Did you attend summer camp as a child? Well, if you did, then Summer Camp Nightmare will be a magical trip down memory lane.
Now, you all must remember the popular, blond William Kat-ish guy who made sure to befriend, and defend, all of the geeks the other kids picked on. Thank god for that guy! What would adolescence be like 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, humiliating them, maybe even driving them to homicidal rampages through school with a shotgun bought at a low Walmart price. Now, I know that kind of world is 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 siezing 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?
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(the punk)are our typefied denim-vested heavy metal bullies whose nostrils are still stinging from snorted 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 to make Stanley Runk(the punk)show off his asshole chops for the audience when he gets annoyed at the shiny, noisy box the kid is carrying.
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?). Later on, Franklin comes to learn of an incident in which Mr. Warren lifts a boy in the air to catch a butterly 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 2017. Fingers crossed! And…sorry.
No camp experience is complete until kids are bussed in from another nearby camp. Even though it may seem to the viewer that the summer has still, pretty much, just begun, 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 amazed at how these kids pulled off such a technological feat out in the middle of nowhere, considering that, at the time, the most 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.”
“This group of guys have been working for a long time, I think you’re gonna find them, fine as wine.”
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 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, at least. 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 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, you’re playing black. 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.”
“Sure, kid. Sure. Can you rap?”
“Um, I own a couple cassettes.”
“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? All blacks have diabetes.”
“Let me see you limp around, a bit.”
“We know that football is okay, but this we have to say, there’s other games to play.’
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…fuck you, just for that.
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. But not Mr. Warren’s generation. 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 deathwarrant in doing so. Little does Mr. Warren know, any man who denies horny teens the right to congregate around a Toshiba boombox and do the 80’s white kid side-to-side shuffle-and-clap dance, is surely asking for a bloody, and merciless, comeuppance.
The drama really escalates when Chris Wade is incarcerated for sneaking out of camp to go…you get one guess…give up…THE GIRLS CAMP! Franklin Reilly, snotty little asshole that he is, stages a Coup d’état in retaliation using a 45. caliber pistol he discovers. Mr. Warren is locked up and the wanton teen debauchery begins. Kids are dancing, drinking, pressing their lips together in a way reserved strictly for man and wife, and then only for the first couple months of their marriage. It is Sodom and Gomorrah and Poughkeepsie all rolled into one filthy mess!
Now, you may be wondering just when does the nightmare begin? It’s already begun. You are now 45 minutes older, and have yet to be frightened or entertained!
However, if you do enjoy 80’s camp, and 80 camps, then you will probably at least get a partial Woodrow Wilson out of Summer Camp Nightmare. The movie really tries to make a statement about the dangers of nationalistic fervor, personal responsibility, the folly in trusting any teen prick who’s appeared on both Dallas AND 21 Jumpstreet, and finally, never EVER taking shit from Chuck Connors.
Poorly directed, acted and conceived, Summer Camp Nightmare could be your cup of tea if you’re up for pure 80’s cheese, and it also could be a great drinking game. 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?”.