Cameron's Closet

Parents, please keep all demonic amulets out of reach of young children
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
Armand Mastroianni
Starring: 
Scott Curtis, Cotter Smith, Mel Harris, Chuck McCann, Tab Hunter
The Setup: 
Psychic kid calls a demon into his closet, which then starts killing people.
Discussion: 

A reader wrote and recommended this, saying it was pretty good, and also featured 80s hunks, so to the top of my list it went. And it turned out to be pretty good. The director is named Armand Mastroianni, and although he was born in Brooklyn and seems to have directed all his movies here [including his and Tom Hank's debut, He Knows You're Alone], I would say that this film brings an Italian Giallo sensibility to its kid-horror story… in fact, it's kind of like a Giallo Afterschool Special in tone. Which, hey, don't you wish we had a whole line of those?

We open with a film of Cameron at some institute run by his father, where they have been performing experiments to boost his psychic ability, and have given him the ability to run footage backwards! No, the filmmakers just use the ever-popular "footage-run-backwards" [FRB] system to demonstrate how Cameron can move objects with his mind. He's also clairvoyant. We see him ask his dad if he can play with this demonic statue that dad just has sitting around the lab. Parents, please don't leave those things around! Dad stupidly lets the kid play with it. Dad is played by Tab Hunter, by the way. Later that night Dad is downstairs studying his demons when he hears noises upstairs. He catches Cameron in his closet playing with his action figures—and ancient demonic statue—but his dad tells him not to do that. He then hypnotizes Cameron, calls his partner Ben, who was also working with Cameron, and tells him "The evil is here!" He then goes into Cameron's closet, where he hears creepy scratching noises up in the attic—something I've only ever seen in Giallos. Then, well, you never do know how stable those stepstools are, and all I can say is PLEASE do not set down any machetes you may be carrying around in a blade-up position. If Cameron's Dad has only placed that machete down flat, he might still have a head right now.

We then join two Hasselhoff-style cops, one a bit more toward the Rick Springfield end of the Hasselhoff spectrum, and this will be our hero, Sam Taliaferro. The other Hoff, Pete, tells Sam he's going to flush out the perp, and Sam should arrest him. Sam sees a guy and runs after him, finally blowing his head off and spewing lentil soup all over the wall behind him, then—Sam wakes up, still in the car, perp having passed unmolested! He totally just fell asleep on the job! Pete reports him to his boss, but you'll notice that Sam is pretty much unrepentant about his little lapse. I mean sure, he fell asleep right on the job and let a criminal get away, but I mean, COME ON! Big whoop, right? His boss orders him to go talk to a shrink, which Sam thinks is just so much bunk—I mean, he's only a cop who fell asleep on the job and let a criminal get away because of his inattention—I mean, WHY is everyone on his case?!?

Meanwhile, his dad being dead, Cameron is sent to live with his floozy mom and her most recent boyfriend, Bob, who is an aspiring actor who is really, REALLY into his black Cadillac and doesn't like young kids poking around. One problem with the movie in general is that Bob looks so much like Sam [and is a dead ringer for Sam's partner Pete] it was 30 minutes into the movie before I realized that they were different people. Anyway, Cameron raises his eyebrows when Bob pats his Mom on the ass right in front of him, then gives the kid a little "That's right, Brat" smirk afterward. Soon after, Bob appears shirtless and sweaty in Cameron's room, wishing to redress a slight scratch Cameron has put on his precious Caddy. Bob starts maliciously knocking things over and tormenting the boy, saying "No one asked you to come live here," whereupon it is revealed that Bob doesn't pay to live there either! This argument holds no weight, however, and Bob is soon getting physically abusive with the boy. Well, he might soon have cause to think twice about that.

So Sam goes to see the recommended psychologist, Dr. Nora Haley, and is surprised to find that she's a WOMAN—you mean a WOMAN can be a fancy doctor, too? Anyway, it would seem that Sam has some issues with sharing and trust, and doesn't like being forced to go to therapy—especially with some WOMAN DOCTOR—and all because he fell asleep on his law enforcement job. Big whoop! But soon we're back with Cameron, his Mom and her aspiring actor BF. Bob is downstairs trying to practice lines for his audition—for the role of Marc Antony in Shakespeare, by the way, which is precious—but he keeps getting disturbed by the roar of that demon in Cameron's closet! So he decides to go up there and have a little word with the boy, which he does, again snidely and violently, and goes back to practice, at which point he sees THIS:

Cameron's Mom is listening to that sweet rock music, swaying to the beat, and clearly would like her man by her side to enjoy that .38 Special tune in style. But Bob hears some more noises from Cameron's room, and goes back in there to show that boy who's boss! He finds the kid looking in the closet and barges in there… and next thing you know, his eyes have been burnt out of his head and he's been thrown out of the upstairs window to land on top of his precious Cadillac! I don't think he's going to get that part. So Cameron's Mom is hysterical—her man-slice is dead!—and is hitting the cigarettes pretty hard. Who should be on the case, but Sam Taliaferro, and who else—why, it's Dr. Nora Haley! That's a pretty serious breach of the therapeutic frame, but no one in the movie seems to mind, except Sam, who doesn't want to see Nora on at the murder scene, not in the office, not ANYWHERE. It's a little hilarious as she forces Sam to wait to talk to Cameron until after she's had a chance to soothe him, then afterwards, when Sam goes to talk to the little tyke, she says "Don't you think he's had enough?" Sam looks through the closet and finds the demonic statue, and REALLY obviously pockets it while telling his partner "No, I didn't find any evidence." He introduces himself to Cameron, who recognizes Sam as the savior from his dreams! And Sam recognizes Cameron from HIS dreams as well! …Although I don't think he saw Cameron in his dream. But no matter.

