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The Nostalgic Attic: Cameron's Closet (1988)

12 February 2014

Cameron's Closet (1988)

"Pray the door remains locked to... Cameron's Closet"

Not many low-budget horror films could ever truly live up to their incredible box art. It was the distributors chance to duke it out with more popular titles on the video shelf, and if you had no big names or faces to plaster across your over-sized box, then coming up with some eye popping art was the way to go. Hey, you gotta hype your own product, right? Occasionally they may have over-shot the mark, but it's the reason why the trip to the video store was always a fun time. I mean, we didn't actually expect all our rentals to be as great as Evil Dead II or Re-Animator. Taking a chance on a title like Cameron's Closet was part of the game.

Cameron is a boy with some incredible powers. He has the ability to manipulate objects around him with his mind, and it is something that his research scientist father seems to be cultivating in him. On a dark and stormy night, something evil begins to grow in the closet in Cameron's bedroom. His father is decapitated on a machete by an unseen force, and the police have no grounds to believe it was anything but an accident. The detective on the case, Sam Taliaferro (Cotter Smith; K-9, Lady Be Ware), is having a tough time on the job, due to re-occurring bad dreams from a homicide case. His partner puts in a complaint about him, and he gets referred to internal psychologist, Dr. Nora Haley (Mel Harris; K-9, Wanted: Dead or Alive).

Meanwhile, Cameron is sent to live with his mother, Dory (Kim Lankford; Malibu Beach) and her appalling bully of a partner, Bob (Gary Hudson; Scanner Cop, Road House). Bob likes to stroll around the house with his shirt off, covered in sweat, and apparently having a kid staying there interferes with those plans. One night he enters Cameron's room after hearing a disturbance. Cameron urges him not to look in the closet, but it's too late. Something blasts the eyes out of his skull, and he is thrown across the room and out the window, crashing through a car below. Detective Taliaferro and Dr. Haley are both on the case this time, and it doesn't take long for the astute doctor to notice the telekinetic powers the young boy has. After digging deeper, she discovers that the powers may have been induced by the boys father and his research partner. Is Cameron the one who is responsible for the deaths, or has something evil latched on to him from that doll he plays with?

Cameron's Closet does a fairly good job of compiling ideas from other, far more successful films, and blending them into something watchable. That might sound like an underhanded compliment, but the film works well enough along these lines. One of the biggest films it borrows from is The Exorcist, not only in a few memorable scenes (such as the kid on the ceiling screaming as the mother looks on in horror), but in the idea of setting up the 'is the kid responsible or not?' approach to the story. And while it does have a few moments that stick out as being a little 'borrowed', for want of a better term, it still manages a few shocks and jolts on its own that make it somewhat worthwhile.

That's not to say that Cameron's Closest is highly recommendable, as it does have a few issues. The first half of the film feels quite plodding, even with the occasional violent assault or murder thrown in. The relationship between Taliaferro and Dr. Haley is at odds with the rest of the film, but I'm glad they tried something different with it, even if I could never quite relate to the detective. It is a problem though as it is the central relationship in the film, even young Cameron feels like he is secondary at some points in the films plot.  I also had wished we delved deeper into the demonic aspects of the story earlier, as this might have evened the film out a bit. Still, it is only 80-odd minutes, so it never becomes a huge problem. I guess a lot of this could have been fixed with...

..yup, the lack of monster. Despite what we get promised on the video box, the demon only shows up in the last 5 minutes, and most people will wish it hadn't. The FX work by Carlo Rambaldi is definitely below par, considering the year and the creators previous work. The close-ups of it are actually more effective than the wide shots, which are wisely underused. There are a few other scattered moments of death throughout the film that will keep gore fans happy, though. The best is probably the moment in the shower when Cameron's uncle gets it. The shower death is even more memorable as the the demon takes on the shape of Cameron's mother to seduce her brother... yet he barely bats an eye-lid when she slides into the shower with him and starts kissing him. It is possible that a sub plot was left out, but the jarring nature of the scene only adds to the fun of it.

