World's Funniest Critic - Summer Camp Nightmare
Did you attend summer camp as a child? Well, if you did, Summer Camp Nightmare will be a magical trip down memory lane.
Now, you must remember the popular, blond William Katt-ish guy who made sure to befriend and defend all the geeks the other kids picked on. Thank god for that guy, right! What would adolescence be without guys like him? Try to imagine, if you can, a world where jocks and their familiars pick on the smaller, sensitive kids. Bullying them, and humiliating them, maybe even drive them to homicidal rampages through school with a shotgun bought at a sensible Walmart price. I know a world like that seems kind of hard to imagine, but it really might be like that if the popular kids weren't so nice. I'm serious.
And do you remember the camp directors? Those washed up actors from the golden age of television that always did the exact wrong thing? No matter what choices they were faced with, and what tell-tale signs the situation offered up to steer them in the right direction, they ALWAYS took the short-sighted detour over the metaphorical cliff.
And do you remember what ALWAYS happened? The inevitable bloody teenage rebellion that ended in a primitive society being established, the strongest seizing control, and the swift partitioning off of all voices critical to them. Finally, everything culminating in a might-makes-right atmosphere where all disputes are settled by a violent display of force or a brutal trial by ordeal?
Undoubtedly, this all sounds very familiar to you, and is making you as wistful as it is me. But that's just the kind of charming romp Summer Camp Nightmare has in store for you, you lucky dog.
We begin on the first day of camp, at the cattle call of prepubescent protagonists, where we get the first heavy-handed bits of exposition, pin-pointing precisely who every kid is and of what use they will be in the future. The popular good kid, Chris Wade, is helpful and fair. Franklin Reilly, a spoiled rich kid and our future psycho, spouts some Nietzschean nonsense about being above society and conquering fear(a la Leopold and Loeb). John Mason and Stanley Runk are our typified denim-vested heavy metal bullies whose nostrils are still stinging from model airplane glue.
Mr. Warren is the square, clueless camp director(played by Chuck Connors, a.k.a. The Rifleman). And, most importantly, our hapless geek, reluctant hero and resident coward named, not kidding, Donald Poultry. Donald arrives at camp carrying a cache of gadgets that, unfortunately, only really come into play once. On the first day, Mr. Warren warns all the kids to stay off the old bridge, because it's dangerous and also(gasp!)it leads to the nearby South Pine Girls Camp. Just how a man this dumb managed to live into his 60's, much less end up responsible for a hundred or so kids is a credit to the benefits of coming from a well-connected family(the Kennedys? the Bushes? The Coppolas?).
Chuck Connors is one of the more interesting parts of this film, actually. He was a pretty interesting guy who, aside from being an old-timey tv star, is one of the few men in history to have played both professional basketball and major league baseball. He had the talent of Shaq and Mickey Mantle, plus the pure, animal sexuality of one of my grandfathers. Does this sound like too much awesome for one man to contain?
Later on, Franklin comes to learn of an incident in which Mr. Warren lifts a boy in the air to catch a butterfly and ends up scaring him. Franklin, in his zeal for justice, chocks this up to the director's secret and illicit sexual attraction to boys. Irresponsible accusations, such as this, happened quite a bit in the 1980's. My father is up for parole in 2021. Fingers crossed! And...sorry.
No camp experience is complete until kids are bused in from another nearby camp for some kind of lame competition. Even though it may seem to the savvy viewer that this is pretty much the first day of camp, there's been plenty of time to put together enough acts for an inter-camp talent show extravaganza, replete with professionally recorded midi-backing tracks with vocal accompaniment. I'm actually amazed at how these kids pulled off such a technological feat out in the middle of nowhere considering that, at the time, the most compact, portable recording console available was approximately the size of the International Space Station.
Now, racism was very much alive in Hollywood in 1987. Shawn McLemore, as Hammond, seems to be in over his head as the sole black kid at camp. While everyone else just gets to be a child, McLemore must have been given the task of representing ALL black American youths. According to 80's films, all black people were entertainers back then, and McLemore fit the bill. Hammond even gets to MC the talent show, and school all the campers in old-timey, beat-box hippity hop. Either Hammond, or Shawn, must have been late of a Connecticut boarding school, because his raps are slightly peppered with hints of a classical education. This is evidenced by rhymes such as... "Friends, Romans, and countrymen too, there's a little something I've got for you." and "This group of guys have been working for a long time, I think you're gonna find them, fine as wine." He was a big-time inspiration to NWA.
I can't say for sure if the director was a racist or not, but it's obvious he was raised in mainland China, the dark jungles of South America, or several blocks in Manhattan - the three most likely places on earth where one can thrive without ever encountering actual black people. Possibly, all the man knew of them was based on the first season of Different Strokes, which isn't a bad place to start, honestly. I imagine Shawn's first conversation with his unworldly director went something like...
"Shawn, real quick. I wanna talk to you about your character."
"Oh, good. I have some ideas regarding his..."
"Yo! Absolutely, bro! Listen, Oregon law states that we can't have more than one black teenager on the set. So, I need you to represent your ENTIRE race in this movie."
"Just do what your people do best: Talk real loud, eat with your mouth open, walk around with your hand down your pants. You know, things that I know your people do. In fact, show no self-restraint, whatsoever. Act like you're Helen Keller bleeding hot sauce out her asshole."
