On June 28 this year Freeform is joining other networks in bringing horror to the small screen with “Dead of Summer.” A sort of Friday the 13th homage where the camp is not Crystal Lake but Stillwater and there is no Jason, but there is a Tony Todd.
The pilot, still a work in progress, shows Todd at the very beginning. A move meant to convey the creator’s serious intent to delve deep into the horror genre. Like the camp in Crystal Lake, Stillwater was closed, in this instance in 1984, for an, as yet, unknown reason, and the place has been purchased and rejuvenated by former camp counselor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell).
The place reopens five years later at the tail end of the ’80s; 1989.
A new group of camp guidance counselor’s arrive, including new girl Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail). Amy has never been to camp nor has she ever worked at one, this young heroine is clearly the “virgin” in this slasher scenario.
All of the counselors, apart from Amy, are former campers at the lake and all know one another. The only other “outsider” to the group is Drew; a quiet withdrawn individual who speaks to no one not even his bunkmates.
While there is no Jason, or Mrs. Voorhees, there is a creepy old caretaker, who warns our virginal character to leave and the lady who owns/runs the camp is named Carpenter (a huge nod and wink to the genre) who has a secret…or two.
In terms of nods and winks, there is even an allusion to the iconic 1981 horror film “Sleepaway Camp.”
As this is the pilot, titled “Patience” “Dead of Summer” does not go overboard on plot specifics or gore. The body count is rather low and in terms of viscera, the series is pretty lightweight in that department as well.
The action is not fast paced, the word plodding comes to mind, and the story moves along at a snail’s pace. We are not given much insight into each character, although this may come later. However, if it takes too long, we may never learn of backstories for these new counselors.
The main problem with the pilot is that it is slow. With a targeted demographic of the younger members of the audience, “Dead of Summer” looks likely to lose a huge amount of its viewers before “Patience” is halfway through.
Mitchell is suitably uncomfortable as the passionate camp owner and Lail is a perfect combination of gormlessness and timid assurance. (Interestingly enough, both women have “Once Upon a Time” in common which should be no real surprise as the show’s creators also come from this ABC series.)
Ian B. Goldberg, producer from “Once Upon a Time,” and that series’ showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have left the land of fairy tales to dip into the slasher genre, a’la Friday the 13th. With no hockey masks, or murderous mum’s on-hand, this lake campground will have a sinister backstory of murder, that goes back much further than 1984.
Thus far, in terms of interest, “Dead of Summer” lacks anything to make it stand out. Granted, this is just the pilot and things can improve, but in reality one would have thought that a bit more speed and a higher body count would not have been a bad thing.
This nostalgic look at ’80s horror could work well, but in terms of anachronisms, the camcorder Joel is using looks a bit out of place. At one point the thing is plugged into a television and played back directly. In 1989 there could not have been many, if any, (Even a Hi8) capable of doing that.
(We could be wrong and if anyone can remember a minicam, like the one Joel uses having that capability, please let us know and we will stand corrected.)
“Dead of Summer” looks to be a slow starter and like the title of the pilot seems to indicate, patience may be required before the new series “comes to life.” The Freeform summer replacement show airs June 28. Watch it and see what you think.