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Camp Stillwater’s opening may be delayed, but that’s not going to stop the death and psychological thrills on Freeform’s new show Dead of Summer.
The series centers around eight teenagers — Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Blair (Mark Indelicato), Jessie (Paulina Singer), Joel (Eli Goree), Cricket (Amber Coney), Blotter (Zachary Gordon), Drew (Zelda Williams) and Amy (Elizabeth Lail) — working at Camp Stillwater in 1989. Stillwater is a summer getaway that, due to mysterious reasons, has been closed down for a number of years. Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell), the new owner, leads the way in the reopening of what was once a safe haven where every kid in attendance could be whoever they wanted to be. The counselors are barely settled in when the first dead body is found on the property.
The premise may sound familiar. While Dead of Summer certainly has its fair share of ‘80s horror clichés and scare tactics, because it comes from producers with Lost and Once Upon a Time in their back pockets, fans can expect this thriller to be a lot more character-driven than movies from which it takes inspiration, such as Friday the 13th.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Dead of Summer executive producers Ian Goldberg, Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz to find out what’s coming up next for the counselors of Camp Stillwater, how the cast bonded pre-camp and just how flashback-heavy the new series would be.
How did the idea for Dead of Summer originally come about and what inspired you to do the show?
Kitsis: What inspired the show, I think, was a love for ‘80s teen films, be it John Hughes or Cameron Crowe, Heathers or River’s Edge and ‘80s horror films. … We started talking about camp, which was very informative in our lives, and we thought this would be a great show to do about identity. What I loved best about camp was that no matter what you were in high school, camp kind of gave you the freedom to be whoever you really wanted to be. We thought, what if we peeled back the cliches? So when the pilot presents itself, it just seems like here we are in the ‘80s with the jock, the stoner, the cheerleader, but when you go into episodes two, three, four and we start pulling back who these characters were before they came to camp, you realize they’re not just the cliches. For us, what we wanted to do was a more supernatural horror like The Shining where people literally get confronted with their own demons.
Why was it important for Dead of Summer to be set in the 1980s as opposed to modern day?
Horowitz: One of the things we loved about the ‘80s was that in addition to being when Eddy and I — Ian’s a little bit younger — went to summer camp, being in that time period there were a number of cultural things going on then. If you watch the show you’ll see [them] reflected in the lives of the characters. That on top of also the notion of being in a pre-Internet, pre-cellphone era where the characters wouldn’t be staring down at screens all the time and be kind of forced to interact with each other. … Putting them into a situation where they can’t just dial up a phone and call for help really allowed us to hopefully delve deeper into the characters.
One of the things we loved about ‘89 was that was the heart of satanic panic which people have long forgotten. That was back when playing Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal led to satanic cults living next to you and Geraldo [Rivera] specials. We loved that idea of satanic panic running through it. You’ll see little bits of ‘80s touches throughout. For us, what we loved about the ‘80s and ‘89 in particular, where we set it was it was the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of what we think … the ‘80s was the end of one way we lived and the ‘90s started to be the new way in a lot of ways.
The show has a supernatural element as well as a horror suspense element -— how would you describe it? Does it lean more one way or the other?
Goldberg: It’s a show about identity. There is a supernatural component to it and a lot of the scares come from the secrets that these characters are bringing with them to the camp and how those secrets manifest in really creepy ways. The way we talk about it is like how people go to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. There are real demons there and there are also your inner demons that manifest. We just thought there’s kind of an audience expectation when you do a summer camp horror show or movie that it’s going to be Friday the 13th with a killer in a mask who’s just going to be hacking people up. We wanted to take that expectation and twist it and do something much more character-based and unsettling from a psychological point of view.
Kitsis: We also wanted the show to air on the John Hughes side to really care about the characters so when they die, you give a shit.
Both Once Upon a Time and Lost are very flashback-heavy. How much of that is going to be part of Dead of Summer?
Kitsis: One hundred percent. … We are going to be flashing back to where these characters were before they got to camp. Do they have a secret? Is there something haunting them? What did they come to camp with? Every episode we’re going to be exploring a character’s flashback and life pre-camp.
Will there be any tie-ins to Once or Lost?
Kitsis: Not literal ones.
Horowitz: It is where we came from in terms of our writing and style, but the shows aren’t connected in any way.
Kitsis: No one from Oceanic Airways can get to camp.
Is there a central villain in this story?
Kitsis: There are multiple things happening. As the show starts to go on, a central villain starts to emerge. There is definitely a mystery that is running throughout it.
Did you do anything fun with the cast to bond and get them ready for the camp experience?
Kitsis: We tried to bond them before we started shooting as much as possible. What was great was they kind of took it upon themselves. … We were all staying in the same hotel up in Vancouver and the cast, while we would be on location scouts and in prep, they would be watching ‘80s movies so they would understand references and stuff. They would all get together in one of the actors’ rooms. We tried to bond them early and they sort of took it upon themselves and if that didn’t work we would just crank Prince right before a big scene. We’re like, summer is here! It’s June. It’s 40 degrees outside. Let’s get in the summer state of mind and what says that more than “Erotic City.”
What can you tease about the series going forward?
Kitsis: Everything you think you know, you don’t know. Every character has a secret or something they’re not sharing and we’re going to find out about it in each episode.
Dead of Summer airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.
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