Endless Bummer: Party Camp (1987)

There’s a Hall of Fame of 1980s teen movies – John Hughes is obviously member no. 1, then there’s directors like Savage Steve Holland and actors like John Cusack and C Thomas Howell. There’s not a lot of new stuff to write about any of the classics, but what we do have is an almost endless treasure trove of garbage. When someone like me – who once built a full-sized armchair entirely out of 80s teen movie VHS tapes, my collection was so large – still manages to discover unheard-of movies from the era, then I feel I have a responsibility to you, dear reader, to help you navigate these treacherous waters. Welcome to our new regular feature “Endless Bummer”, and hopefully we’ll rediscover a few classics and re-bury a few pieces of crap.

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Days after watching it, I’m still not sure which of those categories “Party Camp” falls into. It feels a bit like a movie made by someone whose only frame of reference for American teen culture was other movies like this – things happen just because they’re supposed to happen, and their escalation without understanding leads to some inadvertently bizarre scenes. Anyway.

Jerry Riviera is a cool teen outsider type who has one thing on his mind – ladies, and specifically the beautiful Heather, who works as a lifeguard at Camp Chipmunk. He sees her photo in…a magazine article about summer camps?…and immediately decides to get a job there. Taking a quick break to feel another camp counsellor’s boobs on the bus on the way, he pursues his goal and is ultimately successful, thanks to his team’s victory in a hastily thrown-together tournament. Hurrah!

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He’s the counsellor in charge of the Squirrels, the loser’s cabin…because that’s how you get repeat business at a place like this. As it’s the natural order of things, there’s a jock cabin (whose stupid code name I’ve forgotten, and I’m certainly not watching it again to check), and the jocks must make the nerds’ lives miserable. Although mostly it’s the hacker nerd setting up a system which allows them to spy on such activities as women getting changed and the manager of the camp indulging in bizarre bee-themed S&M with her assistant.

The jokes are unbearably lame and the setups are obvious from a mile away, but it’s all good fun. These movies had their standard formulations and this one sampled them – put a Ferris Bueller type in the middle of “Meatballs”, add a completely standard love plot, and bob’s your uncle. There’s also a narrator guy who only we see…until the end, when he introduces the contestants for the final race. It’s a bit odd, but it’s pleasant enough.

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I mentioned inadvertently odd moments, and this movie has em. As well as having a fun, consensual S&M relationship front and centre, there’s the nerd camper who’s also a gun nut. He brings a sack of automatic weapons with him, which is frightening enough; but later, when the jocks take the nerds’ spying equipment, they hold the manager at gunpoint until he gives it back to them (they’ve also kidnapped the jock counsellor and his slutty girlfriend). Next scene, everything is fine. What?

So, for a film which appears to have little relation to reality or common sense, it’s plenty of fun. Watch with a stiff drink and a forgiving mind, and you’ll have a good time. Andrew Ross as Jerry had a very short career – this was his first role, then he had a tiny part in another movie, a single episode on some TV show and he was done. Did no-one need a third rate Matthew Broderick in the 1980s?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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3 thoughts on “Endless Bummer: Party Camp (1987)

  1. Actually, my first role was in the very first movie produced by HBO called ‘Into the Homeland’ with C Thomas Howell and Powers Booth. I had one line… “What are Zionists”. Pretty funny since my name is Andrew Ross Goldstein. But amazing that you’d even look for other jobs I did. Best thing that came out of this is that I am still friends with Jewel Shepard 30+ years later

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