Summer Camp(y): Camp Movie Film Festival



MEATBALLS
(1979)
Bill Murray is Tripper, a summer camp counselor of the type of misfits you’d expect in a movie like this. Chris Makepeace is the friendless dork he mentors into running a foot race in the annual Olympiad against a rival camp of rich kids. That’s as close as Meatballs gets to a linear plot, but you won’t mind. Probably the most charming of this small sub-genre of late-70s/early-80s summer camp movies (parodied with dead-on snarky affection in Wet Hot American Summer). There’s a surprising lack of raunchiness here and even the sex jokes are of the 8th grade variety. Meatballs is deliciously dated with its tube socks and short shorts– it’s amazing what passed for a good-looking teenager in 1979. Every misfits-overcome-alphas cliché is present especially in the last half hour. But it’s all pleasant enough and the pasteurized comedy is given a welcome edge by Murray in one of the loosest performances of his early career. Director, Ivan Reitman, would go on to direct Murray in Ghostbusters four years later. And check out that groovie title song by Rick Dees(!) Three odious sequels followed (one featuring a cute alien for chrissake!), but watch this back to back with Sleepaway Camp, the aforementioned WHAS and any of the first four Friday the 13th movies and you’ve got one heck of a retro-summer-camp film festival. A Meatballs remake is announced for 2010.
***

CABIN FEVER (2003)
There were rumblings that this was going to be the next great horror movie. They’d said that about House of 1000 Corpses the year before and that sucked too. A flesh-eating virus ravages a bunch of unlikable college characters that clearly deserve it. Without a single genuine scare, it is content to go for the shocking gross-out instead – There’s at least one really great one. Every plot point is convoluted and the characters only do implausibly stupid things. This movie makes the mistake of thinking it’s way smarter than it is, but it really should just get over itself. It nods its head at so many horror movies that it’s practically having a seizure. It also sports the worst ending of any movie the Gill Man saw in 2003. There’s tons of gore but that doesn’t save it from being a pretty joyless movie-watching experience.
*

FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 3 (1982)
Jason finally puts on the hockey mask for Part 3 which was originally released in 3D during America’s very short lived re-interest in it in the early 80s. At the time of this writing, no one has bothered to release any of these movies (Jaws 3, Amityville 3 or Spacehunter, to name a few) in 3D on DVD. A shame really, especially in this case where it could significantly up the appeal of one of my favorite installments in this otherwise over-appreciated series. The plot is what you’d expect, but the killings are a bit more jarring and the plot, slightly more coherent (future installments would blow that, however). Tracey Savage, who gets a nice nudie shower scene in before her inevitable demise, became the local weather girl on our CBS affiliate in Dayton, where I grew up – a fact that gave me a considerable charge at the time.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
The fact that this is still considered a Friday the 13th knockoff gets me riled. It might not exist without the success of that franchise, but it’s got far more to offer than any entry of that tired series. Little Angela is sent off to summer camp with her cousin and people start dying. Most of the kills have it coming, but there’s no masked stalker to be found here. This killer is left to the last truly terrifying few moments before the credits. A guy is killed by bees on the crapper. A bitch counselor is assaulted with her curling iron. (Eesh. Don’t ask.) There’s a pretty nifty bow and arrow effect. There’s even more to love when you consider the authentic 80’s camp-movie feel, the outrageously dated wardrobe and the sublime performance of young Felissa Rose as Angela. But the climax is the real attraction. As a twist ending, it may set a precedent of sorts. As a shocking image, it’s a doozy. As an 80’s horror film, Sleepaway Camp is a classic. Or it should be.
***

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 ( 1988 )
Where Sleepaway Camp played it campy but relatively straight, it’s sequels decided to go for lame comedy and cheap-looking gore (but plenty of it, to be fair). The story of the first film is alluded to and Angela is back – but it’s not OUR Angela. It’s Pamela Springsteen (yes, Bruce’s sister) and her shrill performance as the camp counselor from hell is lame and a disgrace as a follow-up to the first film. Regardless, this (along with 1989’s Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland) has a fair share of fans. There’s more nudity in addition to the extra blood, but it’s wrapped around a whole lot of nothing. Sleepaway Camp IV was never finished but unused footage of it is available in the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit box set put out in 2003, sold exclusively by Best Buy (?!). Return to Sleepaway Camp from the original’s director was announced in 2004.
*

~ by Number5ive on June 15, 2008.

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