Dr. Spain's Horror Review: "Ghost of Camp Blood"
There are bad movies, there are movies that kill you seven days after you watch them, and then there is "Ghost of Camp Blood"
I’d like to preface this by saying that I have seen a lot of bad films in my life. There’s a certain part of me that has a self-destructive need to discover movies of surpassingly poor quality, and that’s given me a real insight into just how terrible a work of visual medium can be while still qualifying as a film. I’m saying this because I want to provide a good level of context for the second part of this sentence when I say that Ghost of Camp Blood is not only the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life, but also the worst thing that’s ever personally happened to me.
Horror movies are a tricky beast, I’ll admit. The genre seems to put out a lot of second or even third-rate material; for every Hereditary or Martyrs, there is a positive mass of movies of the quality of Unfriended and Jeepers Creepers 3. Creating a good horror flick seems to be one of the more difficult tasks one can take on when it comes to filmmaking, but when a horror movie is done truly well, I’d feel confident in putting it up against the best that any other genre has to offer. The view from the peak would appear to be equalled only by the struggle of reaching it, and any title that reaches the heights of something like Antichrist has done so, in part, by standing on the shoulders of earnest if inferior offerings.
Ghost of Camp Blood is not one of these titles that form the shoulders of horror cinema giants. I’m not quite sure what it is, though the word “assault” springs to mind with worrying ease. I feel like calling it a film shouldn’t really be allowed. If it wasn’t for my views on the censorship of the arts, I’d say that the movie itself shouldn’t be allowed either.
It’s typical at this point, in most reviews, to offer a brief summary of whatever media is being discussed, but that does present some difficulty. The first twenty minutes of footage don’t offer much of a clue as to its narrative or even its premise. I flatter myself that I’m not unintelligent, but it was hard to be enlightened by what played out onscreen.
I’m given to understand – barely – that a clown is committing several acts of murder, which at this point in human civilisation seems to be il pagliaccio’s only purpose. That clown is apparently killed, only possibly not. We are then shown news footage of the police gunning down a clown outside a house: the closest flirtation with realism that Ghost of Camp Blood engages in. I don’t know if it’s the same clown as before or a different one: a clown is dead, which should be a victory whatever their story.
At this point, we’re introduced to a television presenter who looks like a neo-Nazi and who possesses the same intelligence and charm as a neo-Nazi. He apparently hosts a show that revolves around serial killers: a show which is now in danger of being axed. It’s not hard to see why; the station seems to be running their business out of a university building and has only two visible employees, one of whom makes Alex Jones look like a competent professional. The case of the recently-executed murder clown is just the thing our skinhead protagonist needs to save his show and, with a trio of plucky ghosthunters by his side, he begins his investigation into his most interesting subject yet.
That’s the film’s premise, or it is once it’s been wrestled into a reasonable state. Ghost of Camp Blood’s writing is not its strongest point. To this day, I still don’t know what its strongest point is, even via process of elimination. But it’s certainly not the writing, which brings to mind nothing more than watching Jeremy Irons have sex in Damage: you sort of know what he’s trying to do, but he’s doing it in a way that you’ve never seen it done before; it’s bad enough that you wonder if this is his first time, and you’re left with vague feelings of nausea and disquiet. I would not be surprised to find that Ghost of Camp Blood was the writer’s first screenplay, or even if it was the first thing they’d ever written in their entire lives. My only surprise is that someone looked at those words, arranged in that order, and thought that an association with the project could be in some way beneficial.
The narrative of the film itself is what I imagine it would be like to have schizophrenia. Some parts of the story do follow on from each other in a meandering and half-hearted sort of way, but there are so many random departures that throw the whole thing into disarray. And, like dropping an elbow onto a man with stage four cancer, while the act of not doing so isn’t going to save the day, you still probably shouldn’t do it.
Throughout much of the film we’re treated to these inexplicable breaks in what you could, if you were a liar, call “the plot”, which feature a woman waking up in a garage and trying to escape. Then a clown attacks her, either strangling, stripping, or stabbing her. This happens three times as she woozily drifts in and out of consciousness before even the killer clown gets bored of this and yanks her guts out through her stomach. I’m not sure what purpose these scenes served apart from to remind everyone that the clown is the film’s antagonist, which at least shows that the people responsible for this cinematic calamity had as much respect for their audience’s intellectual prowess as I have for theirs.
