I honestly have no idea why the 1989 film Cameron’s Closet—or at least the title and cover image—stuck with me all these years. I’m pretty sure I saw the film on cable back in the early 90s, as it seems like one of those movies with inexpensive broadcast rights that would have played multiple times a day back when pay channels only had a limited amount of content. I can’t say I remembered anything in particular about it, including whether I liked it or not, yet when I was recently scrolling through the offerings on Tubi and spotted it, I felt an unexplained little squee of excitement, and knew I had to revisit it.
And when I did, I was even more mystified than I was before as to why it had lodged in my brain the way it did (incidentally, the same thing happened to me concerning the 1977 movie Cathy’s Curse). Not that Cameron’s Closet is a bad movie really; it’s cheesy and it certainly has its weaknesses, but it’s no worse (nor any more distinctive) than any number of other late-1980s, low budget, targeted-to-the-home-video-market fare. It had some decent gore and some entertaining, over-the-top kills; it had some solid acting and a somewhat interesting story; it featured an impressive array of horror stalwarts working behind the camera. It wasn’t as good as, say, 1987’s The Gate, though that’s kinda what it reminded me of (other than not really being targeted toward kids). In short, it was a fun, forgotten slice of nostalgic gorgonzola that barely anyone talks about anymore, but because that title snagged my eyeballs, I’m gonna buck that trend and discuss it. You’re welcome.
Now, when I mentioned that there were a lot of well-known horror folks behind the scenes on this thing, I really wasn’t kidding. The screenplay for Cameron’s Closet, for example, was written by Gary Brandner, best known for penning the novel that the classic, Joe Dante-directed 1981 werewolf movie The Howling was based on. Additionally, the special effects were done by Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi, who not only designed E.T., but also worked on effects for the 1976 remake of King Kong, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dune, and Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso. Director Armand Mastroianni burst onto the horror landscape in 1980 with He Knows You’re Alone, and also contributed to several horror and sci-fi-themed TV shows from the 1980s through the early 2000s, including Tales from the Darkside, Friday the 13th: The Series, the 90s remake of Dark Shadows, and one episode of the sadly underrated 2003 series loosely based on Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, William Lustig, beloved by horror nerds for 1980’s Maniac and 1988’s Maniac Cop, appears in a cameo in one scene (playing a pornographer who gets busted by the fuzz). So even though Cameron’s Closet wasn’t what you might call a prestige project, there was a hell of a lot of talent that went into its making.
The movie starts out along the same lines as something like Firestarter or Carrie; there’s a ten-year-old boy named Cameron Lansing (played by Scott Curtis) who has very pronounced psychokinetic powers. His single dad Owen (played by 50s heartthrob Tab Hunter) is a scientist, and studies the child’s abilities, along with his assistant, Professor Ben Majors (played by Chuck McCann).
Not too far into the story, though, it’s clear that whatever the two men were hoping to achieve by analyzing Cameron’s paranormal potential has gone terribly awry, and it’s implied that demons have become involved. Owen has apparently decided that the only way to solve the problem is to kill his own son, but as he goes to do just that, some force intervenes, causing Owen to “accidentally” fall onto his own machete and behead himself, in a scene I totally wasn’t expecting this early in the film, if I’m being honest.
Cameron is then sent to live with his mother Dory (played by Kim Lankford), and her abusive meathead of a boyfriend Bob (played by Gary Hudson), who you can’t wait to see eat some telekinetic shit, because he’s one of the world’s champion douchebags.
I forgot to mention, though, that while all of this family drama is going on over here, over there is another subplot happening, involving a cop named Sergeant Sam Taliaferro, who keeps getting his ass reamed by his superiors for spacing out and falling asleep on the job. He complains that he hasn’t been getting much sleep due to recurring nightmares, and his boss sends him to see a police psychologist, who, much to Sam’s shock and chagrin, is a woman, and not a bad looking one at that. Dr. Nora Haley (played by Mel Harris of Thirtysomething fame) wants to help him, but Sam is very hostile, insisting that he’s not “a nut,” and that where he comes from, people take care of their own problems.
For a while, it’s not clear exactly how Cameron’s story and Sam’s are related, but finally the two threads intertwine. Cameron, you see, has started talking to someone or something in his closet that he calls Deceptor, which is also the name of a weird, Pazuzu-esque statue he got from his dad that he’s been playing with as a toy. One evening, after Cameron’s talking and general existence has aggravated boyfriend Bob past the point of reason, the chucklefuck goes into Cameron’s room and starts hefting the kid around, which seemingly causes a demon to pop out the closet, burn out Bob’s eyes, and fling him out a second story window, Exorcist-style. And Bob really catches some air, too, so much so that when the cops arrive, they wonder whether the dude fell out of an airplane.
Anyway, it’s at this point that Sam and Cameron meet, as Sam is investigating Bob’s bizarre death. Dr. Haley is also on the scene, as she tries to assess the trauma Cameron might be experiencing after witnessing his mom’s boyfriend being yeeted forcefully across half the neighborhood. While she’s talking to the boy, though, she notices that Cameron appears to use telekinesis to keep a vase from falling and shattering after a careless cop knocks it off the mantel. From this sole evidence, she immediately concludes that Cameron has psychic powers. I mean, she’s right, but I thought it odd that she jumped immediately to that conclusion rather than questioning what she’d seen at first. But whatever.
As the story goes on, Cameron begins to develop a rapport with Sam, as he’s now completely without a father figure (and the two candidates he had for that position before were no great shakes, poor kid). It’s implied that Cameron was the one who had been unconsciously sending Sam all those bad dreams, as something of a call for help. Sam also begins to become squishy toward Dr. Haley. Unfortunately, though, things aren’t all rainbows and unicorn farts, as the demon attached to Cameron—eventually identified as a Mayan entity called Xialtho, the essence of evil—is still fucking shit up, killing pretty much everyone around the kid in creative ways, and even threatening to chuck Cameron himself into the blades of a supernaturally speedy ceiling fan.
There’s another whole thing about the demon disguising itself as the zombified versions of people it’s already killed in order to fool Sam into killing Cameron for some reason, but the mythology of it was all a bit muddled and I’m not really sure what exactly the demon’s endgame was. It all works out in the end, though, as Cameron uses his awesome powers to send Xialtho back to the hell from whence he emerged. Which, it should be noted, Cameron actually summoned him from in the first place, though in the kid’s defense, he didn’t really do it on purpose.
Cameron’s Closet isn’t going to win any awards or anything like that, but it was a brisk and entertaining enough little flick, though I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t see it back in the day, because I feel like you’ll like this one better if you have that nostalgia factor happening. Some of the effects are actually quite good—like Tab Hunter getting beheaded, Bob’s eyes getting scorched, and Ben Majors being open-air microwaved like a dollar-store Hot Pocket. On the other hand, the creature effects on the demon are…less than ideal, but I’m going to give the effects team the benefit of the doubt and assume that they ran out of time and/or money. This movie did get a limited theatrical release, believe it or not, but it came out on VHS the same year as it hit screens, and although I’m sure it must have some kind of cult following, considering it got the DVD treatment back in 2004, it’s not a movie that gets mentioned all that much, and as far as I know, nobody’s clamoring for a special edition Blu-ray. But if you like movies about demons and telekinetic kids and you’re in the mood for some good old 80s schlock, you could certainly do worse.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.