Summer Camp Nightmare is a misleading title especially for a movie released in 1987 as the slasher craze had ruled movie theaters earlier that decade. Even the movie poster art is misleading with one featuring a drawing of a woman screaming (as above), another with a photo of a young woman brandishing a knife. If you’re expecting any other slasher in the vein of Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp, then you will be let down. You can count the number of people killed on screen in this movie on your hand and still have some fingers left over.
The PG-13 rating attached to this movie should be a giveaway that Tom Savini’s special effects work is nowhere to be found. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a passable B-movie thriller that twists the genre. It’s more like Meatballs meets Lord of the Flies with a little bit of Taps thrown in. All in all, it’s not too bad.
The plot involves a bunch of teenage boys arriving at Camp North Pines after a long eight-hour trip. But this is debatable. We hear this from the movie’s narrator, a junior high-aged nerdy teen, Donald Poultry (Adam Carl) who functions as the movie’s protagonist. Donald and other boys of varying ages are on three buses to Camp North Pines. I’m guessing they maybe were picking students up at several locations which might have made the trip long but eight hours is an extremely long bus trip, especially since some of the campers recognize the new camp director, Mr. Warren (Chuck Connors channeling Hank Hill) as a former principal.
At Camp North Pines, Donald finds himself immediately being protected by a counselor-in-training, Chris Wade (Harold Pruett) after another C-I-T, Stanley Runk (Stuart Rogers), tries to bully him. Donald is also saved from drowning by another counselor, Franklin Reilly (Charlie Stratton), who wants to go on to military college. Franklin at first seems nice and friendly like Chris but shows stronger militant views as the movie goes on.
Unfortunately for the campers, Mr. Warren is a very strict stickler for the rules. There’s only one TV in the rec hall set on a religious channel because he says “it’s good for the soul.” But when Chris and Donald pirate a channel showing women exercising, Warren finds out and makes the rec house off limits. Things take a change for worse when the young women from nearby Camp South Pines come for a talent show but Warren is upset over the way Runk and another C-I-T, John Mason (Tom Fridley), act during a skit and stops it. He then cancels a social dance for both camps fro the upcoming weekend.
Later when Chris fraternizes with a young woman, Heather (Melissa Brennan), they are caught kissing. Warren gets mad and along with the incident at the rec hall, he puts Chris in an isolated building for “meditation” so he can be sent back when the next delivery of supplies is made. The campers become more outraged. Franklin also learns from a younger camper that when he was out with Warren on a nature hike to see butterflies (which Warren has an affinity for), Warren may have touched him inappropriately. Franklin shares this information with Runk who is immediately disgusted calling Warren a “pervert.”
When the camp has its annual opposite day when campers act like counselors and counselors act like campers, C-I-T Ed Heinz (Rick Fitts) asks for any requests since he is the camp director for the day. Franklin suggests Chris be released from his imprisonment, leading everyone in “Free Chris Wade!” chants. Immediately, Warren tries to put a stop to this. But the campers fed up with his strick rules run to the meditation building. A fight ensues among the staff and counselors before Frankln produces a .45 caliber handgun he found after breaking into Warren’s office and holds Warren and the other staff at gun point. They are placed in the meditation building while Chris is released.
Franklin and others go to Camp South Pines and force the adult staff there at gunpoint to be place in holding. With the camps now fraternizing with each other and possibly engaging in sexual acts (hence the PG-13) rating, immediately it seems like fun. They decide to have their social dance but Runk and John showcase a detained Warren around much to the amusement but some people don’t see it as fun.
Things get worse as Franklin becomes more militant and says that this is now a revolution dismissing Chris’ concerns to notify authorities about Warren. He also makes Donald choose sides between him and Chris, after Chris shows further resistance to what is happening. Since the kids first enjoy not having any adults telling them what to do, Franklin uses this to his advantage making Chris and Heather enemies and ostracizes them. But it doesn’t end there. A woman is sexually assaulted by John and when Franklin imposes an obstacle course as punishment, he is later carried off by the angry young women and suffers a grim fate.
Also, Warren has been accidentally killed when stabbed by Runk trying to escape. With only Franklin knowing of this, they’ve hid Warren’s body in a cave area that is hardly used. And no one seems to know nor care what happened to John, as Donald laments in narrations he makes into a tape recorder. People begin to pick sides. More cultish campers seem to choose Franklin, who ironically like Warren is imposing strict rules that can get them in trouble or even killed. Others are starting to see that maybe Chris was right.
Nightmare is based on a novel The Butterfly Revolution published in 1961. It was distributed through Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures in limited release in the spring of 1987 and pretty much went to the wasteland of obscure movie rental shelves and cable TV viewings. It’s still a favorite among many horror/thriller fans. Released on video through the now defunct Embassy Home Entertainment, videocassettes are very highly sought after among collectors. There has been no official DVD released. You can view the full movie on YouTube.
It’s not the best movie. There’s a lot of questions left unanswered. How could a summer camp only function on just a few staff members. Who was doing all the cooking? Warren says something about a delivery truck but several days pass by after the campers and C-I-Ts take over. Surely, he wasn’t planning on leaving Chris in a separate building locked up for weeks? Wouldn’t what Warren did to Chris also be a criminal offense? And also, how come no one sends someone out to check on them after they unhook the phone lines?
It’s easy to just say it’s only a movie. But it does show how dangerous some people can be without the right supervision? Also, it leaves you to wonder why Warren is a former school administrator? Was he really too inappropriate with students? Or was he too strict that a school board terminated his position?
I’m sure if this movie may have had a bigger budget, it might have answered some of these questions. That’s not to say it doesn’t look cheap. Connors was still a big name even though he’s only in half the movie. It a nice little movie to watch if you like a thriller that doesn’t focus too much on blood and gore.
What do you think? Please comment.