Imagine a horror version of Candid Camera and you'll have some idea of what to expect from Scare Campaign, which has been running on television for a successful five years. But maybe it's getting stale. Channel executive Vicki (a single-scene role from Sigrid Thornton) thinks so, especially as a rival, much darker show broadcast on the dark web, Masked Freaks, is attracting audiences with what appear to be actual snuff movies. So she tells director Marcus (Ian Meadows) that they need to up their game. So his team, including lead actresses Emma (Meegan Warner) and Abby (Olivia DeJonge) lure their intended subject Rohan (Josh Quong Tart) to a supposedly haunted disused mental hospital (filmed in a real decommissioned hospital, Beechworth Lunatic Asylum in Beechworth, Victoria). But who is pranking whom? And things turn very nasty very quickly.
The Cairnes Brothers, Colin and Cameron, made their debut feature with another horror film, 100 Bloody Acres in 2012. Scare Campaign is an impressive follow-up. It's not a long film at all (80 minutes, 76:59 on this DVD with PAL speed-up) but the filmmakers' confidence is quite apparent from the start, with a ten-minute sequence before the opening credits where we, along with hapless hospital orderly George (John Brumpton), don't know quite what's going on – though, unlike him, we have a DVD blurb to read. The brothers' solid grounding in the horror genre is very apparent: for example, Emma, posing as a nurse, gives her name as Jennifer Agutter. That's not the only reference fans will no doubt pick up.
I won't give away what happens from around the halfway mark, but suffice to say there are several twists along the way, some inventively gory slayings and an open ending that doesn't let us off the hook. While this is undoubtedly one for the horror fans out there – squeamish viewers should definitely give it a wide berth – for them it's certainly recommended.
100 Bloody Acres had a brief UK cinema release before going to DVD. At the time of writing, it's not confirmed to what extent Scare Campaign will follow suit. Other than festival showings, it went straight to DVD and streaming services in Australia. It didn't pass unnoticed, making more than one Best of 2016 list including this one.
Madman's DVD of Scare Campaign is dual-layered and encoded for all regions.
Scare Campaign was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa with anamophic lenses and the DVD transfer is in the intended ratio of 2.40:1, widescreen-enhanced. As is almost but not quite always the case, this is a film which has existed in the digital realm from shooting to final release, and I very much doubt there ever have been 35mm prints except possibly for archival purposes. I hadn't seen the film before now, but I haven't any reason to believe this isn't pretty much what you would see, resolution apart, if you had seen it in one of its cinema showings. Colours are strong and blacks are solid.
If you stay to the end of the final credits, you'll see that Scare Campaign was mixed in Dolby Atmos, though whether any audiences have had a chance to hear it that way is a good question, given the current rarity of cinemas so equipped – only three open to the public in London as I write this, for example. Even so, in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound mix on this DVD, you can get some sense of what you would have heard. It's a very showy mix, with plenty of directional sounds, including creepy ghost voices cycling round the surround channels. There's an alternative Dolby Surround (2.0) track, but the 5.1 is the mix of choice if you can play it. A third soundtrack is an English audio-descriptive in Dolby Surround. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available.
The extras are mostly EPK material, beginning with two featurettes. “The Making of Scare Campaign (4:27) begins with the brothers talking about how the film came about: it was one of several ideas they pitched to their producer after 100 Bloody Acres, and particular inspiration came from their finding of Beechworth Hospital. The second half of this item is a short tour round the props and make-up departments, including the sight of some gory prosthetics. “Behind the Scenes” (7:19) is more of the same, beginning with the Cairnes Brothers giving you the premise you're about to watch, or have seen. They mention prank videos they saw on Youtube, one of which – from Mexico – we can see an extract from. Given that this is a longer featurette, we also have interviews with Ian Meadows, Meegan Warner, Olivia DeJonge and Josh Quong Tart.
Next up is a Q&A after the film's Australian premiere in March 2016 (9:53) shot from a single vantage point in the audience. Beginning with the directors, the enthusiastic MC calls several cast members from the audience for Q&A. There's certainly enthusiasm but nothing too in-depth. The extras are completed by the theatrical trailer (1:35) and this distributor's usual “Madman Propaganda”, in this case trailers for Tale of Tales, Spring, When Animals Dream and The Infinite Man.