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    7 Great Summer Camp Movies

    It's summertime, y'all! That means one thing - pack the kids up and get them the fuck out of your house. And if you can package it as a character-building exercise that'll give them lifelong friends and important lessons - even better!

    I only went to sleepaway camp for 2 summers. A Christian camp in New Hampshire called Camp Squanto. It was...honestly, it was OK. This was before I became a secular humanist and when I really thought I'd like to be a pastor. Or a marine biologist. Or Wolverine from X-Men. Time makes fools of us all.

    We played dumb games, went on disappointing hikes, prayed to nothing and learned songs - including Christian lyrics for well known song. Camp Squanto is why I can't hear the Rocky theme song without singing to myself "Trust in Goddddddd./He'sYour Friennnnnd./HeWill GuideYouuuuu/tothe Ennnnnnd/Through our trials and tribulations/blessthelord his holy nation!" I also learned the song Shut-De-Do, an a cappella staple that I still find very charming. Not so charming? The eventual revelation that the Camp President had been embezzling millions of dollars over the years from the Christian camp's funds.

    Ultimately I thought camp was pretty lame and tame and not filled with any of the assorted hijinks the movies promised. Where was my rival camp with its dark color scheme and swanky clientele? What about some girl who totally hates me at first but eventually kisses me after I break her rough exterior? And the pranks - MY GOD THE PRANKS. Where were they?

    Maybe it's because of my middling experience with camp that I've developed a soft spot for summer camp movies. Often times they are atrocious and follow the weird mixing of pubescent sexual depravity with innocent exuberance of youth that was begun by Meatballs many years ago. But there are some that are worth remembering and revisiting. Here are some...

    (Honorable Mention) Poison Ivy (1985)

    No, not the movies with semi-innocent actresses whoring it up in sub-softcore porn with the most dubious and flimsiest of plots. Although...those ain't bad either. No this Poison Ivy is a 1985 TV movie with such youth icons as Michael J. Fox, Nancy McKeon, Adam Baldwin and Robert Klein. I had this recorded from broadcast and watched the VHS often, but I can't remember much from it. So why is it on this list? Because there's one element that stands out vividly that is CRAZYPANTS.

    Walter, the maintenance man, is scary and sketchy and rumored to be an axe murderer - but the inevitable "out" is so convoluted and ridiculous that it breaks the already tenuous suspension of disbelief of picturing Jo from Facts of Life as the hot chick. You see, despite what the kids think, Walter isn't walking around a bunch of children with a bloody axe - he's walking around children with an axe covered in red paint that he uses in his art, which he makes by hurling a red paint drenched axe into large pieces of wood. I guess that explains tha - wait a minute. An artistic guy expresses some hidden emotion by hurling a sharpened axe covered in red paint? And he works with children? So it's not so much that Walter isn't an axe murderer; he's just not an axe murderer...yet.

    7) Heavyweights (1995)

    Heavyweights belongs to a simpler time. 1995. An age of innocence before the word "Fockers" was in Ben Stiller's vocabulary and back when we could laugh at our childhood obesity problem instead of devoting dozens of hours of TLC programming to it. Heavyweights concerns a fat camp for fat kids that struggle against their tyrannical head counselor Tony Perkis, a desperate fitness junkie trying to make money off an infomercial being filmed at the camp. The kids beat Perkis and eventually learn important lessons about inner beauty and strength and how appearances and superficial elements don't matter. I'm sure this is unrelated, but like 90% of the cast hasn't appeared in much else except as the "funny fat guy" in commercials or sitcoms. Just sayin'.

    This movie has a lot of the broad, lazy humor that Disney pre-teen comedies traffic in - despite being co-written by Judd Apatow. Not to mention like 3 of The Mighty Ducks players are in this thing (Dave Karp the farter, Goldberg the Goalie and Fat Albert himself, Kenan "Good Burger" Thompson of knucklepuck fame). There's also appearances by Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Feig, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller - but it's Stiller who does a great job in his two roles as fitness guru turned Colonel Kurtz impressionist, Tony Perkis, and Tony's father who insists you call him "Papa." Also, that's some sweet David Copperfield-esque hair.

    6) Camp Nowhere (1994)

    Though mostly known now for Jessica Alba's small part as giggling lanky girl who shows up repeatedly, Camp Nowhere was initially sold as a family friendly Christopher Lloyd vehicle. Kids love Reverend Jim from Taxi! The story centers around a group of disaffected youth who have no interest in going to the character building camps their parents dispatch them to every summer to pursue activities that are more interesting to these absentee guardians than to the kids themselves. The kids come up with a plan to pool that money spent on sending them to camp to rent out abandoned camp grounds and to pay off a criminal hippie/actor/possible schizophrenic (Lloyd) to pretend to be the head counselor. Hijinks ensue.

    No fronting, y'all - I kind of love this movie. Make no mistake about it - I'm aware of how shitty it is and the plot holes the size of Utah that crop up in it. That makes it even weirder that the plot was ripped off by Accepted, the Justin Long movie where he and his disaffected teen friends create their own fake college using an abandoned facility and pay off a criminal hippie/teacher/possible schizophrenic (Lewis Black). But for some reason I like the various activities that the kids get up to without parents around - like eating pies with your face, mud olympics, learning how to play guitar, hack computers and pursuing general home improvement. Plus I had the biggest of crushes on Trish, played by Marnette Peterson (important note - I was kid when I saw this movie. No Pervo.)

