'Campfire Creepers' Serves Up Retro Virtual Reality Horror



When I was growing up, there was nothing quite like hearing that booming voice on the coolest radio stations announce the fall arrival of their haunted houses. These were the big boys—old warehouses repurposed into dark rooms and long hallways, teenagers from all the local high schools getting paid minimum wage to dress up in a variety of gruesome costumes, rattle the bars of rusty cages, and serve their own heads up on plates. Everything was covered in a fine layer of nylon spider webbing and sticky corn syrup blood; I can still smell the fog machines. Clowns with realistic chainsaws would actually chase you through the rooms, blood covered nurses would follow you slowly and offer shots from a huge syringe, a kid would be dramatically electrocuted in a large wooden chair. The lines for these haunted houses would wrap around the city block, and I would go home with a hoarse throat from screaming and laughing so hard.

Now it’s 2018, and the experience of experiencing horror is only getting more and more advanced. With the slow rise of virtual reality, it was only a matter of time before we got our first horror TV series experienced through VR.

Campfire Creepers is the newest project from horror director Alexandre Aja, who is best known for The Hills Have Eyes remake, High Tension, and the campy Piranha 3D. Their press release promises a guest appearance by none other than horror legend Robert Englund, our very own original Freddy Kruger. The first two episodes are making their premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. As both SyFy and Bloody Disgusting pointed out, it definitely has an Are You Afraid of the Dark vibe, which is basically the vibe that I want my whole life to have. Check out the trailer:

There is a serious level of retro cheesiness here that I hope is self-aware, and it appears that it might be. According to their press release, Campfire Creepers “invites the viewer to join the fire circle at Camp Coyote as a group of campers take turns telling scary stories, each one leading you on an immersive ride into your darkest childhood fears.” In partnership with Future Lighthouse, a VR studio, the series is “inspired by cult classics like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, Campfire Creepers is one of the first pieces of episodic immersive content that seeks to draw in more mainstream viewers into VR.”

Robert Englund and Alexandre Aja

Robert Englund and Alexandre Aja

Aja stated: "This was my chance to play in the deeply nostalgic space of late ’70s and ’80s horror anthology classics, while also engaging with a new filmmaking medium that is still thrillingly open to innovation. My goal was to craft a rollercoaster ride of twists and scares that will have you jumping back in fright—and then laughing at yourself once you’ve taken the headset off."

To be honest, my only real experience with modern VR is through an actual rollercoaster at Six Flags. Unsurprisingly, this adrenaline junkie also loves rollercoasters, especially the ones that force you to contemplate your own inevitable death the way the coaster masterpieces do at Six Flags. There is a particular ride at one of the California parks that incorporates VR into its ride, strapping an Android phone-turned VR headset to each person's face. You ride the coaster while also experiencing it through the video, which shows gargoyles coming to life and chasing you around. It was an absolute sensory overload, and to this day I can’t tell you if I liked it or hated it. Regardless, I'm very curious to see how Aja is able to pull off a series with this kind of tech.

Here’s what we know about the first two episodes. In “The Skull of Sam,” a couple wandering in the woods comes across an unnerving stranger who wants to add them to his “unique collection.” “Midnight March,” takes place at a summer camp where the the campers turn the tables on their cruel counselors.  

Based on what I’ve seen in the trailer, it appears that Aja is putting his viewers back into their age of exploration, that 11 to 13-year-old span of time where campfire ghost stories reigned supreme, and everything paranormal seemed the most possible. Are we looking at a coming-of-age VR horror series, in which we come of age again? Can I please just come of age through horror series over and over again?

Aja filming with the fire circle at Camp Coyote

Aja filming with the fire circle at Camp Coyote

It’s an ambition project, for sure, one that seems difficult to pull off well. I am pleased to see that Aja decided against a heavy use of modern computerized special effects, at least from what we've seen, which could have easily pushed this project into the ridiculous, and not in a good way. I think I’ll always be partial to reality itself, a good old cheesy haunted house where a clown chases me out the door and into the parking lot, but I’m always ready to experience some fun horror in whatever ways the masters of the genre feel like serving up.

Campfire Creepers will be available to the public Halloween 2018 FOR FREE in the Oculus Store.