Fans of 1970s’ British comedy will remember the Benny Hill Show, which featured a skit during which scantily-clad attractive young ladies chased after Benny in public places, at fast-forward high speed, to music. How we laughed! It was before they invented political correctness. And Cable TV. And internet.
I laughed again this week (and remembered Benny) as I watched “Camp, Egyptian cinema’s first teen-horror slash thriller slash drama slash nonsense. “Camp also features several women who spend 95 percent of the film running around at high speed like Benny, while they are slowly bumped off one by one – with the emphasis on slowly.
Some kind of a mystique has developed around “Camp since its release; a mystique generated by its gothic-style poster, semi-intriguing name and the fact that trailers for the film were not shown in cinemas or television. My associates and I speculated that perhaps the film is just too terrifying to show in a trailer and risk scaring innocent kiddies, and thus decided to buy tickets pronto.
I was scared, but mostly by the actors’ hair. The four main male characters are all afflicted with rigid, anime-style sculptured haircuts, and when juxtaposed with each other, they looked like a Tamer Hosni tribute band.
In the film though, they appear to be hip young things with their Justin Timberlake outfits and light recreational drug use and dazzling girlfriends. This is made clear to us from the first scene, a birthday party in Wael’s house, full of young men with the helmet hairdos drinking beer and snarling at each other while the ladies prowl around in thigh-length boots being degenerate – but always remembering to reapply their lip gloss after the out of control drug-use.
Alas the party ends in an unexplained tragedy. In the next scene, we see Gamal mourning in his fashion sunglasses at the grave of his girlfriend – who appears to have been buried in a court of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association, if the immaculately kept grass is anything to go by. Speaking of sport, the actor who plays Gamal, Mohamed El-Kholei, bears a striking resemblance to squash superstar turned singing thespian Ahmed Barrada. The difference between them is that while watching Barrada one wishes he had stuck to squash, watching El-Kholei’s hideous pretentions, one wishes cinema had never been invented.
Mourning over, the group repair to their cars and immediately launch into a circus show of mad car skills, spinning and speeding their way to the stage for the film’s main action setting: disused resort ‘Beach Camp.’
It is at this point that we understand why the filmmakers chose to abbreviate its title to “Camp, rather than call it ‘Beach Camp,’ the Arabic transliteration of which produces a sound that resembles ‘Bitch Camp’ and which was sounded loudly by anyone of a juvenile disposition in the audience, including this reviewer.
It transpires that Beach Camp is a rundown, semi-abandoned, beachfront guesthouse perfect for the setting of a horror film. The party of hell-raising, three boys and three girls – inexplicably accompanied by the little sister of one of the women – are immediately rendered ill-at-ease by the hotel’s odd proprietor, the spooky abandonment of the place, and possibly the poor set.
Incidentally, the party approach the front of the hotel from the locked gates which give onto the beach. One of them then announces that they’ll use the hotel’s back entrance. When we next see the front of the hotel, it is distinctly clear that this is not the same building we saw in the previous scene, mainly because where there was a beach, there is now a garden! Such inconsistencies would be forgivaben if they did not attest to the filmmakers taking us for buffoons.
The senior citizen proprietor is married to a supposedly irresistibly, gorgeous, highly sensual young woman who – trapped in an unhappy and unsatisfying marriage – immediately throws herself on the Tamer Hosni tribute band while her husband glowers behind her.
“Camp lacks any subtlety whatsoever, and the dysfunctional marriage theme is no exception. The hotel proprietor – Uncle Hassanein – spends the entire film in an overcoat, scarf and cap like a pensioner waiting at a bus stop in Weston-Super-Mare in order to ram home the point that this is a curmudgeonly, brooding old man who is stifling his pretty young wife.
Third-rate, unbelievably poorly executed horror film techniques then inevitably ensue, terrifying only in their unoriginality. A bedroom door is opened and a figure flashes past. The figure turns out to be a mute housekeeper, clearly traumatized by both the hotel’s secrets and the haircuts before her. A fire spontaneously ignites in a fireplace and is then mysteriously put out. Tired old shaky shots of empty corridors are accompanied by the bronchial breaths of what sounds like Darth Vader. We understand that there is a monster in our midst, and he seems to be suffering from a cold.
The fun really starts when night falls, which is when the Forrest Gump-like running and the screaming start. The running is comic, the screaming is not. For the next 45 minutes, various members of the group bolt into hotel rooms, cowering and terrified, where – in the tradition of a zillion other teen horror films – they are slain by Darth Vader who has come through the window they have forgotten to close.
Darth Vader himself turns out to be a man with a Michael Bolton haircut in a fancy-dress mask, vaguely reminiscent of “Scream and “Friday the 13th. Having established that neither Uncle Hassanein nor the supernatural are responsible for the events, we infer that one of the kids themselves is a homicidal murderer and that we should sort through the clues thrust on us thus far in order to adduce the killer’s identity.
Such a task would have been easier if there had been anything to distinguish the characters from one another other than levels of chest hair exposure. Attempts to add depth to these one-dimensional stick men, through exchanges such as “society has always judged me because my mother was a belly dancer and “the world must be cleaned of mankind. Everyone must die, were a resounding failure.
Halfway through, a man accompanied by a call girl, arrives at the hotel. Their function is to provide hope of an escape for the group. But even a scene as simple as this is made implausible when the couple proceed to disrobe on the floor of the hotel lobby.
The truly jaw-dropping moment, however, occurred in the film’s final scene which involves a grief-stricken (grief-stricken in the way that say, polystyrene is capable of expressing emotion) Gamal. The scene is accompanied by the “Schindler’s List theme, and this brazen piracy caused our collective mouths to fall open.
But we shouldn’t have been surprised by this. The film as a whole is a lazy pastiche of American teen horror classics and is made even more unremarkable by poor acting, uninteresting visuals and a hackneyed plot. However, while recycling storylines is one thing, stealing bits of films and transplanting them directly into new productions because the filmmaker is unable to come up with something original himself surely crosses a threshold of some sort. I’m telling Steven Spielberg.