My fascination with summer camp-themed slasher fare stems mostly from two things: my deep-seeded love of all things freaky and frightening, and my tragically unfulfilled childhood desire to attend summer camp (and partly the raging jealousy that boiled inside me every summer when my older brothers were shipped off to camp while I was deemed “too young” to attend). There were a lot of influential horror movies from the monumental ‘80s slasher era that told terrifying, titillating and often tacky tales of young adults venturing out into the deepest, most ominous parts of the woods with a group of friends to get fucked up beyond all recognition. The stripping off of clothes and the revealing of supple young bodies was only the predecessor to the bloody carnage that was about to ensue. I think a lot of horror fans, like I, got an early introduction to our beloved genre by being subjected to iconic genre fare like Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp during the impressionable years of our youth—and furthermore, dedicating our adult years to seeking out these titles and others just like them.These movies are by no means brilliant works of creative, provocative cinematic genius, but they brought a lot of concepts and devices to the horror film chopping block that have stuck around through the proceeding decades and have become some of the most recognized and arguably admirable clichés in the genre. Some of these titles supersede others—offering up awe-inspiring special FX, buckets upon buckets of blood, mind-blowing climactic twists and quirky characters—but the true essence of a superlative summer camp slasher flick is a really bad ass killer. It goes without saying that most die-hard horror fans are suckers for these summer camp slasher flicks. So over the course of the summer, Diabolique will be presenting readers with a comprehensive catalogue of films that fall within that category. By watching these movies, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to avoid being sliced & diced on those highly anticipated summer camping trips. Boys and girls, I present you with Diabolique’s Camp Carnage!
Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)
The path to this week’s segment of CAMPCARNAGE has taken a sharp turn. We’re hitting the dusty trail to Camp North Pines, the setting for writer/director Bert L. Dragin’s 1987 adaptation of author William Butler’s novel, The Butterfly Revolution (1961). Lacking in the conventional horror elements that our other CAMP CARNAGE features boast, Summer Camp Nightmare is more of a B-grade drama-thriller with horrific political undertones, and is highly reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. In fact, most people who aren’t aware of the fact that Summer Camp Nightmare is a loose adaptation of Butler’s novel actually believe that it’s a reimagining of Lord of the Flies although I assure you it is not, despite very similar in subject matter.
An all-male establishment, Camp North Pines is a getaway for boys both young and old. It has a reputation for being a fun place where good times are to be had by all, judging by the enthusiastic singing and chanting emanating from the buses that transport the campers to their summer destination in the opening scene. Upon arrival, the campers are introduced to the new head of the camp: the exorbitantly conservative Mr. Warren (acting veteran Chuck Connors). Straight from the get-go, Mr. Warren develops a bad reputation amongst the campers. He blows his obnoxious whistle to interrupt energetic mess-hall chatter; he systematically tries to ruin the campers’ fun by implementing strict laws on typical camp activities; but worst of all, he tries to pull the plug on the annual co-ed dance with the female campers of Camp South Pines—an event that the campers look forward to more than anything.
One of the older campers, Franklin Reilly, is a bit of an outcast. That’s not to say that he’s not respected within the camp—quite the opposite actually, as the younger campers look up to him. He’s amicable and sophisticated, and spends much of his time reading on his own while the rest of the campers participate in collective activities. He’s appreciated as somewhat of a hero after saving young Donald “Duck” (Adam Carl) from drowning in the lake. When the runt of the litter, little Peter (Scott Curtis), tells Franklin that Mr. Warren made him pee his pants while out on a butterfly hunt, Franklin begins to believe that perhaps Mr. Warren is a child predator. This leads him to decide that Mr. Warren’s authoritarian powers need to be ceased.
What ensues is a rebellious upheaval of the conservative dictatorship that their beloved camp has become. Franklin and co. capture Mr. Warren and imprison him in a secluded cabin—they even go as far as to board up the windows and door, and assign a fellow camper to secure the premises. But all is fun and games until someone gets hurt… or worse. Camper Chris (Harold Pruett) and his love interest from Camp South Pines, Heather (Melissa Reeves), voice their concern regarding the radical changes that Franklin and his minions go about making to the camps. Consequently, they are banished from the main camp and sent to fend for themselves in the woods. In fact, anyone who goes against the new rules that Franklin has implemented upon the camp will be shunned.
Essentially Summer Camp Nightmare focuses on extreme right-wing politics versus extreme left-wing politics—Mr. Warren and Franklin representing the figure heads of each party. Chris and Heather represent a democracy, believing in fair justice and equal rights in the absence of an absolute leader. Chaos runs amuck once Franklin’s radical mandate is accepted by the majority of the campers. His authority is not to be questioned. The campers basically turn into savages—partying all night and allowing immoral behaviour to run rampant, as Franklin encourages. The acting is top-notch, with the cast interacting in such a believable way that the overall situation seems quite plausible. The dialogue is quirky without coming off as campy, and the overall camp dynamic is above-par.
Summer Camp Nightmare merely skims the parameter of summer camp themed horror fare, but as mentioned earlier in this review, it’s more of an intense drama-thriller produced on a low-budget. And while the blood and gore is pretty well non-existent, the psychological carnage is plentiful. The movie comes to an abrupt conclusion, leaving many questions unanswered. But I’m sure the source material for the movie ties up a lot of the loose ends that viewers are left with. I’ve yet to read it but it’s definitely on my list. I’m not sure if Summer Camp Nightmare would satisfy the average horror fan, but it’s definitely worth taking a peek at, and worthy enough to have been given the CAMPCARNAGE treatment.
– By Lacey Paige
Lacey is a devoted horror enthuasiast and movie collector. A recent journalism school graduate, she is currently a contributing writer for Diabolique, Cinesploitation, Absolute Underground and Fangoria. She likes taking long walks in dark, eerie places; reading true crime and horror fiction; and sharing her borderline-obsessive love of horror with just about anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter: @LaceyPaige88