August 30, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Dead of Summer”


TV’s summer of 2016 was notable for a splendidly entertaining and emotionally satisfying 1980s-themed horror thriller.  Unfortunately for Freeform and DEAD OF SUMMER, it was Netflix’s Stranger ThingsDead, which ended a low-rated season tonight, did have its moments, though, especially in its grand guignol final episodes.

The general pattern of the series was familiar for anyone who’s watched Once Upon A Time, also created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (Dead added Ian Goldberg to the team, another Once alumnus).  For producers who also had the job of managing 22 episodes of a network series, Kitsis and Horowitz were surprisingly active on Dead, with writing credits on four of the ten episodes, including tonight’s finale (directed by horror vet Steve Miner), plus an episode directed by Horowitz.  As on Once, they intercut episodes between a “present-day” (in this case, 1989) story and flashbacks meant to illuminate the key characters–a style that was also a staple of Lost, where Kitsis & Horowitz got their start.  The setting was the seemingly bucolic Camp Stillwater, where the counselors nursed their emotional wounds while trying not to get slaughtered by the local evil spirit.  They had parent issues (Paulina Singer’s Jessie), gender-identification issues (Zelda Williams as Drew), or the like, but those tended to fade once the bear traps and axes started appearing.

The big reveal last week was that Amy (Elizabeth Lail), the apparent virginal “final girl” of the horror-movie template, was in fact herself the villain, not just a psychopathic killer in her own right, but possessed by the demon as well.  It’s hard to do anything really new in this genre, and this trope dates back to at least (spoiler alert!) 2006’s cult hit All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, but it’s relatively lightly used.  Once it was unleashed, Lail got to play big-time loony, swinging an axe like Nicholson in The Shining while cooing to the actual eventual heroine Jessie to come get her punishment, and seemingly having a fine time.  After that, though, the writers didn’t do much to subvert the cliches, and they showed a sentimental streak that went a bit deep, including dead Deputy Garrett (Alberto Frezza) serving as an angelic helper to the survivors, and Amy’s zombied victims returning to the glowing, purified waters of the Lake.  (Which was a bit too Lost-like, on many levels.)  The Amy twist also allowed Dead to sidestep the racial theme that it suggested early on, as the menacing Civil War-era Tall Man (Tony Todd) who appeared to the counselors turned out to be the lake’s protector.

There wasn’t any depth to Dead of Summer, but it was put together with some skill.  Elizabeth Mitchell, as the ill-fated red herring who ran the camp, provided an effective leadership presence, and if much of the other acting, and most of the dialogue, was merely serviceable–apart from post-reveal Lail–they were at least more compelling than the cast of MTV’s Scream.  Unlike the horror franchises that served as its influences, there’s no pressing need for a return to Camp Stillwater.  As a busman’s holiday show by busy showrunners with some time on their hands, however, it was a fair summer excursion.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."