? Now that is ACTUAL bad writing. That being said, there’s something ominous about how Amy’s matron wants her to “succeed this time” and Amy is, like, super serious about it. Methinks there’s more to “succeeding” than just fitting in here. I’m calling it: Amy’s a robot.
Back at camp, it’s “just like they remember it” which begins to add to my suspicion that the camp is not a real camp at all. Alex tells Amy he can give her “the lay of the land” and that’s, like, kind of gross dude, though she’s into it I guess? Apparently one of the camp counselors walked to camp some distance and this guy Drew is probably the most obnoxious stereotype of them all; flannel, jeans, sunglasses, cigarette, surly attitude. I think it’s weird that this is the supposed to be the eighties but they can’t smoke at Camp Stillwater? ABC Family is COMPLETELY robbing an eighties TV show of ANY authenticity at this point.
Deborah Carpenter is introduced as the “new” camp director. So, the old camp director must have retired quietly and isn’t institutionalized or dead, right? Given that it closed down ‘84 and it’s been five years, it’s ‘89 so the Janet Jackson track earlier was WAY too on the nose. Deborah is kind of “off” in her yearning for Camp Stillwater to be a place where “you can find out who you are.” Apparently she did that in this very camp quite some time ago. Again, I’m really beginning to think this camp is not a camp at all. Maybe it’s a creepy cult recruitment thing, tying back to Tony Todd’s little gathering?
And then we’re introduced to easily the most idiotic stereotype of the show, the Brit-accented, jumpsuit-wearing, alchoholic groundskeeper Dave. Honestly, I’m surprised he wasn’t wearing a hockey mask.
FLASHBACK PART II: Back in school, Amy gets a haughty, cool girl lab partner but not before some really bad acting where she vaguely hints at a changed situation for her “family.” ROBOT FAMILY IS MORE LIKE IT. Amy does more awkward embarrassing Amy stuff.
It’s campfire time, everyone’s drinking and gettin’ high, and immediately people are talking about whether or not Drew is gay because nobody remembers him from their time at the camp. Cricket starts talking about a Satanic serial killer and the show touches on the Satanic panic of that era, and we get our first thematic hint at the horror elements of the show. Cue the typical “scary campfire story/jump scare” of the series. Amy has to go get firewood. Here’s your first huge mistake as a director; why the FUCK would you use lens flare in a scene of someone walking through the woods with a flashlight? That literally ruins ANY atmosphere that scene might have. There is a pretty clever use of a swinging tire that, if you’re wearing headphones, will catch you off guard. But of course, it’s just groundskeeper Dave, playing the Harbinger role to the hilt. Confirming my theories, Dave says she has no idea what this place is. IT’S A ROBOT REHABILITATION CENTER, OBVIOUSLY. That or a satanic recruitment camp.
But how could a satanic recruitment camp/robot rehabilitation center has such charming pranks? Also using R.E.M.’s “Pop Song ‘89” is again TOO ON THE FUCKING NOSE. Seriously, would it hurt you to use a track from ‘87? Or how about some heavy metal, this was only the summer of Overkill and Annihilator! Speaking of metal, Joel accidentally catches a disturbingly exhibitionist Deborah in her underwear, continuing to fuel my theories that all of these characters are actually robots who just need a good reprogramming. Something heavy is also going on between Cricket and Jessie. Is it more than friendship? WHO KNOWS. Certainly not the mutilated deer the girls find. MALFUNCTIONING ROBOTS! Deborah blames it on a poacher, which naturally nobody buys. This is where any of these kids, who have to have at least HEARD of Friday The 13th, would be like “Nope bye.” Deborah tries to defend accusations that Groundskeeper Dave (I’m just calling him Daveskeeper from now on) is creepy but, lady, doesn’t matter if he’s harmless, HE’S CREEPY. GET HIM THE FUCK OUT.
FLASHBACK PART III: I’m not even going to recap these parts because it’s literally just stereotypical fucking high school bullshit. Amy stands up for the unpopular girl. WHOOOO CARES. Why is this stuff even in this show? AMY IS COMPLETELY BLAND
Back at camp, Amy tries to engage with Drew, who brushes her off. This kid had better have a very, VERY good reason for alienating literally EVERYONE. There’s swimming, Cricket’s got body issues, Joel’s recording the whole thing and hey look, there’s Tony Todd.
