Harrison Smith has fond memories of summer camp. Unlike most of us, though, his adolescent reminiscences are less “fun and games,” more “blood and guts.”
“I remember being fifteen and seeing the movie ‘Sleepaway Camp’ at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg,” Smith says. “I loved it. I saw it with this girl I was dating at the time and she was just shocked. I said, ‘Wow, that was a real fun horror film,’ and she said, ‘I don’t know if we can date if that’s a cool movie to you.’ So I said, ‘I guess we’re broken up.’”
Now a filmmaker himself, based out of Kunkletown, Penn., Smith returns to his cinematic stomping grounds, the Sherman Theater, this Saturday for the red carpet premiere of his latest production, “Dead.tv.,” which will see wide release via DVD and video-on-demand in November.
Sure enough, it’s a film that paints the great outdoors red with blood.
Filmed at an actual summer camp in Effort, Pa., “Dead.tv.” tells the story of a washed-up horror movie director trying to reinvent his backwoods slasher franchise as a modern-day reality show, with expectedly deadly results.
Though he previously wrote and produced two other horror movies, 2011’s “The Fields” and 2012’s “6 Degrees of Hell,” “Dead.tv” marks Smith’s first time directing.
“It’s a natural evolution,” Smith said. “Really, directing is about understanding your characters. I just approached it with that attitude. I’m not so much worried about getting the perfect shot as I am getting the content right, making sure that the dialogue is real and that the scene is genuine.”
As painless as the transition into the director’s chair was for Smith, less painless was the decision to return to the genre yet again. Not wanting to be pigeonholed as “just” a horror filmmaker, Smith was hesitant when a financier proposed a project in the vein of 1980s camp-set splatter flicks “Friday the 13th” and “The Burning.” Smith ultimately agreed only on the condition that he could write the script with a greater emphasis on plot and mystery than sex and violence. In other words, as the “Dead.tv” tagline boasts, “The slasher film has grown up.”
“When Harrison sent me the script, I fell in love with it,” actress Felissa Rose says. “It’s very character-driven and everything is very textured and layered. There’s all these subplots and there’s some great social commentary about where we are today with television and pop culture and the relationships teenagers have with technology. It’s definitely one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of being involved in.”
High praise, coming from Rose. One of the stars of “Dead.tv” (alongside Eric Roberts of “The Dark Knight” and Danielle Harris of the 2007 “Halloween” remake), Rose has been in more than 20 horror films over the course of her career. She will return to NEPA in September to act in Smith’s next film “Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard.”
Smith specifically wrote the role Rose plays in “Dead.tv” (that of a slasher-flick scream queen, natch) for her. Of all the characters she’s played, after all, Rose remains best known as Angela, the not-what-she-appears-to-be main character of “Sleepaway Camp,” the film that cost Smith his girlfriend so many years ago.
“I guess that that was the end of that relationship,” Rose says, “but, in a way, it was the beginning of ours.”