Two weeks ago we kicked off the summer with an ode to some of the more memorable aqua-horror flicks to ever come about. Now, as a flip-sided encore, we're keeping the summer theme alive and well by saluting some of the most sterling summer-camp horror joints. Cabins, resorts, pitched tents, wigwams, yurts, hammocks, wooded sheds...and a whole lot of mothaf*ckin' murder! So be a sport, fire up the charcoal, grab the beer and barbeque sauce, the inflatable mattress, the bug-spray, a fatty or two, and let's spend some much needed R&R at a few harrowing horror campsites. Vacation has never felt so damn painful...
WARNING: MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988)
I remember watching Jon Quinn's low-rent slasher whodunit CHEERLEADER CAMP in high-school, at my late best friend's house (RIP Kane), with about six or seven of us. Thick ganja smoke clouded the air, the 80-proof and German hops did laps, laughter was nary a stranger. And with that, I also remember diggin' the film quite a bit. First off, the film has a highly impressive body count for a supposed throwaway late 80s slasher flick. I'm talking deleterious double digits! I also quite enjoyed the murder mystery element to the film. Much like MY BLOODY VALENTINE, trying to suss who among the bunch of randy teenagers is the actual killer becomes a large part of the fun. Plus, what's not to love about a 24 year old Betsey Russell (SAW) and a pre-porn star Teri Weigel? In cheerleader garb? F*ckin' fire! Props to my man Karl Mnarl for correctly guessing the murderous culprit...we all laughed at your prediction at first.
#9. SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE (1987)
A bit of a misnomer, Bert L. Dragin's 1987 SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE is more of a violent, LORD OF THE FLIES type drama about authoritative abuse than an out-and-out horror joint, but there's certainly enough unsettling moments to be feted on this here commemoration. For those who missed it, the film follows a cadre of male campers who stage a coup and lock up their camp director and councilors and overtake the camp for themselves. Fit hits the shan when the revolt extends to a nearby girls camp, where the de facto ring leader of the boys starts going postal. Penelope Spheeris (who directed SUBURBIA, WAYNE'S WORLD, BLACK SHEEP) co-wrote the screenplay, adapting from William Butler's novel "The Butterfly Revolution." A hard film to find, but if you can, you won't be disappointed. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the film is playing in 10-parts on Youtube.
#8. CABIN FEVER (2002)
Eli Roth's semi-satirical debut feature is a much welcomed variation of theme; instead of a throng of kids being stalked-and-slashed in the woods by a deranged psychopath, they're unsuspectingly infected by a putrid flesh-eating virus. The source? Fiery bum-water! Seriously, the tonal ambiguity of the film has drawn a love-it or hate-it polarity, and I'm proudly in the former camp. Aside from seeing Cerina Vincent's nubile flesh, my mind is still and will forever be boggled by the late sequence in which the foully mulleted Dennis goes mental...does a slow-mo tae kwon do kata, replete with cartwheels, all-the-while randomly screaming "Pancakes, Pancakes, Pancakes." I'm forever a changed man after seeing that shite. And let's not forget about Deputy Winston. Good lord that dude's off his rocker...far more interested in partying in Wambusa than doing any kind of police work. Props to Roth for infusing his faithful throwback horror joint with such an off-kilter sense of humor.
#7. JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)
I'm not sure how many of you have seen Jeff Liberman's unheralded mountain maraud JUST BEFORE DAWN, but damn is this one worth seeking out. Lost in the vast shuffle of early 80s slasher fare, here's a slow burning creepshow with palpable atmosphere and brooding sense of impending menace. The great George Kennedy gives a solid performance as an cautionary park ranger, playing the part with a sly twinge of ulterior sleaze. Also, not to spoil anything, but it can be argued that Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven owe a debt of gratitude for the success of SCREAM to this film. That's all I can say. More glaringly, JUST BEFORE DAWN draws from such sinister outback horror as DELIVERANCE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (perhaps Wes was repaying the homage a decade and a half later, though Lieberman claims to never have seen HILLS prior to filming). For a movie that turned 30 this year, JUST BEFORE DAWN is quite a sight to behold.
#6. MADMAN (1982)
Mothaf*ckin' Madman Marz! To those who've seen Joe Giannone's lesser known 1982 slasher redux, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And by redux I mean this film is to THE BURNING what THE BURNING is to FRIDAY THE 13TH...basically a cheaper and slightly watered down version. In fact, MADMAN began as a retelling of the Cropsy legend, but was subsequently rewritten when the production team learned THE BURNING boasted a similar premise. That being said, MADMAN certainly has its merits as a standalone summer-camp slasher effort. Some of the kills involving a large wood-axe are genuinely mortifying, the dialogue isn't as dopey as you might expect from a low-budget 80s horror flick, it has a pretty damn cool ending, and features one of the all time most ridiculous hot tub scenes ever recorded. For all those unwilling to shell out $23 for the new 2-disc 30th anniversary DVD, keep your lids peeled for the occasional IFC screening.
