Kozue and her younger sister are driving through the countryside on the first leg of a camping trip. A minor accident leaves them stranded in the middle of nowhere, out of range of mobile phone service. They are soon found by one of the locals, a polite young man, who escorts them to his home. When four other men show up, the girls realize their savior’s kind offer was too good to be true. One by one, the men come up with different methods of humiliating and torturing them, culminating in rape and murder. One of the girls manages to escape, and with the help of a local woman acting as a vigilante, puts everything on the line for a shot at revenge.
Paired with director Ainosuke Shibata’s earlier film Hitch-Hike, Camp is reaching English-language audiences via the first volume of Troma Entertainment’s “From Asia with Lust” double features. Obviously the work of the same filmmakers, the two movies also share the presence of lead actress/adult video star Miyuki Yokoyama and actor Hiroaki Kawatsure, who met a grisly end in the much slicker and gorier Grotesque (2009).
While Hitch-Hike was slight and forgettable, Camp is much more in line with Troma’s brand of over-the-top humor scraped out of a toilet bowl, despite starting out in an almost identical fashion to the earlier film. Unlike typical Troma material (excessive but played for laughs), Camp sometimes feels like it’s being played pretty straight – but in the style the Japanese have long made their own, some of the acts of abuse and perverted dialogue is foul enough to make someone like John Waters queasy.
The fun starts with the names of the male characters – the monikers Hypo, Pyro, Copro, Necro and Thanatos belie each guy’s individual fetish, and lay the groundwork for the scenes of torture and death to come. Each character is easily distinguished from the others, as their clothing and personality types are simply and sharply drawn. The guy who persuades the girls to accompany him to his house is a quiet, sensitive type. They are joined there by an outdoorsman and an office worker. The final additions to the gang pull out all the stops: a grinning simpleton and a necrophilic homosexual, lending another shade of camp to the title.
When the guys let their fantasies loose on the unfortunate sisters in a series of twisted games, the sleaze really hits the fan. Pyro’s weapon of choice is a gas lighter – which he utilizes for both fellatio and penetrative sex. Hypo encases his victims in a vacuum storage bag, while Necro delights in depositing his seed in infertile soil. Thanatos, the most mysterious of the bunch, opts out of the seedy shenanigans in the early stages.
Copro, however, takes the cake with his dialogue alone. In an unbridled fit of expectant ecstasy, he tells his friends in no uncertain terms what he’d like to do with the girls’ unfiltered waste products. Later, drinking white wine from the furry cup, he exclaims, “How exquisite! Are you nearing the end of your period?” He doesn’t know when to stop, either – after using a wine glass to down the rest of the excreted elixir, he raises his face to the heavens and says, “I knew it was a good idea to make you drink brandy. Your body temperature has risen, giving it a full-bodied aroma!” Pyro shows a similar lack of restraint, enthusing over the prospect of beating off to the smell of her burning toenail clippings.
It is this utterly demented, unapologetically off-color approach to familiar tropes that gives Camp its appeal, as most of the male characters are little more than caricatures, and it becomes impossible to take the unpleasant material seriously. As with Shibata’s other shot-on-video exploitation fodder, there is no explicit sex, and whenever the violence attempts to be a little more shocking, the results are amateurish and unconvincing. Likewise, action sequences are staged awkwardly; it must be apparent by now why the denizens of Tromaville pricked up their ears.
The performances, ironically, are convincing enough for this kind of trash. As the older sister Kozue, star Miyuki Yokoyama is characteristically delicate and reserved; she is much too mousy to fully inhabit the role of action heroine – especially when compared to someone like fellow actress/AV vixen Asami Sugiura (Gun Woman). She is, however, a solid core that anchors all the craziness – at least, until she becomes an instigator of mayhem herself. Balloon-breasted costar Peach Momomiya, as the sister, is the perfect contrast to Yokoyama’s cultivated cool; voluptuous and spirited, she kicks off an ugly chain of events that will force Kozue to eventually seek revenge.
The isolated setting and rape/revenge framework often brings to mind the ’70s classics that Camp attempts to evoke, like The Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, The Hills Have Eyes – the usual suspects. The lengths to which Kozue is willing to go in order to protect her sister are mirrored by the extremes of her vengeance when things go too far. The backstory of the male antagonists offers further thematic complexity, incorporating issues of mental illness, revenge of the socially marginalized, and taking a moral stand versus conformity to the group (a pivotal Japanese concern). When the group tries to push the reluctant Thanatos into joining them in their wicked games, their chant of “Exile or union!” recalls the chilling mantra of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) – only this motley crew belong behind bars not in a sideshow, but in a nuthouse.