    5) Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)

    The film that introduced me to the brilliance of The Turtles' "Happy Together," Ernest Goes to Camp was the story of everyone's favorite non-Faulknerian manchild, Ernest P. Worrell, as he was placed in charge of children and later used them as his own personal God's Army against blue collar workers. Oh, and there's turtle abuse in this film that rivals that of Cannibal Holocaust (don't look it up!).

    I kid, of course. Ernest Goes to Camp is a lovable, inoffensive, light and ultimately harmless comedy about outsiders banding together to stand up to money grubbing land developers. The hijinks of Jim Varney's creations are simple but pleasantly amusing. It's like a Christian ventriloquist - there's gonna be some "wood" jokes, but mostly it's clean and totally innocuous. Now I could have embedded the entire movie (which is on YouTube for some reason). Or maybe even the turtle paratrooper scene. Or maybe some fan created video that succinctly defines the movie. But instead, I embed the following scene which I had COMPLETELY forgotten about. Does anyone else remember the musical sequence where Ernest P. Worrell sings about how the rain covers up his tears/depression? It's like The Cure wrote a song for the Sesame Street crowd. Yikes.

    4) Sleepaway Camp (1983)

    This is a hard movie to recommend or even discuss - because it happens to have one of the best twist endings of all time. So please, if you haven't seen it, then don't read much about it. Just rent it or download it or whatever and enjoy. Sleepaway Camp is like 85% schlock with some truly New Jersey 1980s acting in full force and some less than inspired kill scenes. The remaining 15% is that killer twist ending and these weird, David Lynchian flashbacks that are really well done and totally crazy, but also linger and creep out unlike anything else in the movie.

    Seriously - just go see this film. It's short, mostly stupid, good for a few chuckles and then FULL ON CRAZY.

    3) Friday the 13th Parts I, II, VI (1980, 1981, 1986)

    Even though Friday the 13th series is fairly well associated with summer camps, the films that occur at a active summer camp are in the minority. Technically Part III should be in this list, but there's no camp goers - just a bunch of horny teens with bad skin. Not so coincidentally, the best movies in the series are these three and part 4, The Final Chapter - AKA The One Where Tom Savini Doesn't want to be Involved Anymore and Corey Feldman Has Issues.

    Jason works as a screen villain because he's equal parts mute unstoppable force, rage-filled backwoods killer and oddly skill-specific Macguyver. Seriously, dude can figure out how to kill people in incredibly clever ways - not even mentioning the fact that he's a "mongoloid" who also drowned in the lake and therefore probably suffered some further brain damage. He's a hulking brute that is impossible to negotiate with but also is intent on killing anything set in his path. Although the hockey mask is a great iconic accessory, part of me wishes he had kept the burlap sack with the one eye in it. Oh least we know there are worst monsters out there then the backwoods hockey enthusiast:

    2) Meatballs (1979)

    And then there's the big dog. Meatballs is a fun movie - but it's also a really weird one. If you haven't seen it for a while, what do you remember? I'm guessing you remember the hot dog eating contest, "Wudy the Wabbit", "it just doesn't matter" and maybe the basketball scene. But do you remember all the weird sex/rape jokes Bill Murray makes towards the other counselors? How about the sweet, sincere emotional beats between the campers? The weird and limp attempts at romance between a few of the counselors?

    For whom was Meatballs made? What was their target audience? Everyone?

    It seemed like three movies were spliced together to form one crowd-pleasing hit: a sweet coming of age story of outsider kid finding his home and his place in the world at the side of his wacky mentor; the touching and familiar tale of that summer love from our teenage years filled with horniness, confusion and sense of utterly failing to be a person; the stoner comedy featuring everyone's favorite Not Quite Ready for Primetime Player as he makes weird allusions to the sex lives of all those around him in a wacky setting - where HE'S in charge?!?!? WHAAAA?

    Hell, look at that poster. What? Is this a kids' movie? With buxom vixens fawning over Murray while fatty and the spaz leer on? But don't forget that scamp on top - he's up to no good (but in a generally wholesome, Dennis the Menace way). Don't get me wrong - the movie still cracks me up. I just find it's three disparate tones to be terribly vexing.

    1) Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

    This movie is brilliant. An unbridled exercise in absurd comedy that escalates in its insanity with each passing scene, Wet Hot American Summer is an homage to pretty much every type of 80s movie out there - playing up the cliches of the decade but proving its love of the films by getting small elements exactly right (like certain costume choices, hair styles and the way shots are framed). It's probably one of the funniest movies in the last 25 years or so. It has such a rich ensemble of capable, funny people who each bring a different flavor to the stew that we call laughter. With all these varied talents and styles coming together, there are running gags embedded throughout the film (gum, anyone?) and enough different approaches to comedy that even if one scene or character isn't your cup of tea, just give it a few minutes. Hell, there's even several meta-D & D jokes. SEVERAL.

    This movie proved just how hilarious Paul Rudd can be. It exposed the world to Elizabeth Banks' ability to be hilarious, gross and sexy at almost the exact same time. It was one of the opening salvos in the sudden invasion of improv comedians taking over cinemas. It's one of the more original approaches to comedies that goes for broke and ends up being eminently quotable in all manner of situations. Hell - the DVD has an optional "Extra Farts" audio track to add while watching it. COME ON! I almost didn't make Wet Hot American Summer number one on this list because it owed so much to Meatballs and was such an homage to so many of the things that Meatballs did unironically. But seriously - this isn't just a great camp movie, or summer movie, or comedy - but Wet Hot American Summer is easily one of the Top 10 movies of the 21st century. It cannot be denied. Also - WHERE'S THE FUCKING PHONE?

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