Summer is here! Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) are happy to take a well-earned break from mystery-solving as Fred (also Frank Welker) brings them, Velma (Mindy Cohn) and Daphne (Grey DeLisle) along to his beloved childhood vacation site Camp Little Moose. On arrival however they find the camp deserted except for affable camp counselor Burt (Stephen Root) who says the kids have been scared away by a local legend come to life. According to legend a former camp counselor driven insane by a foolish prank now stalks the woods as the hideously scarred, axe-wielding maniac known as the Woodsman! Since almost everyone else has decamped to neighbouring bigger, cheerier Camp Big Moose, Scooby and Shaggy are anxious to leave too. Until a bus deposits three kids - eager Luke (Scott Menville), sulky goth Trudy (Tara Strong) and chubby asthmatic Deacon (Mark Hamill) - convincing Fred they should all stick around and keep the spirit of Camp Little Moose alive. Which won't be easy given the Woodsman is lurking nearby, waiting to strike.
Scooby-Doo's fifteenth direct-to-video animated feature marks, surprisingly enough, the first time the franchise delves into the slasher genre. Co-writers Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas craft a witty and knowing script that pokes gentle fun at cheesy old tropes familiar from the likes of Friday the 13th (1980) and The Burning (1981). You've got the cabin in the woods, the creepy old guy warning kids to stay away from the haunted camp site, a spooky campfire yarn that comes true, a maniac driven insane by dumb teenage pranksters and multiple red herring murder suspects going a.w.o.l at key moments. The only thing missing is gory violence, albeit for obvious reasons.
That said, while Camp Scare is wholesome family fun, the creative team put a surprising emphasis on that other staple ingredient of the slasher genre. Not only are there multiple lingering moments with Daphne (in a racy, arguably genre-appropriate halter-top and denim short-shorts ensemble) and more unexpectedly Velma (hey, you go girl!), the plot also brings the Scooby Gang together with Jessica (voiced by Futurama's Lauren Tom): a voluptuous rival counselor from Camp Big Moose. Jessica's bikini-clad entrance made her a fan-favourite as both a homage to the scantily-clad scream queens of yore and rival for Fred's affections, much to Daphne's chagrin. While the Daphne gets jealous of hot girl subplot does not send the best message to young women, the script redeems itself by giving all three heroines their big heroic moments and never lapsing into helpless clichés. In a neat touch Velma is taken aback by Knudsen (Dee Bradley Baker), a forest ranger who takes an obvious fancy to her while proving unimpressed by the more conventionally attractive Daphne, but the subplot proves underdeveloped. More successful is another sweeter plot strand wherein Velma bonds with Trudy and slowly teaching her there is more to life than staying indoors on a computer.
As with the TV show the multiple musical montages wear out their welcome slightly. However Camp Scare achieves an unusually visceral and creepy atmosphere even its cheery bubblegum pop soundtrack can't quite dispel. In a genuinely funny conceit it turns out Camp Little Moose has not one spooky back-story but dozens. Along with more than one freaky ghost stalking the Scooby Gang's every move. A stellar voice cast bring their A-game to a likable script with Mark Hamill really earning his paycheck handling multiple vocals. Made with obvious care and attention to detail by a seasoned animation team at Warner Brothers, Camp Scare pulls off an array of disarmingly visceral and creepy moments. From the suspenseful scuba-diving sequence with the gang stalked by a Creature from the Black Lagoon like aquatic menace to a breakneck car chase and climactic thrilling showdown in a clock-tower. Here we also discover Scooby-Doo can not only drive the Mystery Machine but is a badass behind the wheel. Who knew?