PHBC: CAMP FEAR

Posted by James Dawson on February 13, 2014

f_1471926What’s It All About?

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best and Camp Fear is living proof of this. A group of old friends return to work at a wilderness summer camp years after they attended as youngsters. This time they are joined by clean person Rachel, who starts to suspect the gang might be hiding a DARK SECRET about their prior visit.

Before long, a series of SCARETASTIC TRICKS are being played and no-one’s a HAPPY CAMPER. *Dies*.

Going into this one was fun. I did read it in the 90s but had NO recollection of what happened.

Scaretastic Tricks?

Oh yes. Our mysterious tormentor cleverly exploits the campers deepest fears: snakes, water, heights…erm well that’s it, but they’re still pretty scary.

The Girl

Rachel is your standard girl-next-door. She’s quite exciting because she has short hair. Most Point Horror Girls have lots of hair. This is deemed a mistake because she wishes she could tie it back. Rachel has two main interests: pinning photos to a display board, thinking about removing them, but never doing so, and being clean. I mean, I like at least one shower a day, but Carol Ellis really enjoys writing about them. Not only that, the cleanliness of the camp site shower block is described at length several times. I think we all know what Ellis’s darkest fear is: dirty showers.

Towel_2Who are the Others?

Like any good mystery, there’s a roster of suspects. We have princess Stacey, All-American Jordan, pro-active Linda, cold Mark, goofball Steve, brooding Paul and finally Terry who feels like she retires to her cabin to talk to the invisible friends she keeps in a shoebox of animal remains.

Big shout out also to the token adults who keep driving away for ‘supplies’ (yeah right), Tim and Michelle, who I legit believe to be Christine Baranski and Peter MacNichol from Addams Family Values.

IMG_2814The Love Interest

Ellis has a dalliance with a love triangle in the first part of the book. Paul broods a little too hard and drives Rachel into the arms of Jordan. However, she quickly realises he has a sulking habit and Ellis realises she needs some suspects so Rachel throws her attention onto Paul for the remainder of the book. It works: I suspected Jordan all the way through.

Brilliantly there is actually a PAUL in HEARTTHROB and he’s actually quite hot and like his description in the book.

Dialogue Disasters

Jordan: ‘I’ve got a stick.’ We know, dear. Put it away.

Actually, Ellis writes pretty sharp teen dialogue and despite some ‘right, I think we should all go to bed now and leave the conversation for no reason’ moments, it all hangs together. The leaves are perhaps over described.

Ellis seems to go for some sort of name game I don’t understand. The male characters are called Steve Michaels, Paul Sidney and Mark James. That’s just a list of names, hun.

Body Count: 1

Did the best friend do it? Erm…well Rachel doesn’t really know anyone at the start. One of her friends is the villain, yes.

Some Mild Peril?

There are a couple of potentially haunting scenes. Strange noises in the night in the middle of the forest are always creepy and Ellis taps into everyone’s anxieties around school camps and being in the wilderness. It could have gone much further though.

Is It Any Good?

Camp Fear has all the ingredients of great Point Horror. It’s about as archetypal as they get, in many ways it’s the most traditional we’ve revisited yet. While this works to a degree – horror will ALWAYS exploit the bunch of adult-less teens scenario (this is almost a carbon copy of Friday 13th, clearly), there’s nothing to elevate it out of being A N Other Point Horror – Rachel isn’t quite interesting enough, Paul isn’t sexy enough, the thrills aren’t thrilling enough.

Worst of all though is the ending – to describe it as an anti-climax doesn’t begin to cover it. ‘I wouldn’t have shot them…’ WELL WHY BOTHER THEN?

Still, I whipped through Camp Fear in a single sitting so it can’t have been all bad.

DreamDateNext month it’s our VALENTINE’S SPECIAL as we go on a DREAM DATE with Sinclair Smith.

Over to you:

1. Would Camp Fear had been more scary if Ellis had investigated the possibility of the dead boy ‘haunting’ Camp Silverlake?

2. What’s with Terry’s curious smirking? Does she have wind?

3. Mr Drummond: Harmless baldy or one for Yew Tree?

4. Who did you suspect? Did you correctly guess the villain?

5. How gay is Mark?

8 replies to “PHBC: CAMP FEAR”

  • @PaulHi Says:

    Hallo PHBC!

    Well, we’re kicking off the new year in style with Camp Fear, aren’t we? I too had very little recollection of this one; except for a lingering impression of a desperately anticlimactic woodland pursuit-based finale (more on that later), I had no idea what would happen. Not knowing the identity of the teen psychopath this time definitely added an extra layer of enjoyment, especially as I didn’t even come close to guessing whodunnit. My money was on Paul from the get-go, possibly because Pauls are a criminally under-served demographic in literature. Not that I’m bitter.

    The first two and a half pages didn’t bode well. Introducing ten characters in as many lines is the work of a crazy person, and I had the same issue as you with Ellis using first names as surnames. Even by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure I had all the male characters down; they merged into a Steve-Mark-Jordan-Paul-coloured sludge in a way that the girls didn’t (what is it with Point Horrors and their bland boys?). Worst name of the novel, however, goes hands down to Linda Dolan, whose similarity to Linda Nolan meant I could only ever picture her as a middle aged Big Brother housemate. This did not put me in the mood for dancin’. Nor Ellis, it seems, who had mysteriously changed the character’s name to Linda Duncan by the end of the novel. This provided less scope for 70s disco-based hilarity.

