A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dead of Summer is a series that hearkens back to classic horror movies set in summer camps. Violence includes dead bodies shown floating facedown in the water; a deer shown at length with a bloody hole in its stomach; a dead body discovered in a lake with a horribly mauled face; and numerous "jump scares" with figures looming out of the darkness. College- and high school-aged characters drink beer and shots, smoke cigarettes, smoke joints, and refer to being "baked." Sexual references include a young woman calling herself a "slut" and two male characters betting on who will be the first to "hook up" with female coworkers. Cursing includes "hell," "ass;" insulting and mocking language when characters make fun of each others' foibles and clothing, and ethnic insults, such as when an Eastern European boy is called a "commie."
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What's the story?
In the DEAD OF SUMMER, long-closed Camp Stillwater opens, years after the terrible tragedy that left everyone at the camp dead. Now new camp owner Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell) has sunk everything she owns into bringing the camp back to life. Joining her are her new crew of counselors: unsure new girl Amy (Elizabeth Lail), arrogant Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), insecure Cricket (Amber Coney), flirty Jessie (Paulina Singer), nerdy Blotter (Zachary Gordon), photographer Joel (Eli Goree), gay-and-proud Blair (Mark Indelicato), and mysterious Drew (Zelda Williams). They all have their secrets and their hopes for what the summer will bring. But as the bodies mount up and an unearthly horror takes hold at Camp Stillwater, looks like the counselors are in for a more exciting summer than they bargained for.
Is it any good?
This '80s retread scores when doling out unsettling plot twists -- surprises and secrets are revealed at a pace that keeps your attention, even if the characters read as clichéd. There's the arrogant rich boy, the shy girl with a dark past, the nerd jealous of his handsomer friends, the tease, and the perv who watches everything through the lens of a camera, all the better to capture creepy stuff the characters see upon rewatching. Each character is not quite what he or she appears, however, as we learn over the course of the movie, as past transgressions are revealed in flashback. The action, however, is fairly predictable -- there's an otherworldly camper, a spirit (or maybe just an ex-con who haunts the woods), and a lot of people who like to stand stock-still in the dark to startle characters sent to gather firewood or change a burnt-out fuse in the scary ol' basement.
You've seen all this stuff before. Yet Dead of Summer is still entertaining to watch, because the creators -- who hail from Lost and Once Upon a Time, both of which heavily influence this show -- are so good at slowly revealing the show's mysteries and overall mythology (which tilts toward the supernatural and demonic). The action is generally mild enough for teens who are already drawn to horror; they may or may not get hooked here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why dramas about murder are such an enduring TV staple. Why would audiences enjoy watching characters in danger?
Many horror movies of the 1980s were set in summer camps. Why? How isolated are they, compared to people in the city or suburbs?
Dead of Summer is set in the 1980s. How is that communicated to the audience? Consider music, dialogue, and costumes in your reply.