The Great Horror Movie Marathon Day Twelve: Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)


This movie catfished me.


See, I mistakenly believed that a movie with the title “Summer Camp Nightmare” would be about some asshole in a mask killing people. I know, what a maroon, right?


Actually, Summer Camp Nightmare was adapted from a 1961 novel by William Butler called The Butterfly Revolution. In it, a sociopathic but charismatic teenager orchestrates an uprising at a summer camp; the lame ass counselors and the uptight owner are locked in a cabin and the kids run wild. The leader of the “revolution” (Franklin Riley) creates his own little East Germany on American soil, Party this, revolution that, minister of propaganda blah blah blah.


I haven’t read the book, but I have read a summary, and the movie’s fairly faithful, so here’s what happens.


Riley establishes a virtual dictatorship of the proletariat after the uber-religious and no fun admin (Chuck Conners, of Tourist Trap fame) shuts down all the fun. Riley and his cohorts liberate the nearby girls camp, and the fun begins. Partying, dancing, doing whatever the hell you want. A couple of Riley’s henchmen grab Chucky C. from the brig and take him to the rec hall, where a wild party is in session. Feast thine eyes, gramps!


While being escorted back, the Chuckmiester makes a break for it, and winds up getting accidentally stabbed to death.


As days pass, Riley becomes increasingly tyrannical. A boy rapes a girl, and Riley, to quell the anger among the girls, makes him shimmy across a broken down bridge, saying that if he makes it, he’ll survive. He makes it, but the girls carrying him off and lynch him in the woods.


Meanwhile, one of Reilly’s underlings, this nerdy little fuck named Donald, has second thoughts, and teams with this kid named Chris to overthrow Reilly. Donald is captured and made to walk the plank, arrr, but an anti-Reilly counterrevolution breaks out. Chris arrives with the police, and the movie ends with Reilly cooling his heels in the back of a cop car. Take that, you commie bastard.


I honestly did not expect something like this when I started watching. I saw the title, a tiny little version of the VHS cover (is that dude holding a gun? Sweet!). Suffice it to say, I was surprised…mostly in a good way. Though most of the cast had to be, like, seventeen or so, they did well, especially the dude who played Riley. He was able to convey his character’s sociopathy just by fucking existing. That’s a good actor.


Now, if you want to be anal, Summer Camp Nightmare is a pretty obvious ripoff of Lord of the Flies; I picked that vibe up just as soon as I saw which way the wind was blowing. I don’t mind that, just so long as the end result can stand on its own, and I think this movie does. It’s certainly not your typical eighties slasher fare. It’s nowhere near as profound as LOTF, to be sure, but it makes you think, if not about sociology, then about the basic premise: People forging their own, alien society in a familiar world; Americans cutoff from the rest of the world, left to themselves, living under their own rules. Fascinating, no? There’s a long history of that in this country, and it never fails to interest me, the idea of a society within a society. The mob, outlaw bikers, the Amish, hippie communes…all groups famous for going it alone, for building their own world with their own values, culture, and customs. And these groups aren’t out in some far-flung corner of the globe, they are here, in the good ole U.S of A, ostensibly governed by the same laws as us and apart of the same mooy-gooy melting pot. But they aren’t. They exist outside of our society. Here but not.


Or maybe I’m full of shit. That’s possible too.

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