Review: Dead of Summer ‘How To Stay Alive in the Woods’

So far despite all the fear and threats of violence to the counselors, no one still at Camp Stillwater has been killed in Dead of Summer through the first four episodes. In fact, more people have died in the flashback scenes to the counselors lives before they came to camp than have died in the present.

The title of the episode “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” and the early warning on the nature hike about bear traps all over the camp is an early giveaway that is about to change.

Before we get to present-day death though, we find out that Joel’s obsession with documenting everything with his camcorder has a back story. The episode opens on prom day for Joel’s older brother and his gruesome discovery of his brother’s suicide in a bathtub – the words “He Will Never Leave Me Alone” painted in blood on the walls.

In subsequent flashback scenes years later at Joel’s own prom, it’s revealed that the “he” who haunted his brother is the same “he” who keeps showing up at Camp Stillwater. This mysterious man – who we already know is 19th century cult leader Holyoak – leads Joel to deck a guy at prom and sours his relationship with his prom date. Naturally, it also makes him think he’s gone crazy and is heading to the same fate as his brother Michael.

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Back in the present day, Holyoak keeps appearing telling Joel he needs to kill Amy or “someone else will die.” An asthmatic camper seems to be the obvious target, but Joel manages to resist Holyoak’s orders when he and Amy go off into the woods alone to find the girl’s missing inhaler. While the danger for the cute, bespectacled camper is avoided, one of our masked cult friends re-enters the scene to break up a late night counselor rendezvous in the woods. Like so many summer camp-set horror movies before it – and the previous warning about bear traps – the episode ends with the head of one of the counselors in a bear trap.

But not before the town deputy with way too much free time on his hands discovers (with Jessie in tow) his late father’s cufflinks in a box under the floor boards of the abandoned cabin (aka cult headquarters) with an old recording of Holyoak. It turns out Garrett’s need for answers is in his blood! How about that?

Jessie runs back to the camp to tell the others what they discovered and when she shows Joel the photo, he finally confirms that the man who haunted his brother and him is the very same one who ordered a mass suicide of his cult followers on the grounds of Camp Stillwater a century ago. In case they weren’t freaked out enough, the Russian camper who in an earlier episode talked about seeing a tall man comes out of his tent to confirm that Holyoak is in fact the “tall man” and that Joel was supposed to kill Amy.

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Episode Notes

-Amy is seen reading a copy of the 1956 book “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” by Bradford Angier that lends the episode its title. “I found it in the staff lounge, ” Amy says. “I figured it could come in handy being my first overnight and all.”

-What would an overnight camping trip be without someone making a reference to the movie Deliverance. In this episode it’s Deb who references the 1972 thriller.

-It turns out that Jackie Robinson jersey that Joel wears all the time was a gift from his brother right before he committed suicide.

-Blair wears another Clash shirt in this episode, this time a “Guns of Brixton” shirt. The song is on the band’s 1979 album London Calling.

-Drew at one point in the episode says “Just saying.” I don’t remember that being a thing in 1989 though it was apparently used in the 1989 novel The Remains of the Day.

-What would a campfire at summer camp be without a tearful confession? In this episode, Joel breaks down at the campfire and tells everyone about his struggles and need for help.

-If the bear trap warnings didn’t give it away enough, the episode includes talk of a blood moon and Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Time” literally is playing in the final scene when the death occurs. “The Killing Time” was the first single on the British band’s 1984 album Ocean Rain.

-What would a late ’80s prom flashback scene be without Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” playing? The song was on her 1989 album Forever Your Girl.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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