Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)

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Despite its exploitative title, this is actually based on a novel by William Butler about a revolution at a summer camp that goes too far.

Camp North Pines for Boys is ready for another summer. Among the counselors this year are the level-headed Chris, punks John and Stanley, and Franklin, whose upbringing from a privileged family raises some questions amongst his fellow counselors. Donald is a nerdy kid who is one of the new campers this year and from the beginning, he befriends Chris, who sees Donald as a little brother who may need his guidance.

However, things go from fun to pain when new director Mr. Warren begins using strict methods to discipline the campers and counselors. After Chris is locked up in a cabin, Franklin decides to take over the camp and gets Stanley and John as well as Donald to help overthrow Warren. As an added bonus, they decide to take over the girls’ camp nearby as well. After Warren and the adult counselors are locked up, things start out fun again at Camp North Pines, until an accusation of rape leads to a murder. Chris starts to question if the revolution is actually a good idea and when Donald begins to question as well, Franklin, the new “general”, goes to extremes and Chris must stop him.

This is an underrated 80’s drama that is marketed more as a horror film with its known poster and cover art. However, despite the mismanagement in marketing, the overall film is quite an interesting take that brings reminiscence of similarly themed novels turned films like Lord of the Flies and Massacre at Central High. Based on the 1961 novel The Butterfly Revolution by William Butler, and co-written by future renowned filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, the film’s young cast really drives the film in the roles of both the campers and counselors who lead a revolution against the stern and strict camp director.

Charlie Stratton churns out a believable performance as Franklin, the counselor who feels entitled to not only start the revolution but ultimately uses the very tactics he rebelled again himself as the new “leader”. The late Harold Pruett plays Chris, a level-headed counselor who at first is in league with the revolution but sooner or later realize that the revolution is not what it is meant to be when things go too far. Adam Carl, who gained fame for his role on Who’s The Boss as nerdy Mason, fits the bill as Donald, the new camper whose recordings make up the gist of the film’s story. It is a variant type of a narration that works in the film.

Melissa Reeves and original Jem voice actress Samantha Newark give some great ample support as Chris’ girlfriend and the woman who accuses John, played by Tom Fridley, of assaulting her during the beginnings of the revolution. Fridley is known to play the types just doomed for failure, including his role in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and if he has a resemblance to a familiar face, it is because his uncle is none other than John Travolta, but has a resemblance to his mother, actress Ellen Travolta. Stuart Rogers makes the most of his role as Stanley Runk, a punk who helps lead the revolution until he causes an accident that gives him a chance to show his emotional range while Stanley playing tough second fiddle to Franklin.

Summer Camp Nightmare, despite its exploitative title, is an underrated 80’s gem that takes the revolution and totalitarianism all within a summer camp with driven performances by its young cast.

WFG RATING: B

A Crow Productions film. Director: Bert L. Dragin. Producers: Emilia Lesniak-Crow and Robert T. Crow. Writers: Bert L. Dragin and Penelope Spheeris, based on the novel “The Butterfly Revolution” by William Butler. Cinematography: Don Burgess. Editing: Michael Spence.

Cast: Charlie Stratton, Harold B. Pruett, Adam Carl, Chuck Connors, Tom Fridley, Melissa Reeves, Stuart Rogers, Samantha Newark, Shane McLemore, Nancy Calabrese, Michael Cramer, Rick Fitts, Shirley Mitchell.

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