First Impressions

Dead of Summer

Aired on: Freeform
 

Reviewed by Melissa Minners
 

                I had seen a bunch of promos for a new television series airing on Freeform (once ABC Family) and was curious.  Dead of Summer looked like it contained paranormal and horror elements and was not something I would expect to see on Freeform.  But then I lost track of its start date and missed five episodes.  Luckily, I was able to catch up on the series thanks to On Demand.

                Set in 1989, Dead of Summer takes place at a Midwestern summer camp called Camp Stillwater.  Brought back to life by Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), Camp Stillwater’s counselors, with a couple of exceptions, are all former attendees of the camp.  Eager to return to the camp of their childhood years, the counselors look forward to their summer in the woods of their youth.  Billed as a place where you can be who you want to be, Camp Stillwater is inviting to both the old timers, seeking to get away from their home lives, and newcomers who want a fresh start.

                But the Stillwater Camp site has a history – a man known as Holyoke (Tony Todd) once lived in a cabin at the location.  A self-proclaimed holy man, Holyoke was able to get his followers to take a potion that would bring them to “the other side.”  Their bodies were found floating in the lake and Holyoke was captured by local townsfolk and brought to justice…or so they thought. 

                Now Holyoke haunts the site…and the campers who are receptive to his ghost.  Haunting the counselors isn’t very hard - as we learn through a series of flashbacks, they are all haunted by something already.  Newcomer Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) is haunted by the accidental death of a new friend who told her about the camp.  She is haunted by the guilt she feels at not being able to save her.  Carolina “Cricket” Diaz (Amber Coney) is haunted by her weight and the belief that acceptance is only received when one is thin and attractive.  This belief is bolstered by her accidental discovery regarding her father’s extramarital affairs.  Alex Powell (Ronen Rubenstein) is haunted by his Russian immigrant past and the memory of the destruction of his father’s American Dream.  He has been leading his life as his grandfather instructed him to prior to moving to America – he takes what he wants.  Newcomer Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams) is haunted by the fact that she isn’t really a newcomer.  She last attended the camp as a girl named Andrea, but is now trying to be true to herself by living out her life as a boy.  Joel Goodson (Eli Goree) is haunted by his brother’s suicide and the visions that drove him to it…the ones he now sees.  We have yet to learn what it is that haunts camp counselors Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato) and Jesse “Braces” Taylor (Paulina Singer) and Jason “Blotter” Cohen (Zachary Gordon) may never get to reveal his fears…but I don’t want to spoil anything for you.

                As the series progresses, the camp counselors, with the help of Deputy Garret Sykes (a former attendee of the camp as well), the group uncovers the history of the camp and the occultist activities that took place there.  But, with the mysterious occurrences at the camp and the warnings of impending deaths, can they figure out what Holyoke is up to before it’s too late?

                Oh man, I am so hooked on this show.  The characters are likeable and their back stories are interesting, investing the viewer in their future.  You want to know if your favorite characters are going to overcome their fears as well as overcome whatever it is that Holyoke has planned for them.  You also find yourself needing to know exactly who Holyoke is and what he is after.  By the way, in case you don’t recognize the name, Holyoke is played by the actor who so excellently portrayed Candyman – if that guy isn’t the spookiest character I’ve ever seen, I don’t know horror.  And horror this is, with a supernatural flare.

I love the fact that the show harks back to the 1980s horror flicks of my youth with the camp setting bringing back memories of all those campy flicks like Friday the 13th.  You find yourself wondering who will be next and actually cringe when one of the camp members goes off alone or in a pair, a sure sign someone is about to get killed.  Watching the show On Demand, I was also privy to some of the background info, like how certain scenes were created and certain special effects were achieved.

One of the most intriguing factors is the flashback revelations of the various counselors’ pasts.  Every episode, I find myself wanting to know more about the main characters and that’s what keeps me coming back for more…well, that and the fact that I love a well-made horror and Dead of Summer definitely fits that bill.  I can’t wait to check out more of this series!

 

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