Possibly those scenes are there in order to show some nudity, but that’s not even part of the scenes themselves. Instead, we get large, wet breasts superimposed over what’s happening onscreen, which is mostly strangling, stabbing, and disembowelment. And I have nothing against breasts, whatever their size or dampness, but I do like to know exactly why they’re there. The nudity in this movie was like opening my microwave and finding a pair of tits inside: my mind isn’t going to go “hurrah for tits” and make me forget everything else; I’m going to want to know what these tits are doing in my microwave and whether I need to call my lawyer.
The rest of the plot is serviceable, I suppose, in the same way that a bicycle is technically edible. It’s crippled considerably by the quality of the film’s dialogue, and when I say “crippled”, I mean the full amputation of both legs and being left to bleed out on the operating table as the doctors stub their cigarettes on the stumps. There are some real winners in there, from the oddly philosophical, “Who would have thought that clowns could drive cars?” to the beautifully cynical, “We all know what contracts are worth”: a line to which possibly only Bogart himself could do justice. My favourite, however, has to go to the words, “That’s hot: real hot! And trendy!”, delivered with all the excitement of a man that’s been in a coma for seven years and will be for another twenty.
I know that people in films, books, or on the stage don’t talk like real people but, in most cases, you can at least imagine people saying the words themselves. This is a long way removed from that; watching this film was like trying to detect a foreign spy by looking out for the incongruities in their conversation, except every character is a spy and is also suffering from a severe learning disability.
The acting doesn’t help. I’ve mentioned the dead-eyed apathy of a man declaring something to be “real hot”, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I thought, watching this film, that none of its performers could ever have worked in the field before, which might have explained the quality of the acting even if it wouldn’t have excused it. But, according to the film’s IMDB page, the main cast all have at least ten credits each to their names. Maybe someone was passing out some incredible drugs every day that filming took place; if so, I’d have appreciated being offered some before I viewed the end product. Acting might be the grandest lie, but it pales in comparison to calling what takes place onscreen “acting”. At least the killer clown had the excuse of wearing a mask, but the emotional nuance or lack thereof from the other characters made him seem like the only real human onscreen. He did, if nothing else, have drives and motivations that weren’t immediately contrasted by his performance, even if his motivation did boil down to “murder people because it’s fun”. Any other character onscreen could have been revealed as secretly evil all along, and it scarcely would have surprised me, so utterly maniacal was their acting.
The special effects were not offensively bad so much as they were unnecessary in the first place. I’m not sure what the purpose was of having the clown fade in and out of existence like he’s popped into the astral plane then come straight back out again because he’s forgotten what he went in for, but at least there was a semblance of competence. Not so the audio effects of the film, which intruded upon scene after scene with all the subtlety and charm of a tuba player wearing someone else’s skin. I understand that money must be tight, but when you’re faced with either using sound effects that most people are going to recognise from Vines and TikToks or nothing at all, it might be time to think about the tension that a lack of nondiegetic sound can lend a film. Other horror titles have used this to great effect, and it comes with the added bonus of not mentally transporting me back to 2009 for a brief, disorienting moment.
As for the horror itself…well, what horror? Perhaps the idea of the ghost of a killer clown that can possess you and force you to murder is a disturbing one, but if an idea was all there was to creating a great horror film then every one of them could just be a title page with the words “There Are Cockroaches Under Your Skin” and the awards would flood in. There wasn’t anything to be afraid of in this film, besides the knowledge that its cast and crew were out there, potentially making more entries into the Camp Blood series. Horror, tension, terror: none of them made an appearance. There was unease, but that mostly came from my constant suspicion that the first thirty minutes of footage were cover for a snuff film. At least that would have provided a reason for the film being made.
It’s hard for me to sum up my thoughts about this film. I’ve heard of the expression “so bad it’s good”, but that really doesn’t apply. Nothing about this film is good; even the act of mocking it, something I usually derive enjoyment from, feels like bullying. Calling it “bad” doesn’t really do the job either. It’s not a strong enough word but, then again, neither is “abomination”. If the film had been some attempt at satire – a facetious take on the whole horror genre – I’d be calling it a work of art, but I doubt that Swift, Voltaire and Iannucci working in tandem could come up with parody that well-disguised.
In a way, I feel like people should be encouraged to watch the film, probably at gunpoint. It’s more than likely my Catholic upbringing talking, but I think that an awareness of Ghost of Camp Blood would do something for the creativity of others, much like a belief in hell has been thought to improve the moral character of the individual. Every time a director or writer looked at their work and thought to themselves, “good enough”, then perhaps they would remember Ghost of Camp Blood and consider going over it one more time. The film may actually be bad enough to be the key to a whole new cultural renaissance.
Send in the clowns.