#5. PIRANHA (1978)
Our only summertime repeat offender comes by way of Joe Dante's schlocky b-movie, the original 1978 version of PIRNAHA. Adhering to the Roger Corman academy of guerilla filmmaking, Dante's tale about a summer vacation savagely interrupted by school of rapacious man-eating fish, obviously tried to capitalize on the massive success of JAWS. Still, with a deft directorial hand and the first feature screenplay by the great John Sayles, hints of potential greatness can be certainly found. Personally, I like the casting of Kevin McCarthy (THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and Barbara Steele as a way to tether old and new horror iconography. Then of course there's the playful sense of humor Dante imbues his film with, a staple he would become known for in works like GREMLINS and THE BURBS. But let's be real, as much as I appreciate the parsimonious charm Dante's version, the fact it paved the way for Alexandre Aja's supercharged update is something I think we're all truly grateful for.
#4. BAY OF BLOOD/TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1971)
Heartfelt props must be cast to Mario Bava's precursory summer-camp horror sequence in the 1971 film BAY OF BLOOD (aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), as it not only promulgated the entire sub-generic movement, it of course inspired an overt rehash in one of my favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH films, Part 2. Only difference, BAY OF BLOOD doesn't feature a campground per se, but a dilapidated tenement in a wooded area that a slew of teenagers find and take refuge in. Still, the conventions shine through crystal clear (pardon the pun). My roommate and I clocked this sucker not too long ago, as our entire Netflix queue is dedicated to nothing but grimy Eruosleaze of old, and what struck me about the uncut version was the unremitting carnage and advanced death-toll. Not only is BAY OF BLOOD Bava's favorite of his own films, he also served as his own cinematographer on the film, often using a child's wagon as a dolly for tracking shots.
#3. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
Known for having one of the all time most jaw-dropping, what-the-fuck conclusions, SLEEPAWAY CAMP elevates itself above the sea of torpid slasher yarns and becomes something far more psychologically damming. Seriously, I still haven't gotten over the damage incurred by that final shot! But for those who missed this Robert Hiltzik diamond (Hiltzik has gone on to do 4 SLEEPAWAY CAMP sequels, apparently having a fifth, SLEEPAWAY CAMP REUNION, due out this October), the film follows your typical summer-camp horror paradigm. When the shy, gauche young Angela is sent away to summer camp with her cousin, grisly bouts of butchery soon start to occur. The whodunit aspect, while always fun within the slasher subgenre, plays as really more of a red-herring here, as there's no way in hell you could suss the gut-socking finale. Shot in New York for a mere $350,000, SLEEPAWAY CAMP proves you can't put a price on ingenuity. A truly disturbing film!
#2. THE BURNING (1981)
It's pretty hard to fathom that one of the best FRIDAY THE 13TH imitators, which many actually deem as a qualitative peer, was co-written by Harvey Weinstein. Yes, that Harvey Weinstein! In any event, Tony Maylam's THE BURNING doesn't just bear the distinction of featuring screen debuts of Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter, it also boasts some of F/X maven Tom Savini's finest work. In fact, he opted to work on this film over FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, which was filming at roughly the same time (they came out a week apart). The premise is a simple one, after a summer camp prank goes terribly awry, a burned counselor seeks grisly revenge by picking off a new breed of campers one by one. The famed raft massacre kicks serious ass, but I personally love the incendiary bookends. I love how the finale goes down, the perfect poetry of the circular comeuppance our man Cropsy endures.
#1. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Come on now, who didn't foresee our final destination being Camp Crystal Lake? We all know FRIDAY THE 13TH is the preeminent camp-horror ditty...not only geographically, but tonally as well. So instead of extolling all the virtues as to why the film reigns supreme, allow me to bore you with the subsequent order in which I prefer to get my Voorhies fix. The original obviously stands alone, but let's see if you agree with my preferences thereafter. Straight up, I'm a FINAL CHAPTER head. That's right, part 4 kicks utter ass. A young Corey Feldman, a spastic Crispin Glover, hot skinny dipping twin girls, and of course, a hardy death-toll.
After part 4, I like going back to part 2. The Cycloptic burlap sack, the machete across the wheel-chaired jock, Voorhees' piss ridden hovel, the psychological ending, all of it. From there, I usually follow up with the cheesy ass 3D entry, where we meet the infamous hockey mask for the first time. I'm onto JASON LIVES from there, dude kicks so much ass in 6 it's unbelievable. The triple decollation gets me every time. In fact, so ripped out is my heart at this point the flicks start losing their effect. I'll go with parts 7, 8, JASON X, JASON GOES TO HELL, FREDDY VS. JASON, then the dreaded fifth installment, A NEW BEGINNING.
So that's parts 1, 4, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 9, 11 and 5. Feel free to share your preferred FRIDAY THE 13th order, as well as other camp-horror films we've neglected to mention here on the Top Ten.