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‘Dead of Summer’ Brings Back the Warm Weather Staple: Spooky, Scary Camp
June 28, 2016  | By David Hinckley

It’s so heartening to know that in this turbulent world of uncertainty we can count on a few foundational constants, like the way young folks will wander alone to some dark, spooky place when they’re pretty sure there’s a psycho killer on the loose.

Dead of Summer, a teen summer camp horror series that launches Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform, rounds up the latest group of campers who won’t have to worry about what to wear when school starts again in September.

This incarnation of a very familiar story revolves around Camp Stillwater, your basic Midwestern summer camp with a lake and cabins and a creepy, angry maintenance man named Dave.

Camp director Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell, left) has bought and reopened the joint five years after it closed down. We gradually learn what caused the hiatus, and it wasn’t an insufficient number of life jackets in the kayaks.

Deb remembers Camp Stillwater as one of the best things about her young life, though, and she’s determined to revive that experience for another generation, minus the bad things that neither she nor anyone else wants to talk about.

She has recruited seven counselors, six of whom were once Stillwater campers, and one of whom, Amy (Elizabeth Lail), signed up on a kind of personal therapy mission.

In fact, Amy was planning to go as a team with Margot (Morgan Taylor Campbell), one of her first friends at her new high school, only something happened to Margot that maybe should have given Amy a hint about the karma of this whole adventure.

In any case, the other counselors represent most of the major teen food groups: the princess, the gay guy, the black guy, the insecure girl, the Goth recluse and so on.

They’re reasonably friendly toward Amy, through whose newbie eyes we start to learn some of the Stillwater backstory. If anyone might miss the point that it’s a spooky place, the counselors gather around a fire and muse about how a maniac could slip in, kill everyone and hide the bodies where no one would find them for days.

Kids say the darndest things.

When the first bad thing happens, before the campers have even shown up, only Deputy Sheriff Garrett Sykes (über-hunky Alberto Frezza) seems to think it’s worth actually investigating.

In the process he starts to become friends with Amy, only to discover that a girl he dated at Stillwater seven summers earlier, Jessie Tyler (Paulina Singer), is one of the other counselors. Garrett didn’t recognize her, apparently because she’s not wearing braces any more.

Perception tends to lag, you may have noticed, in teen horror stories.

Anyhow, it turns out Amy isn’t just the new kid at camp. She’s the new kid in life, almost as if that’s her job description. Her family seems to move a lot, for unspecified reasons, so she has to keep trying to fit in, a pursuit at which practice apparently does not make perfect.

Dead of Summer is set in 1989, maybe because the '80s were such a golden age for teen slasher movies and maybe because that was before everyone had a phone, so when you wandered into some creepy place alone, you really were alone.

Ah, those were the days.

Today’s teenagers naturally have no memory of the ‘80s, and Dead of Summer doesn’t make it hard for anyone to catch up. If you understand the principle of people at a summer camp getting hunted down and picked off like deer in the woods, you’ll have no trouble here.

If it’s all remarkably familiar, well, hey, so are campfire s’mores. And who can turn down another round of them?

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