You can tell right away from the title that this isn’t going to be a great film. It is one of those that I have no idea how it ended up on my watch list in the first place. Ok, sure I like bad horror movies but I’m certainly not on a mission to watch every one I can find so there must have been some tenuous link with another movie or actor or director that I liked to put it on the list. Whatever the reason it escapes me now. I should start making notes about why I wanted to watch a particular film when I add it to the list. This may seem a bit off topic but this is one of the rare bad horror films that I have chosen that really has no redeeming features, it isn’t in the so bad it is good category at all, it is just plain bad. So I want to know why I decided to put it on my list so that I can avoid using those same criteria in the future.
Interestingly I had some trouble finding this film on IMDB. This seems to be because although it shipped to me with the sub-title “Curse of the Axe Man”, IMDB has it as “A Deadly Summer”. The second title makes a bit more sense as much of the action takes place in a summer camp (one of many horror movie clichés paraded in front of us in an increasingly desperate attempt to convince us we are actually watching a horror movie).
There isn’t a single axe nor any mention of one in the whole film! The whole image on the cover above is a bit of a lie really as the only things in the image recognisable from the film are the trees! I think this might be a touch of Revenge from Planet Ape.
Here’s the cover for the Deadly Summer version: A better picture I think but still not really representative of anything of significance that happens in the film.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty standard b-movie horror. A jealous step-mom* schemes to get her step-daughter sent to a corrective summer camp for wayward teenagers (think the military school nightmares of Bill and Ted but with worse acting and carrying on for almost the whole movie). We are forced to sit through some brain deadening dialogue and awful acting and direction as the one dimensional characters are established at the camp and the “urban legend” of deaths in the past gets explained straight to camera without any attempt at disguising the blatant exposition.
Pretty soon everyone (those left alive) is aware that people are getting killed but, even when confronted with a freshly dead fellow camper, none of them seem to be able to muster any kind of emotion. Within minutes of a fresh death or other revelation, these guys are back to normal, collecting firewood or eating lunch or having a shower on their own in the dark. Unlike your classic so-bad-its-good horror this feels like sloppy editing or direction rather than self-referential humour. The feeling I get from it is that the film has been assembled almost at random from a selection of scenes shot before the storyline was finalised.
I guess it is OK that the characters don’t seem to show any emotion when their fellow humans get killed off or have any concern for their own lives as us viewers don’t give a damn about any of them either.
There are some occasional lifts out of the depths but they are minor and do nothing over all to redeem the movie. Maureen McCormick puts in a reasonably menacing performance as the step-mom with a split personality which is a neat way of explaining the talking mirror in a modern telling of the tale. And Eileen Dietz stands out among an otherwise bland cast as the crazy woman who has lived in the woods for 20-odd years. There is a bit of a twist at the end but it feels like a cop out and makes the rest of the movie you just forced yourself to sit through (hey it might get better in a minute) even more pointless. At the very end there is an interesting suggestion that will make you think about everything that happened before but it really isn’t worth sitting through the preceding 80 minutes to see it.
There is some very strange filming in this film to. Overall it looks like a TV movie, a Sci-Fi channel special or a high school movie project. I get the feeling that the whole thing was shot in a single day as the “night time” shots look like they have been shot in the middle of the day with a blue-grey filter on the camera. Often a shot of the moon has been spliced in for a few seconds to remind us that it is supposed to be night.
This dull movie could have been livened up in any number of ways and got itself into the so bad its good cult category with very little effort but it just feels like on one involved really cared enough about what they were doing to make the effort. I’ve read another review of this which describes this as “just a movie for the sake of making a movie” and I couldn’t sum up my feeling any better, so I won’t try.
*apologies to my UK readers, I don’t like using the word mom but I can’t think of a better one to evoke this stereotype.