Growing up, I exhausted the horror sections of many of the local video stores. It didn’t take long to figure out which sub genres resonated the most with me. Although I consider myself a horror fan in general, my first love in the genre was slasher movies. The early Friday the 13th movies set the standard for me and I wanted to see anything that felt like a summer camp slasher.
Seeing Summer Camp Nightmare in the horror section was an obvious no-brainer for me. I was a little wary when I saw a gun on the cover, I prefer my slashers to use old fashioned pointy objects, and the PG-13 rating was unusual for the type of content I usually wanted to see. Still, I knew from Monster in the Closet that a PG-13 movie could potentially have nudity and there were some 80s girls in their underwear and one wearing short pink shorts. Combine that with the guy wearing an Iron Maiden shirt that looks a bit like Kevin DuBrow from Quiet Riot and the pros far outweighed the cons. I took it home and hoped for the best.
First off, the movie was in no way a slasher. After that initial disappointment though, it did start to grow on me. It grew on me so much that I even tracked down the novel that it was based on.
The moment that I add to my collection today though was not in the 1960 novel and, in fact, could probably only be found in a lower budget 80s video.
Here’s how it happened: During a camp talent show, a couple of the bigger kids try to stir things up by dressing up like a Motley Crue cover band and singing along to Fear’s Beef Baloney. Take a look at it, you won’t be sorry:
With so many incredible things going here, I hardly know where to begin. The song is as good a place as any. This is what Fear played on Saturday Night Live in the early 80s, but Summer Camp Nightmare was my first experience. I’m not a punk aficionado or anything but I will stand by the statement that there aren’t enough songs about Beef Baloney. During how many other songs does it feel absolutely necessary to pump your fist or grab your crotch every time the chorus plays? Sometimes it’s necessary to do both. I had to take this one off of my driving playlist for this reason.
Coupled with the song is an amazing performance. I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be actually performing it in the movie or just lip syncing. It’s obviously the Fear track playing and the electric guitars aren’t plugged in or anything, but notice the guy on the drums and another guy behind him on the keyboard. These guys make me think that this is supposed to be a genuine live performance. I can’t come to a definitive answer either way. The bigger question perhaps, is why can’t I just relax and enjoy this movie?
Even though the song is pure punk rock, the performance feels like good old fashioned 80s hair metal. What I love about that era of music (aside from everything) was how seriously the bands could look while doing the most ridiculous things in the most ridiculous outfits. As much as I love Dokken, it must have been at least a little hard to keep a completely straight face on the set of the Dream Warriors video.
This is not a slight. It adds to the fun. If I remember correctly, Dokken’s Back for the Attack was the first CD I ever bought with my own money, because of that song in particular.
The same goes here. When John Mason and Stanley Runk the Punk come charging out on the stage in front of a few dozen people they’re wearing torn up tank tops, tight jeans, high top sneakers, and a fair amount of make up. They don’t crack one smile as they fist pump, crotch grab, and dance their way through the song. Rocking out is serious business.
These things alone would been enough to warrant this moment a spot in my collection, but the reactions of the audience are the icing on the cake. First off, watch Chuck Connors as Mr. Warren, the camp director, at about 1:05. There’s something timeless about the classic curmudgeon who hates loud music. Connors does this perfectly He’s also a formidable presence, so when the kids strike back at the out of touch and overbearing authority figure by way of rock and roll, it evokes the spirit of Twisted Sister. We’re Not Gonna Take It indeed. This shot would be silly and funny with any old man, but Connors makes it actually work for the movie.
Then there’s Franklin Reilley, leader of the revolution that turns into the titular nightmare. He’s apparently happy the enough that Mr. Warren is bothered by the loud music that he grins at him like this:
I’m guessing this is the picture he uses to register with the police every time he moves to a new neighbourhood. Just looking at this smirk gives me that no feeling that guidance counselors warned me about in elementary school.
Of course, all of this plays right into Reilley’s hands as Mr. Warren stomps up, ends the talent show, and cancels an upcoming co-ed dance. This leaves many of the kids ripe for a revolution. I’d smile like a molester too.
This scene has all the makings of an unforgettable moment. As they often are, this one is equal parts absurd and awesome. Anyone that I’ve met that has actually seen Summer Camp Nightmare will usually recall this scene before any others. This is a moment that I’d like to bottle up and take with me anywhere I might need a pick-me-up.