Then Sam's drifting mind causes him to have a car accident. Again, WHY would anyone think this would affect his job as a cop?! Jeez! Then Cameron goes to see Dr. Haley for some therapy, and confesses to her that he essentially killed Bob with is thoughts. Soon Cameron confides in Nora that he's psychic, and Nora, who apparently knows nothing of professional ethics, tells Sam first thing. Soon Sam is taking Cameron out to the park and taking a "Big Brothers, Big Sisters"-type interest in him, which seems odd, but whatever, and often Nora is invited along on these trips. Cameron's Mom clearly doesn't give a fuck WHAT the kid is doing or who with. Soon Sam is both in therapy with Nora, having worked through his intimacy issues a little bit, AND also working side-by-side with her on the case. This is a fairly non-traditional therapy. Apparently there are no standards of therapeutic ethics in California.

Well, it wouldn't feel like an Italian horror movie of the 80s if we didn't have at least ONE massive Poltergiest rip-off, right? You see, although it would seem like the demon is actually the projection of Cameron's deep thoughts, it actually is, rather boringly, just a demon. Cameron apparently just conjured it, with his mind power, and now it's hanging out in the closet until it gets powerful enough to open a Linens n' Things franchise location, and it might soon constitute a danger to Cameron himself—as he learns when he gets pulled up the wall and across the ceiling [they totally invested in a rotating room set!] where he might get minced by the whirling ceiling fan! Mom comes in and freaks, and calls Sam and Nora. She also calls her "brother," though he is soon revealed to be, uh, other, so either she was just lying about him being her brother—to try to paper over her slutty, bed-hopping ways—or she and her brother enjoy a rather more permissive relationship than most. Now a ton of somewhat loosely-related people start dying, like Sam's partner, Pete, who goes into an empty home, sees a creepy zombie in the closet [it's SO The Grudge], then starts creeping around himself, until finally his head melts into multiple layers. Now, it might sound like any head melting would be pretty dramatic, but just trust me when I say that this head melts QUITE dramatically. And its dissolution is covered with attention to detail. Then the ghost of Dad shows up to bully his old partner, Ben, into kidnapping Cameron and killing him. Then Mom's new BF/Brother, who is a VERY 80s hunk with gelled-up hair and an apologetic little Chippendales' mustache, decides to take a shower, only to notice that there's a pretty peeved demon in there with him! The demon locks a tentacle into Al's eye socket and proceeds to smash his skull repeatedly against the wall! Well, at least he goes all out with it. But goll-dern it! Mom's going to have to wash out her crotchless panties and head out to the old roadhouse AGAIN!

SPOILERS > > >
So then Ben kidnaps Cameron, but instead of killing him, hypnotizes him and tries to get him to fight the demon! Ben gets cooked a golden brown for his trouble, even though no one thought to drizzle him with olive oil and rosemary before his braising. I hope they have some A1 on hand. So Ben is dead, but Cameron is still deep in a hypnotic state! Nora shows up, but Sam is somewhere else [I think?] where he starts getting molested by the demon. Nora's child psychology sensitivity training flies out the window as she violently SCREAMS at Cameron to wake up! Meanwhile Sam is getting beat down by the demon, but then Cameron shows up—mentally—and opens some psychic whup-ass on the demon, which somehow sends it away and saves Sam. So then why was Cameron having dreams about Sam as this sort of savior or whatnot, when he ended up doing nothing and Cameron saved HIM? Maybe Cameron just had to grow to the place where he realized he could do it himself or whatever. It's all about personal growth. Anyway, now Cameron has a nice little surrogate family [now that Sam and Nora have, of course, fallen in love]. And we already know for a fact that Mom is ready to dump that brat on any interested party who may come along, so she can get back on her accelerated serial monogamy program.
< < < SPOILERS END

Halfway through, I would have heartily recommended it, as it was going along well, has psychic kids, and seems to have a subtext about this kid unleashing his unconscious thoughts in the form of a demon that does his id's dirty work for him. But halfway through it backtracks from all that and there really IS a demon, it's not just a projection of Cameron's mind, and that's a lot less interesting. Plus it goes a little willy-nilly, with pretty much anyone in the state representing a potential victim, not sticking to a strict list of the people who have annoyed Cameron the most. So it loses a little bit in terms of quality, which might have resulted in it being recommended as pretty good. But there are still fun and ridiculous elements, like, well, pretty much everything else, which means it can still be recommended for being a bit of a hoot. Sam is just kind of intrinsically funny, especially due to is lack of acting ability, resemblance to Paul Rudd, and general sense of entitlement. Nora is both odious and kind of delightful for her trying to act like a sensitive child psychologist who just wants everyone to open up and express themselves. Then there are the additional characters, pretty amusing, and the fact that you have some pretty serious gore here, despite the rest of it feeling like a young adult movie. Yeah, could have been worse. Kept me entertained. Just could have been better than it was… but I guess that's like everything in life.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, it's totally amusing.