Last week, Ry-Guy rattled off some of his favorite summer camp movies with the caveat that horror flicks would be left out. A fitting decision, given that camping and horror are so synonymous as to be able to fill 100 lists. There are few better ways to create a spooky tone and the potential for a high body count than to set a movie at a summer camp. There’s a lake, a forest, and hordes of nubile co-eds, all hell-bent on breaking every one of Randy’s “Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie.” Hell, these horny teens (often played by actors approaching middle age) are the very reason why those rules exist. As such, I tried to bring some variety to my list — some of these aren’t explicitly horror, one isn’t even at a summer camp — but I think all can be defended as valid candidates.
And really, who doesn’t like telling scary stories around a campfire?
Friday the 13th (dir. Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
Ain’t no such thing as a list like this one without Friday the 13th. Yeah, I could’ve invoked The Burning or Madman, but it just wouldn’t be right, and you’re going to look them up anyway. While not the first summer camp fright flick (Monster of Camp Sunshine predates it by 16 years), it is unarguably the one which casts the biggest net. Almost forty years later we still associate Jason Voorhees with woodsy slashers, and that undead jerk isn’t even in the first movie. But you know who is? Kevin Bacon (The Bacon Brothers). He receives a pretty brutal neck stabbing courtesy of Pamela Voorhees and the effects wizardry of Tom Savini. The template put forth by Friday the 13th and its endless parade of sequels is one which has been studied, copied, and parodied (even within the franchise itself) with regularity ever since.
Literally every time I’ve been even slightly near the woods I’ve made the “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” sound cue from this movie, and literally every time every person around me got the reference.
Deliverance (dir. John Boorman, 1972)
This is the entry that doesn’t really take place at a summer camp, but I still think it fits. For one thing it taps into the same fear of the unknown which underscores any trip into the woods. For another, it’s all about unchecked ego leading to disaster. While the standard camp slasher uses the naivety of youth to put the roster of victims into precarious circumstances, Deliverance goes a more adult route. These men wield a different type of ego-driven ignorance: they enter the woods with minimal preparation and the incorrect belief that they’re capable of surviving the great outdoors despite their decidedly urban lifestyles. Almost immediately they find themselves out of their depth, and when they cross paths with some dangerous hillbillies (establishing a villainous archetype which persists to this day), surviving the elements becomes a secondary issue.
The famous “squeal like a piggie” scene was so shocking and iconic that it led to a notable decline in roles for actor Ned Beatty. Apparently it was as hard for audiences to un-see the terrible fate which befell his character as it was for them to shake the ear-worm that is “Dueling Banjos.”
Addams Family Values (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, 1993)
This is the entry that isn’t really a horror movie. Well, not in the classic sense. Anybody outside of the titular family may find the proceedings horrifying, but from the audience’s lens it’s all in good fun. Where this fits in is in setting. Wednesday and Pugsley Addams find themselves outcasts at a summer camp for stuffy rich kids, and when they unleash their brand of fun upon their fellow campers during the yearly Thanksgiving play, things get very dark. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I’m pretty sure a few kids are almost burned at the stake. It’s hilarious.
When Amanda Buckman, the most insufferable of all silver spoon kids, takes a look at Wednesday’s decidedly gothic garb she asks, “Why are you dressed like somebody died.”
Without a beat, Wednesday responds, “Wait.”
The Final Girls (dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015)
The shadow of the summer camp slasher is huge, and within its limits there is plenty of room for parody. The Final Girls is my favorite one of the bunch. A meta commentary is offered through a Last Action Hero-esque device in which a young girl and her friends are magically transported into their favorite slasher film. The catch is that the film stars the girl’s mother. What a sly thing to see a subgenre which is famous for objectifying women used to tell a story about the bonds between a mother and daughter while simultaneously celebrating said genre. It’s a tale which alternates from funny to touching multiple times without stumbling. The Final Girls offers a modern commentary on the role of women in horror (the title pretty much requires the film to be forward-minded), without condemning the fun inherent to the crassness of the summer camp slasher. This is the only movie on the list that made me cry.
Sleepaway Camp (1983 – dir. Robert Hiltzik)
If you have somehow lived this long without seeing Sleepaway Camp, stop reading right now and get on it. Doubly so if you haven’t been made aware of its bonkers final moments by articles like this one (don’t worry, I won’t spoil — GO WATCH IT). Sleepaway Camp is one of the most tasteless movies I’ve ever seen, and had it been released today it would most definitely cause a huge stir amongst, well, everybody. Let’s just put it this way: one victim is raped to death with a hot curling iron, and it’s one of the less troubling aspects of the film. So yeah, Sleepaway Camp, if you’re into this sort of thing, is awesome. And if you wish to fall down a confounding and delightful wikihole, try and trace the production life of its 3.5 sequels. Yes, it has three-and-one-half official sequels (most of which star Pamela Springsteen, sister of Bruce), all of which vary in tone, style, quality, and allegiance to the original film.
Controversy arose upon release of the DVD box set, which came in the shape of a first aid kit, but unfortunately featured a logo too similar to that of the American Red Cross. The packaging was discontinued and altered for future editions, and mine was destroyed in an apartment flood. I AM STILL NOT OVER IT.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.