HOW FUCKING PREDICTABLE.
Oh also, Daveskeeper is now Davesfloater. Fresh faced Deputy bickers with gruff Sheriff about whether to investigate Davefloater’s death. I guess that put a damper on another campfire session but Amy still manages to get a scare in when Deputy returns out of nowhere. Also, the guy who plays Deputy looks AND sounds like a young Billy Zane which is creepy in itself. Fun facts about Deputy: he used to go to the camp (which is why the rest of the group is so friendly with him) and his dad was the sheriff, killed in the line of duty (FIGHTING OFF KILLER ROBOTS!). Also, he’s about as good as Billy Zane at acting, but at least he’s not made of formica like the girl playing Amy. Also, bleeding trees. SPOOOOOKY.
WHY IN THE FUCK WOULD AMY WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO DAVE? That is literally psychotic behavior. YOU BUMPED INTO HIS CORPSE IN THE WATER. I get that this is horror but there is nothing about her character that indicates she gives a crap about Dave. I am not at all sold on her. Bad writing. BAD.
Dave, it turns out, was into some weird shit, and there’s a photo of Tony Todd in amongst his weird shit. Which, like, how the hell did some weird creepy backwoods reverend dude have his photo taken back when photos were still a big deal? Someone arsonates Dave’s cabin and Amy saves Deputy’s ass (with the very same axe Cricket joked she was going to be murdered with, natch), erasing all evidence of Dave’s weird shit except a weird map Deputy saved. Gruff Sheriff is now obviously engaging in a coverup, very poorly I might add.
In the meantime, Deborah is digging up old stuff and the rest of the counselors are speculating on the meaning of Davefloater’s death. Joel, looking for Tony Todd on his camcorder, violates rule #1 of being in a horror movie; never withhold information from other campers. Drew finally interacts with the group by, of course, being unhelpfully pedantic. Apparently, the photos they sat in Dave’s cabin are Victorian death portraits. So that means we have some old white dude who gets his neck sliced open, a black dude who is not Tony Todd is decapitated, and Tony Todd himself looks he was hung.
Either way, camp’s cancelled. Drew, though, gets a glimpse of a creepy little girl with a red balloon. That’s nice. Joel starts talking about The Wicker Man, possibly a nod at the cult storyline that’s beginning to emerge, except that if Joel knows his horror films, WHY IS HE STILL HANGING AROUND THE CAMP?! Jessie’s mom calls? Power goes out. Also, Amy keeps fucking up on the “not it” game and honestly, this is some of the laziest screenwriting I’ve ever seen. There’s the “reset the circuit breaker with the cute guy” cliche, complete with mouse-powered jump scare, Amy gets to be even more dysfunctional.
There’s another flashback that serves only one purpose, which is to provide Amy with the motivation to “do things that scare [her]” and try and kiss Alex. Well, until she discovers that the rotting ghost corpse of her snobby high school friend Margot is also totally ready for a threesome. Or it was all just Amy having some kind of meltdown. WHO KNOWS.
Deputy comes back with the weird map, Deborah recognizes it, starts getting hostile. Amy’s hanging out, being a loner, fondling the creepy charm bracelet she’s had and generally reminding me that this show doesn’t understand how protagonists work. We get a flashback that hints at a party where Margot probably died of an OD and Amy is wracked with guilt or something. Who knows. Apathy is starting to set in, at this point. She gets chased by the Margot ghost again, Deputy is confused. Sorry, my bad, Margot didn’t die of an OD, it’s something EVEN STUPIDER.
In the meantime, Joey goes back to record Deborah in her window again. Super weird and she’s not having any of it this time around. There’s some slightly less weird scene where Alex is stealing what we can only assume are dead people’s clothes? Cricket’s got emotional problems, of course. Drew, it turns out, has a very good reason for being so antisocial so props to the writers for that, except you have this one very serious, precarious social issue on a show where literally everything else is absurdly corny. The dead bodies from the past come bubbling back up in the lake just as the group misses the reappearance of Tony Todd on the video playback.
THEORIES: One of the dead satanist characters, probably the one with his throat cut, convinced a bunch of kids to drown themselves in the lake together. Tony Todd killed this guy and tried to bring the kids back but was stopped before he could and now he wants to complete the ritual. Or something. Oh yeah and the whole camp is his way of doing it.