(David Semel, Martin Kunert and Matt Cooper, US, 1996)
By virtue of being an anthology movie, Campfire Tales is automatically entitled to a favourable viewing frame of mind in the Dark Star living room. I love anthologies and Campfire is hard evidence of why these movies can be so much fun. It goes like this... On a dark, deserted road, four teenagers wreck their car. Shaken but unhurt, they decide to wait for help and light a campfire to keep warm and to entertain each other they tell spooky stories: the one-handed walking dead man stalking teenagers, creatures in the woods happy to slaughter careless humans, the dangers of making unseen friends on the internet, and a haunted farm house with a terrible past. As they each tell their tale the night draws in and the line between fiction and truth becomes increasingly blurred.
Each of the stories in Campfire Tales is based on a popular urban myth. Even when the stories are well-known each of the three directors manage to pull them off in a skilled and creepy manner. Supported throughout by excellent performances from the entire, largely unknown cast, Campfire is one of the best horror anthology movies of recent years. The entire production reminded me of 1950s horror comics, complete with shock endings. Like the best of those stories, Campfire delivers intriguing scenarios that in themselves are so well crafted the conclusions come as mere shock full stops to events rather than providing the raison d'être. (Or, if you want to use a sexual metaphor, the foreplay is as good as the climax!) After the lightweight teasing of the pre-credits story (set in the 1950s and screened in black and white, with period pop song score) the really eerie stuff gets underway. Despite the 18-rating, there is little blood to be found on screen and the directors have all seen sense to return to a style of horror filmmaking where sounds and shadows play a much more important (and frequently more effective) role in chilling viewers. It certainly works here - I first watched this on a sunny afternoon and it still managed to spook me. With a neat, satisfying and clever conclusion to the wrap-around story, Campfire Tales is a must-rent if you've a soft spot for anthology movies, urban myths or just genuinely creepy stories.