‘Scare Campaign’ Review
The delightfully creepy concept of “funhouse” horror movies has the potential to create unforgettable moments in the genre. Even going back to director Tobe Hooper’s work such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and (coincidentally) The Funhouse, the way those films center around a seemingly abandoned building — or take place in an establishment that you wouldn’t think of as an ideal horror setting — makes their stories that much more unsettling. And that’s the style that the Cairnes Brothers’ Scare Campaign tries to emulate. It’s just that the moments where the film actually expands the sub-genre at all are few and far between.
Considering that we are in the era of reality television, why not make a film about it? Marcus (Ian Meadows) heads a popular horror reality show aptly titled “Scare Campaign,” in which contestants are scared out of their minds for audience enjoyment. Everything seems to be going great — and has been for five seasons — until a rival show pops up that utilizes an extreme version of Marcus’ tried-and-true style. Fearing that he will be run off the rails, he takes a team of actors, producers and crew members to an old mental asylum hoping to up the ante for their contestants. I won’t go much further in explaining things because, for one, you can only take so much of this rambling and, two, basically everything else should be saved for a spoiler discussion. In short, things go quite wrong when “Scare Campaign” goes too far and terrorizes the wrong person. We’ve all been there.
Australian directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes attempt to line the storyline with some potentially intriguing social commentary about how modern audiences are becoming harder and harder to please. Violence, particularly in media, has essentially become mainstream for most people. It’s getting to the point of being terrifying because the majority of the public are being exposed to extreme explicit content, and they like it. And that’s a great subject for a gory horror film like Scare Campaign. But what’s sad about the film’s execution (no pun intended) of those ideas are frequently dropped for boilerplate horror thrills. That’s fine — to an extent. The gore can be entertaining enough, just not to the point of being that memorable. As I was watching this, I was reminded of how I felt about The Purge trilogy: The concept is better than the films themselves.
But what was nice about Scare Campaign’s seemingly generic slasher style was that there weren’t many jumps or jolts. You instead get chills and thrills — albeit not always successful ones — that manage to keep your eyelids from falling down too often. I did like the designs of the who-shall-remain-nameless rivals because they were outfitted with effectively over-the-top costumes like animals and monsters. That stylistic choice doesn’t work with this type of film because its frequent usage over the last few years has made it become watered down and even a little stale. Luckily, their use in Scare Campaign have more hits than misses.
While there’s really nothing that exemplary about the film, it seems to accomplish most of what it set out to do. Like I mentioned earlier, the social commentary isn’t always front-and-center because it’s often substituted for some decently fun action sequences. It was refreshing to see that even in a creepy location like a mental asylum there were never any overly dark sequences that covered up the practical gore. I was just let down because all of that horror panache didn’t really add up to anything.
My main issue with Scare Campaign as a whole is that it felt like there should have been more to it. And I don’t mean I needed more deeply thought out social commentary; I just felt like there was about a quarter of the story missing. By the end, I was left with an emptiness that I didn’t think I would have after having watched the first two-thirds. I was marginally entertained by what I saw, but I think there truly needed to be a little more to the third act. While it wasn’t offensively bad in how it decided to end things, I couldn’t help but think about what could have been.
Still, you can’t win them all. If you like to see POV killings — from both the killers and victims — and find the mental asylum as fascinating as I did, then you will probably have a good time with this one. It may not be one for the history books, but it gets the jobs done.