The film at least takes itself seriously enough to try and elicit a few chills. The best moment occurs when a detective searches through the closet, only to be greeted by the character above. It is a great jump scare, and the creepiest moment in the whole film. The other death scenes are well handled, and have a nice brutality, even if they aren't the goriest. The only scene that is unintentionally hilarious is when Bob enters Cameron's room after his work out. glistening with sweat and manliness. It does help liven up the first half hour though, so I'm not really complaining about it.

The acting is reasonable across the board, though Cotter Smith and Mel Harris do their best with the material they have. Scott Curtis (Summer Camp Nightmare) does well enough as Cameron, and is one of the better child leads from the era that I've watched recently. The film was directed by Armand Mastroianni, who also directed the likes of He Knows You're Alone and The Supernaturals. The film looks good (well, as good as it can look on blurry VHS) and as mentioned, the scenes of horror and action are well done. If only the pacing was a bit punchier in the first half, the film might be a bit better remembered.

Overall, the film is a tad bland, which is something I hate to say. It could have either done with some humour to make the characters more likable, or the opposite, turning the horror up to eleven and toning down on the talk-heavy first half. As it is, the film never really slips out of second gear, and probably doesn't have much to recommend for the average modern viewer. Still, if you are like me and a fan of the period and want to check it out, then you will enjoy it for what it is. The VHS cover is enough to make me want to re-visit it again in another 20 years. Until then, Cameron's Closet can remain closed safely.

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At 12 February 2014 at 09:17 , Blogger Wes M said...

Fantastic stuff JP and a real find from the 80's. I'm glad you wrote about this one because I long held the false notion that this was an Italian production masquerading as a home-grown American picture a la Hands of Steel (aka Vendetta dal Futuro). I actually never saw Cameron's Closet but I knew well the VHS sleeve from reconnaissance trips to the video shop - there was a whole strata of Medusa films that looked great on the shelf but fell way short of expectations - stuff like 976-Evil, The Atlantis Interceptors, Booby Trap, Light Blast, Rolling Vengeance, The Video Dead, Warbus Wheels of Fire. I love the oblique incest angle, pity more wasn't made of it, and you might be right about that scene being a left-over from an abandoned subplot - I'm reminded of the incest angle in Amityville II: The Possession and that really added a charge to that movie... Great post ! I'm genuinely excited about what you're gonna write about next !

(By the way, you might want to adjust the tracking on the trailer, it looks like youtube is acting the fool again)

At 13 February 2014 at 02:56 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, Funny that you should mention the likes of Hands of Steel, as when I looked at the back of the VHS cover, I had the exact same thoughts, 'Italian production pretending to be American', but unless they just hid it really well, it doesn't seem to be the case. You are spot on with your comments about the Medusa Films, but hey, sometimes the artwork actually makes a bad film just that little bit better.

Regarding the incest, I only discovered after I wrote this review that it is apparently based on a novel, but I have done zero research into it. It may be that the incestuous aspects were delved into in greater detail there, an this angle carried over into the final draft of the script due to the writer also doing the screenplay. Agreed on Amityville II, the incest scene is actually well played there, and I was quite shocked the first time I saw it!

Thanks for reading Wes, regarding the blog, there are going to be a few changes happening over the weekend, which will allow me post more on this (name change coming too, eeek!) but the film reviews will still be as regular as they are now.

if you think the tracking was bad on youtube, you should see the murky tape I watched this on!

At 10 June 2014 at 20:06 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I thought as I came in to this post that I'd seen this - and I still have a feeling I did - but if I did why do I remember nothing about it? I guess maybe I planned to - and the viewing didn't happen for some reason - because I sure don't remember all this crazy stuff!

At 11 June 2014 at 02:22 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, definitely don't rush out to watch this one - unless you really need something to get you through an evening.


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