Newcomer, Harrison Smith, has a love for retro horror cinema and his newest film, Camp Dread, is enough proof for me. I had the pleasure of interviewing Harrison recently, and we both hope you’ll enjoy this look into Camp Dread and Harrison’s take on what film making is really all about.
Fister: Seeing Sleepaway Camp’s Felissa Rose, was a great nod to the past. How did the idea behind Camp Dread come to be?
Harrison: I wish the slasher camp movie concept was created by me, so to answer that, it came from being an 80s kid, seeing F13th, Sleepaway, The Burning, etc. My investor wanted a slasher film, so I obliged. All I asked in return was to give a twist on things and write something other than the hulking psychopath hunting down everyone throughout.
I wanted something a little smarter and really wanted to take a swipe at reality TV. I feel that reality TV, which there is nothing real about it, allows a person to enjoy the suffering of other by disguising it as entertainment. It’s similar to the Roman circuses, where eventually the ultimate satisfaction in entertainment was death. We don’t watch The Biggest Loser to feel good, we watch to see people suffer and cry and stab each other in the back in cut throat competition. It’s about exploitation and finding the biggest thrill and in the end, death is it.
Fister: Eric Roberts and Danielle Harris were great in their respective roles. Was there anyone else on the cast that rose to the top that you might not have expected?
Harrison: Felissa Rose stands out. Her fame as Angela was what drove me to cast her. I wanted no one else for the role. It was written specifically for her as a tip of the hat toward Sleepaway Camp. To see her as this compassionate and caring counselor versus the way we last saw her at camp was a nice turnabout. I don’t want to single anyone specifically out because it looks like I am playing favorites, but I can say any reviews stating my teen actors were “wooden” or “one dimensional” are way off base because these kids shined and took the words written for them and made them their own. I was thrilled with this young cast and have worked with many of them before and after Camp Dread.
Fister: I was almost cheering with the first death, Harrison. As far as horror goes, grisly murder at a summer camp is like opening a cooler at an Insane Clown Posse concert and finding Orange Faygo. How much fun was it to use practical effects in a new film with such an iconic setting?
Harrison: It was a blast. You know, I am glad to hear that the first death made you happy. Some reviews scolded us for not going far enough or using the practical effects to their fullest advantage. Yet others have said similar things you just said. I went completely for practical because CGI still doesn’t cut it. Plus it makes the effect much more personal. We set that first death up to make you think someone was onna come running from off camera or give some kind of ambush and then WHAM! Cleve Hall worked well to give what we wanted and while we didn’t have “Saw” type effects, we hopefully give enough gore and goop for our audience.
Fister: I’m sure you had a lot of favorites to choose from when outlining Camp Dread, but what’s you all-time favorite horror film and why?
Harrison: Wow. I think The Exorcist and Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers were the scariest I have seen but for different reasons and not the obvious ones. The demon stuff didn’t bother me at all in The Exorcist. It was Father Karras’s personal trauma that hit me and moved me and chilled me. Invasion of the Body Snatchers accurately predicted the conformist, coma like sleep our society has since fallen into and punishes people who step outside the norm or think outside the box. However “Lake Mungo” is a recent gem. I’m a fan of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, classic Hammer, the original Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein is as good if not better today than ever. While I enjoyed the original F13th, I think the 1978 Halloween might be a damned near perfect horror film, along with Carpenter’s The Thing and 1979’s Alien. Alien is horror, without a doubt. I have a lot of favorites because they represent times in my life and while I love comedy, a great drama (Network is scary as hell for the message it delivered) horror was a part of my childhood and adolescence. I need to give a shout out to 1983’s Psycho II, one of all-time favorites. Not saying it’s superior to the 1960 original, simply stating I enjoyed it and didn’t expect to.
Fister: Big multiplex horror in 2014 – how much of it is worth the time or money?
Harrison: That’s a great question. I would love to make it there and one day find out and get back to you. I don’t think anything should be summarily dismissed under a label. Several of the films I mentioned as favorites graced multiplex theaters. I would be more focused on glossy, style over substance remakes or gimmick horror. I’m not a fan of found footage films; as I feel most are lazy and cheat. However some have been effective and I don’t care what anyone says; Blair Witch works and is an effective horror film.
Fister: What films, even non-horror, inspired you to become a director?
Harrison: Jaws. What that film did to audiences: laughter, screams, standing ovations….that’s what I wanted to do. However other films? Psycho II, Network, Caddyshack, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, What’s Up Doc?, Godzilla (1954), Blade Runner, Mad Monster Party, Close Encounters, the list goes on.
Fister: Before we boot you out, Harrison, thanks for taking the time to talk to us and our viewers. Can you tell us what horror plans you have next? Attending any horror cons this year?
Harrison: I have not been invited to any cons and as for horror plans we have the Billy Zane zombie action film, Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard coming this fall (www.zombiekillersmovie.com) and I am developing several projects that I hope take off. I never like to name them until all the pieces are in place. However, as much as I look to move away from horror filmmaking for a while, these are good projects and I hope to get them done.