Through the Cracks #1: Bodycount (1986)

Bodycount AKA Camping del Terrore (1986)\Directed by: Ruggero Deodato

 bodycount-cover

Just a preface before we dive into the review. Bodycount is by no means an unearthed classic begging for rediscovery. It is however a hell of a lot of fun. It might seem an odd choice to start off with “Through the Cracks” here at fearphile, but I didn’t want to blow my load too soon by front loading with all the most amazing films you need to be watching RIGHT NOW. Plus, it happens to be the most recent film I watched so….there’s that too.

Bodycount is a bit of a strange bird. It’s a woodland set slasher about a bunch of teens on a camping trip who run afoul of a homicidal maniac who I’m sure has some reason for being a homicidal maniac. I may have missed that part. Annnnnyway…despite all the trappings of a run of the mill, generic, Friday the 13th clone (and it most certainly is all of those things), Bodycount stands out from the pack for a few important reasons.

  1. The film is directed by non other than mother friggin’ Ruggero Deodato. He might not be as famous an Italian horror meister as Argento or Bava, but the man has at least one bonafide classic under his belt, Cannibal Holocaust. While the rest of his oeuvre might not be as stellar, at no point did it ever feel like the man was scraping the bottom of the barrel (see his early 90’s effort Cut and Run for a somewhat classy take on the ole’ dem dangerous natives story). All the more odd to find the man behind the lens of what appears at first glance to be another American style dead teenager flick. Surely it would have seemed stale by the time of its release. In 1987 the slasher film was already limping its way to the VHS graveyard.

  2. The music for the film is composed by mother friggin’ Claudio Simonetti of GOBLIN fame. It’s a bit bizarre watching the mostly American cast being chased through the woods to a pulsing synth score complete with other worldly chanting and wah-wahs for days.

  3. Outside of the obnoxious “teenagers” (you know these heifers were like 30 at the time) there is a group of well established character actors at play. One of them is mother friggin’ David Hess (Last House on the Left, Deodato’s House at the Edge of the Park). While his role is fairly minor, Hess does a great job of gritting his lines through his teeth and just causing one to feel all sorts of generally uncomfortable when he’s on screen.

These three things alone should be enough for any fan of 80’s horror such as myself to find interest in the film. Despite its terribly unoriginal makeup, Bodycount manages to be a fun flick. Deodato pulls off some cool shots (see the awesome push-in/tracking shot in the trailer below) and everything looks better than this type of film has any right to. Best of all, the film moves at a great pace. Bodycount opens with a pretty cool set-piece and only slows down long enough to introduce our characters by name only.  One guy shows up in a military outfit. Obviously he’s coming home from the army. No need to mention it though. Duh. Of course, there’s the promiscuous girl, annoying fat guy, jugheaded jock, and Vanilla numbers 1, 2, 3, and you get the point. That’s about the extent of characterization in this film except for one great scene between Hess and his philandering wife played by Mimsy Farmer (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Autopsy). This one scene alone stands out and seems to promise a different direction for the rest of the proceedings. It’s a promise that isn’t kept but it’s a fun side trip in the narrative that manages to call into question several of the main characters’ motives.

Eww...scary.
Eww…scary.

This brings us to another interesting aspect of the film. It’s a standard dead teenager flick but it just can’t seem to keep its giallo in its pants. There’s domestic drama, an abusive husband, childhood trauma that threatens to rear its ugly head, and several set-pieces that would fit nicely in any Agrento or Fulci film. One scene involving a girl fleeing into an abandoned cabin is genuinely suspenseful. The gore is a bit tepid, however. Unfortunately I saw an edited copy, but from my research it doesn’t appear I was missing too much in the way of grue. Again, this is shocking coming from Deodato.

It's not all dry county up in this bitch.
It’s not all dry county up in this bitch.

The plot to the film is also a bit on the weak side. Apparently there’s this evil Indian shaman who has been offing people in the woods for years. The shaman is a guy in a pretty flimsy hag mask who looks like he’s choked his chicken a bit too much and sprouted hairy palms. He’s not the most menacing on screen maniac. Thankfully Deodato keeps the creep hidden in the shadows for most of the film allowing for some sense of eeriness to pervade. Add to it a fun climax when the teens attempt to try and fight back sprinkled with some jump scares and a twist you may not see coming (but you probably should), and Bodycount turns out to be a pretty good trip to the woods. It might not be Friday the 13th but it’s certainly better time spent than suffering through Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone. Italian horror completists and slasher connoisseurs should certainly hunt it down.

PS- Is that not the best tag line ever: “The hills are alive…with the sounds of SCREAMING!” Because a Sound of Music reference makes so much sense.

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