AKA: Cameron’s Terror
Cameron Lansing is a quiet 10-year-old boy with an extraordinary gift. Turns out he’s been blessed with some amazing psychic and telekinetic powers. To study this phenomena, Cameron’s father, Owen, decides to subject his son to a series of powerful psychological and physiological tests, in an effort to explore, understand, and potentially unleash the hidden powers within the human mind. But Owen abruptly ends the tests when he realizes his experiments have become far too successful. Turns out Cameron’s abilities ended up being so great that he inadvertently opened a pathway to the underworld, released an ancient demon from it’s depths, and transported it to a sort of limbo-world. A limbo-world that has currently taken up residence in the boy’s closet. His father, realizing the danger, tries to stop the beast before it breaks free, but is killed for his troubles.
Having nowhere else to go, Cameron is sent to live with his mother. But the demon’s obsession with closets follows Cameron, and it kills off two more unsuspecting individuals who try to get between it and the boy. Naturally, this gets the attention of police, and it falls on a similarly psychic Detective Taliaferro and city psychologist Dr. Nora Haley to not only protect Cameron from the manifesting monster that seems intent on killing him, but to also figure out a way to send the infuriating demon back to the depths of Hell where it belongs.
Cameron’s Closet is an American horror film from 1988. The movie has an interesting and diverse pedigree behind it. It was directed by Armand Mastroianni, a veteran horror director who not only also directed The Killing Hour, but is probably most well known for making the slasher, He Knows You’re Alone, which featured Tom Hanks in his feature film debut. The film was also based on a book written by Gary Brandner, a man who is probably best known for his werewolf themed books, The Howling, which were themselves loosely adapted into a film series. Further still, all the special effects in the movie were created by Carlo Rambaldi, who before working on the Cameron’s Closet had already won three Oscars for special effects. One for his work on the 1976 version of King Kong, another for the mechanical head effects of Alien, and the third for creating the titular character from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. So, suffice it to say, that the film had some experienced names working for it from behind the scenes. But if you’re familiar with any of those people, you’ll probably note that none of them are at all known for working on this film. And there’s a reason for that. Because as we all know, sometimes all the talent in the world isn’t going to save your project if said talent only puts mediocre effort into it.
Ugh. I can’t even….
The mundane-ness begins in the plot department, as the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen done better. The film is sort of an odd mish-mash of The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elms Street, what with all the fuzzy horror-dream sequences, people getting pulled up walls, and all the time spent trying to dispatch a demon. But it also spends a lot of time focusing on Cameron and his growing bond with Detective Taliaferro. But while admittedly those moments are cute and all, those incredibly chill and relaxed scenes really do tend to kill the film’s attempt at building tension and bog down the pacing for the rest of the plot, almost to the point where it feels like you’re watching two completely different movies. It also doesn’t help that Mastroianni really doesn’t seem to grasp how to properly differentiate between reality and dream sequences, which adds to a lot of unnecessary confusion on the part of the viewer. And for every moment where we’re greeted with an impressive, atmospheric visual, the film also grants equal time to some truly puzzling inclusions. For instance, at one point Detective Taliaferro walks into Cameron’s house and hears a strange noise upstairs. He then proceeds to grab a knife from the kitchen and walk upstairs. Now, by itself, that may not seem so bad, since it only makes sense to arm yourself if there’s a demon afoot. Until of course you then remember that this man is a freakin’ detective, and is equipped with a friggin’ gun, the holster of which you can still see wrapped around his torso. So what you grabbin’ a knife for there, sport? Wouldn’t the gun be quicker? Screw the fact that the whole scene was just supposed to be part of a confusing dream. It’s still stupid and makes him look like an idiot. It’s noticing little asinine crap like that that’s eventually going to lead to me to develop a freaking eye tic.
Especially since he just successfully used a gun IN THE LAST DREAM SEQUENCE!
But the director isn’t the only one who dropped the ball when it came to this movie. For someone who won three Oscars already, it’s clear Carlo Rambaldi didn’t give his all to this production either. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t put any effort into it. Because it’s clear that he did. But it’s pretty obvious that his efforts were nowhere near 100%, because for every decent, or outright good effect, there’s another that looks like he only spent 10 minutes on it. It starts at the beginning with some okay-ish camera trickery, which is overall pretty decent for a low-budget horror outing. But then next up is the decapitation scene, where it’s not only painfully clear that the severed head is a plastic prop, but it’s also clear that they didn’t even bother to make it look like the actor who supposedly just lost said head in a blaze of bloody glory. They try to gloss over this by cutting away really quickly and having what looks like approximately a bucket’s worth of blood pour from the severed neck wound, but the damage has already been done by that point. And don’t even get me started on the design of the demon, because the more that creature came out of the shadows, the goofier that poor monstrosity looked. Me thinks asking a guy, who’s most well known creation is often not-so-lovingly referred to as “a turd”, to make your own movie monster was not the filmmaker’s wisest decision.
Oi. Dude. What the friggin’ hell?
But the shame of it is, that in other instances it’s clear that the film actually did put a lot of effort into their visual effects. At one point a guy literally gets slowly boiled alive from the inside out, and the level of minute detail that went into that one scene is just visually astounding. They even went through the trouble of adding subtle little touches like his fingernails slowly going black, even though you can barely see his fingers. It’s pretty damn impressive. And in another scene, which in all fairness likely had little input from Carlo Rambaldi, a man gets himself thrown out a window and onto the hood of his car. But instead of using the standard low-budget filming technique of showing him hitting the window, then cutting to him landing on his car outside, the movie actually goes through the trouble of showing him flying through the air before he lands. I mean, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as this is the only time I can think of where you actually get to SEE someone get thrown out a window like that in a horror movie, but at the same time I don’t even want to go into the wiring logistics it took behind the scenes to pull something like that off. And they actually ended up using a similar technique a couple of other times, too. So it’s clear they had all the know-how they needed to to do what they wanted, but maybe not the funds, time or the gumption. Or maybe they had all three, but they just sucked at proper money allotment. Who knows.
Of course, none of those things still excuse the design of the demon. Because, seriously, that thing looks atrocious.
It’s dingy, useless arms haunt me.
The one thing that actually managed to remain consistent in this film was the acting. Everyone here does a fairly decent job in their roles. Weird dream sequences aside, everyone fits their part and puts out some pretty believable performances. Even young Scott Curtis does a good job. He makes Cameron feel like an innocent, scared child, and not just a tone-deaf brat, as is often the risk with kids in horror films. In fact, the chemistry between him, Cotter Smith (Detective Taliaferro) and Mel Harris (Dr. Haley) is actually a high point of the movie. Of course, that doesn’t mean that none of the characters don’t make any questionable choices or deductions, like when Dr. Haley just immediately accepts that Cameron has psychic abilities. But those faults lie in the writing, not the actors. For a low-budget flick, I think they did pretty well.
Cameron’s Closet ends up being a rather average, low-budget horror film, but I still ended up kinda liking it. Sure, the story’s familiar, the monster is goofy, and the visuals are inconsistent, but for the most part it still ended up being a fun, quick watch. The movie’s got a solid cast, some very diverse and creative deaths, and when the visuals work, boy do they really work. It’s just a shame that the story, effects and tone couldn’t have remained more consistent, because if they had I think they could have really knocked this one out of the park. But alas, it seems they could not. Still, what they did put together isn’t all that bad, and is actually peppered with a fair bit of good, especially if you can appreciate the different aspects of low-budget horror stories. So if you like demon tales and you’re not too picky about consistency, feel free to give this one a go.
Cameron’s Closet is available on a variety of streaming services.
Cameron’s Closet is also available on DVD.