Dead of Summer didn't waste any time setting the stakes for the pretty, young counselors of Camp Stillwater. The first episode has a little bit of everything you'd expect from a summer camp drama set in the '80s: ominous exposition, teenage romance, and death.
Set at the mysterious Camp Stillwater in the summer of 1989, Dead of Summer centers on new camp director Deb (played by Lost and Once alum Elizabeth Mitchell) and a gaggle of diverse teen counselors as they ready the grounds for a grand reopening after shuttering five years earlier. Created by Once Upon a Time veterans Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis, and Ian Goldberg, the Freeform drama is The Shining meets John Hughes meets Heathers. For the counselors at Camp Stillwater, summer camp is an idyllic place of reinvention — a brief escape from the sometimes painful realities of the real world.
"I think one of the things that's great about camp is the camaraderie," Kitsis told MTV News at the ATX Television Festival in June. (Kitsis is still friends with the guys he met at camp in "Cabin 10.") "It's those quiet moments at night. You draw strength from each other and it gives you the opportunity to be who you want to be because in high school, you're so worried about being made fun of. But at camp, it's OK to be who you want. Things aren't so bleak."
However, it quickly becomes apparent that these kids have more to deal with than growing pains, as a murder on the grounds in Episode 1 puts everyone on edge. "Hauntings appear in many ways on the show," Kitsis said. And unfortunately for them, they don't have Google at their fingertips to help them solve the mystery. "There’s no cell phones. There's no texting. When you are in the woods, you’re in the woods," he said.
Of course, as per custom with Horowitz and Kitsis productions, the horrifying events at Camp Stillwater are frequently interspersed with flashbacks to the counselors' pasts. In the pilot episode, we learn that Amy (Elizabeth Lail), the pretty teen ingénue, is still racked with guilt over the death of her friend Margot. Amy wants a fresh start at Stillwater, but visions of Margot threaten to ruin her recovery.
"We wanted to present these characters as what appears, on the surface, to be these stereotypical, very archetypal characters from all of these movies and then peel back the layers through these flashbacks to say, Oh, there's a little bit more going on," Horowitz said said.
"The second episode is about Alex," Kitsis added. "We saw him at the end of the pilot, cutting that laundry tag in a weird way and as we say, he's kind of like Steff from Pretty in Pink. He's that cool James Spader character. But we're going to show you his story, and then you're going to see that the horror that happens in the camp will force them all to face their own demons."
Despite its spooky premise, Dead of Summer isn't a blood-soaked slasher like MTV's Scream, and Camp Stillwater is no Camp Crystal Lake. Bodies will occasionally drop, and according to Horowitz and Kitsis, you should definitely be worried for your fave's survival every week, but it's decidedly not a slice-and-dice fest.
"If you kill people too early and too fast people won't invest in the characters," Kitsis said. "For me, when a character dies, I want to feel something, so I think that was the John Hughes aspect of this show. We really want you to know who they are and know what makes them tick, so that if they die, you will hopefully feel something, as opposed to just saying, Oh my god. No way. I told them they shouldn't have gone in that basement."
Dead of Summer airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform.