This appears to be the week of misleading teen horror titles. After “Hell High” and it’s not really hell, not really high school shenanigans, we’re now on “Summer Camp Nightmare”, and…well, look at that picture. If you’d looked at that and thought “cloth-eared Lord Of The Flies ripoff” then you’re a much smarter person than I.
Two very interesting names pop up in the opening credits, much more interesting than the movie itself. First is a co-writing credit for Penelope Spheeris, much much better known as the director of “Wayne’s World” and the “Decline And Fall Of Western Civilization” series. She rarely wrote, with this being one of only two non-TV, non-documentary credits for her, so honestly I was unsure what to expect.
Second is star Chuck Connors. His acting career is not all that interesting, having worked in all manner of styles, both TV and film (he got his big break as star of “The Rifleman”, a long-running TV show in the late 50s); but he was a fascinating guy. He’s one of only 12 people to play both professional basketball and professional baseball (Boston Celtics for basketball, and Brooklyn Dodgers / Chicago Cubs for baseball). He was also, amazingly, drafted by the American football team the Chicago Bears, but never took the field for them. Universally beloved by his co-stars, if only he hadn’t been a Reagan-supporting Republican!
Having a religious nut who allows no fun run your summer camp seems like a poor business model. After hiring a bunch of fun-loving teenagers to work as counsellors, the owners then hired Mr Warren (Connors) to run the place. He loves butterfly collecting and the Bible, sets the TV up so it only picks up religious programming, etc. If I came back from that summer camp, I’d be sure to tell everyone I knew how much it sucked, and with all that bad word of mouth, it’d close pretty quickly, I’d have thought.
Anyway, the first hint things are wrong is when Franklin (Charlie Stratton), one of the counsellors, is seen reading “Civil Disobedience” by Thoreau, and rallying the other kids against the tyrannical Warren. He’s not a monster from the beginning, being kind to the younger kids; in fact it’s when one of those kids reports to him that Warren tried to sexually abuse him, that things really move into action. Eventually, he steals Warren’s gun and locks all the adult staff up in the “meditation centre”, does the same thing to the girls’ camp next door, and the Revolution is on! There’s a Supreme Revolutionary Committee, people being ostracised, Warren is stabbed by “Runk The Punk”, a rape occurs, and while some kids seem pretty happy with the new order (and some seem indifferent, like it’s a very weird game), a small minority tries to fight back and get word to the outside world.
So, obviously, it’s an exceptionally heavy-handed political allegory. The book it’s based on, “The Butterfly Revolution”, appears much more interesting, and there are lots of things in the movie that seem crowbarred in from the book, that perhaps should have been given more time or cut out altogether. The book has a philosophical debate (the sensitive young boy reads Marx, which helps him understand the revolution is totalitarian and wrong, and the book is about how reading is important to arm yourself against bad ideas), but the movie, perhaps because it was made by Hollywood liberals with conservative money, doesn’t want to fall on either side of the fence. We’re left with a central character, Franklin, who doesn’t seem remotely charismatic enough to win an argument, much less lead a revolution, and people who go from normal teenagers to thugs in the blink of an eye.
Factor in a much-too-long act 1 (you could trim 15 minutes from the first 45 and not miss a thing) and a much-too-short act 2, and it’s honestly a tough watch. Still, if you’ve ever wanted to see two kids mime to FEAR’s song “Beef Bologna” and grab their crotches, this is definitely the movie for you.
Rating: thumbs down