    Our heroine Rachel, sad to say, is something of a moron. Her idea of banter is deft wordplay along the lines of “Don’t get all tied up in knots over it, ha-ha” aimed at a character struggling with their shoelaces. Zing! And her fixation on that sodding noticeboard almost had me reaching for the leaky rowboat on a couple of occasions. That said, none of these teens are exactly wild; one night, their entertainment consists entirely of a group rendition of You Are My Sunshine. Man, that’s depressing.

    I enjoyed the abandoned camp setting – Friday the Thirteenth does indeed have a lot to answer for – but overall I found Camp Fear an oddly bloodless affair. Yes, that poor snake sure gets put through the ringer, but the kids never feel in any real jeopardy, and the stuff that happens to them isn’t all that terrifying. Carol Ellis was always a solid if unremarkable member of the Point Horror brat pack, and I though this entry was more engaging than some, but less scary than most.

    Which brings me to THAT horribly botched finale. What happened, Carol? Did you have a meeting to go to? Did the phone ring? Did you just get bored of describing leaves at such great length? Whatever it was, having the majority of the final showdown take place off the page, away from your main character, is either crazy or lazy or both. Uh-uh, Ellis. Not cool.

    I’ve just reread my comments and I think I’m being a little harsh. I actually enjoyed the suspense/mystery element of the book very much. Terry and Mr Drummond were great red herring characters, and the cool kids putting the dead snake in Rachel’s bed independently of mad Linda added an extra layer of complication not normally found in a Point Horror. Oh, and the hilariously underwritten Tim and Michelle. Loved them. So yeah, it’s no Forbidden Game, but then what is? It’s no The Cemetery either, and for that we can all be grateful.

    Answers to your questions:

    1. I thought that was where it was heading, to be honest. That it didn’t is, I guess, testament to Carol Ellis’s ability to keep me on my toes. You go, Glen Coco.
    2. Well, it’s either wind, or she’s having a series of minor strokes that her campmates are repeatedly failing to notice. I liked Terry; I got the distinct impression that she thought the rest of them were dicks, which, for the most part, they were.
    3. Yew Tree.
    Yew Tree, Yew Tee, Yew Tree.
    Yew Tree.
    4. More gay than Paul but less gay than Jordan. Mark and Jordan are definitely doing it.

    Dream Date is an EXCELLENT choice. Again, I have very little recollection of it, but just look at that cover. LOOK at it. Wow.

  • @PaulHi Says:

    (Seems I missed out question four, but I think I already covered it. Basically, Carol E done me like a kipper.)

  • James Dawson Says:

    I totally didn’t notice Linda’s name changing! That’s so sloppy!

  • @PaulHi Says:

    I KNOW. I like to imagine Carol Ellis was extremely drunk by that point. “Aw hell; Dolan, Duncan, who gives a crap?”

  • Bookie Snacksize Says:

    Hmm. Ok my answers to your questions first:

    1) I’m actually not a huge fan of the Psychopathic Killer turning out to be a ghost/demon/spirit etc, it always feels like a bit of a cop-out. I much prefer it when one of the kids turns out to be completely off their onion, it’s much more fun. Having said that, the killer was so very obviously a human that it might have been a little scarier if one or two of the incidents had looked like something supernatural, just to keep us all guessing.

    2) Ha! The endless descriptions of Terry’s expressions were getting on my norks a bit by the end. If I’m being kind, it’s obviously a clumsy way to mark her out as a red herring, since otherwise she’s a perfectly nice normal girl; and I suppose it’s always possible that she’s one of those people who gets the urge to laugh out of nerves in really inappropriate situations.

    3) Damn, what was Stacey’s deal with Mr Drummond?! Right up until the point where the snake/knife are left on Rachel’s bed, he does nothing even vaguely suspicious or creepy. He checks on the kids, he’s not aggressive or threatening or inappropriately friendly. His crimes seem to be being a middle aged bald guy. Well, so is Bruce Willis. Plus, he KILLS A SNAKE. The dude is a BADASS. Not to mention smart enough to not keep any of his guns loaded. Respect.

    4) I guessed the villain mostly because they were the least obvious in that they were the only person who did not appear to have any historical ties to Camp Crystal Lake, I mean Silverlake, and they didn’t seem to be in any way suspicious. Or in fact do anything much at all. They seemed almost superfluous to the entire story up until the end.

    5) Yeah I agree with Paul above, Mark and Jordan are obviously Doing It.

    Kind of an odd read, really, Very bloodless given that there’s only one death which happened years earlier and was an accident. The teenagers all seem strangely middle aged with their genuine enjoyment of group singing (far creepier than poor Mr Drummond).Tim and Michelle continue the Point Horror tradition of adults either not being around to supervise or just not giving a toss. The boys continue the point horror tradition of being almost completely interchangeable. And the ending…WHAT THE HELL. If I could sum it up in three words, it’d be: pine needles, showers, anti-climax. Or is that five? Whatever.

  • Emma Jones Says:

    What book are you planning after dream date?

  • James Dawson Says:

    It’s up to YOU! Readers will pick the next title! What would you like to nominate?

  • Billy Says:

    Throughout the entire book I pegged Terry as the psycho. How could I have fallen so easily into the red herring trap? It was all those smirks she did and how she kept remaining behind just before some event happened to one of the cool kids.

    I loved Stacey, I agree the guys were a bit of a non-entity. Were there two brooders? Paul and Mark? Who was Steve??

    The ending was a complete farce and yes, Ellis clearly had exceeded her deadline and had the Schloastic boss’ PA on the phone harping on at her to submit it – hence the botched surname and the horrendous ending.

    I remember I read this in the South of France, on a holiday camp, and was scared witless. What a fool I was.

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