"Hmmm. Okay, so you're saying that my character is sort of a counterpoint to learned social behaviors. The classical fool, basically."
"No, I said you're playing black. Pay attention. How many people in your family are in prison?"
"Well, my father is a criminal attorney."
"Your dad's a convict, huh? I think we can use that."
"No one in my family's in prison."
You aren't down on Whitey, are you?
You mean, like, Whitey Ford?
"Sure, kid. Sure. Can you rap?"
"Um, I own a couple cassettes. I'm more into world music, though."
"You have a couple albums out? Great! Well, I'm gonna send you over to the studio in 10 minutes. The Oberheim's got a busted trigger pad, so we need someone who knows how to program a polyphonic step sequencer. The friggin' engineers don't have your kind of experience. Say, you don't have diabetes, do you? Blacks all have diabetes."
"Let me see you limp around, a bit."
The first act is The South Pines Sisters, a sort of Abba-ish sounding trio of nearly-attractive girls who dare the boys of North Pines to come visit them.
"We know that football is okaaaaay,
but this we have to saaaaay,
there's other games to plaaaaay.'
So, basically, they're daring the boys to sneak out, traverse the truncated death bridge, and join them for unprotected, underage ugly-bumping. I'm just assuming a nurse at an all-girls camp doesn't distribute condoms. Dental dams, maybe.
The following act is an acoustic number by...we don't hear the name, nor do we care. Acoustic guitars don't come back into style for a couple more years, when all the heavy metal power ballads start hitting the radio. So, if you're in the mood for some 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn', well, grow a dick.
This, literally, sets the stage for the main act. The incredible Horn Dogs playing 'Beef Baloney'.
"She don't like salami,
She don't want pastrami,
She don't want a chicken,
She don't want a roast,
She just wants her double dose of my
Beef, beef, beef, beef baloney!"
Beef Baloney is an anthem. It united an entire generation, gave them hope. Something Mr. Warren doesn't seem to appreciate. He immediately calls a conclusion to the talent show after the Horn Dogs' crotch-clutching, fist-pumping antics. He sends the girls packing, calls off the dance, and signs his own death warrant in doing so. Little does Mr. Warren know, any man who tries to prevent horny teens from doing the 80's white-kid-side-to-side shuffle-and-clap dance(see the Jean Claud Van Damme scene in Breakin'), is surely asking for a bloody, merciless comeuppance.
The drama really escalates when Chris Wade is incarcerated for sneaking off to the South Pines girl's camp. Franklin Reilly, snotty little asshole that he is, stages a Coup d'état in retaliation, using a 45. caliber pistol he discovers(every 80's camp had an arsenal, camp Kon-O-Kwee had a flamethrower). Mr. Warren is locked up. Franklin makes John and Stanley, (the Horn Dogs)his lieutenants and they lock up all the rest of the counselors, both at their's and the girl's camp.
So, things are tranquil for a while at the North and South Pines Camps. Franklin, the new camp director, has a populist agenda. He gives the kids what they want. He pumps bitchin' New Wave music through the camp speakers, and the wanton teen debauchery begins. Kids are dancing, drinking, even pressing their lips together in a way reserved strictly for man and wife. It is Sodom and Gomorrah and Poughkeepsie all rolled into one filthy mess.
John and Stanley decide they want to drag poor Mr. Warren into all the fun, so they pull him out of confinement to witness the orgy. He enjoys a (not even remotely) seductive dance by one of the whorier camp girls, whose outfit looks like something she borrowed from a substitute teacher. The whole affair ends with Runk accidentally stabbing Mr. Warren to death. Hey, it happens. Stanley rushes back to tell Franklin the news, interrupting him doing some kind of paperwork(Paperwork? Why would there be paperwork in a teen revolution?). They decide to keep the homicide a secret. And it's pretty much forgotten after that.
John and Debbie, one of the fluff chicks from the South Pines Sisters, rush off into the woods together. It ends with a sexual assault. Not a huge surprise, really. John is put on trial, made to cross the broken bridge to prove his innocence, which he successfully does. Traditionally, you see, crossing a bridge will fix any sexual assault, but this doesn't please the girls from South Pines who, apparently, don't believe in the rule of law. They grab John and carry him off into the woods.
The film's denouement is Donald Poultry's(now called Duck)trial by ordeal. He is forced to cross the rickety rope bridge, too, for trying to rig a phone line and make a call to the outside world. I'm still not sure what not falling to your death proves, in terms of justice being done, but I understand the appeal of it. Chris Wade rushes in for the save. He tangles with Runk, flipping him over a cliff(which I enjoyed, actually). Chris then sissy kicks the pistol out of Franklin's hand, which emboldens the good kids to attack. Everything breaks out into a big mosh. Then the grown-ups arrive at the camp, ruining it all, interrupting Shawn dealing out the kind of ass-kicking usually only a rapper's entourage can deliver.
If you do enjoy 80's camp, and 80's camps, then you will probably at least get something out of Summer Camp Nightmare. The movie relentlessly grinds home the idea that you should never take shit from Chuck Connors. This could be your cup of tea if you're up for pure, unapologetically 80's culture, straight from ground zero of the decade. It also could be a great drinking game, too. This is how it works: one chug every time it's apparent the director was standing off to side yelling "Blacker, Shawn! Blacker! Have you even seen Different Strokes?".