‘Dead of Summer’ filled with ’80s nostalgia

David Martindale
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Elizabeth Mitchell’s summer camp experiences were never like this.

The Dallas actress — who stars in the coming-of-age horror thriller “Dead of Summer,” a new TV series about a sleepaway camp with a nightmare past — might have told a few ghost stories back in the day when the campers all gathered around the fire at Camp Longhorn in the Texas Hill Country.

But those scary tales were just in fun. In “Dead of Summer,” the restless spirits of Camp Stillwater are very real.

“The people in this show have good reason to be scared,” Mitchell says. “There’s something evil going on in these woods.”

Any of Stillwater’s unfortunate counselors and campers could die at any moment.

“Dead of Summer” is airing at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family.

Mitchell plays Deborah Carpenter, a woman who so fondly remembers her camp experiences that she buys Stillwater and reopens it five years after tragedy shut it down in the mid-1980s.

While the young group of counselors, many of whom knew each other years earlier as campers, gets reacquainted, newcomer Amy (played by Elizabeth Lail) starts seeing dead people, lots of them.

It’s also filled with fun ’80s pop-culture references, a creepy caretaker, a slaughtered deer, a cabin that goes up in flames, teen hormones, teen angst and numerous “made-you-jump” scares.

In short, “Dead of Summer” is an ’80s teen horror movie reinvented as a TV series.

Mitchell is a fan of the genre.

“Spooky is fun,” she says. “Scary is fun. Especially if you’re watching at home with someone who you enjoy being scared with. It gives you a reason to cuddle with them more.”

But the main reason Mitchell signed on was the chance to work again with two of the show’s executive producers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. She knows them well from her days starring on “Lost” (as Juliet) and “Once Upon a Time” (as the Snow Queen).

“They called and said, ‘We’ve got a character and we named her after you. That’s how much we want you to do it.’ Her name in the script at that time was Elizabeth Mitchell, so she was kind of hard for me to miss. They changed the name to Deb later, but the first script I read had my name all over it.”

Viewers will quickly learn that bad things have been happening in this neck of the woods for a very long time — and that the ancient evil has reawakened. It’s sure to be a summer no one there will ever forget, assuming they survive the experience.

There are essentially two kinds of summer-camp alums: those who loved it and those who hated it. Mitchell was one of those who loved it.

“I went to Camp Longhorn in Burnet, Texas, for 10 years,” she says. “It’s very different from Camp Stillwater, of course. For one thing, it’s much hotter in Texas in the summer. But it was always fun.

The show is in production in a remote area outside Vancouver, where cellphone reception is spotty, even on good days.

The cast recently endured an entire week of no working cellphones and no wireless internet connections.

“It was a little like going back to the 1980s for real.”