As June creeps on, school kids across the nation are getting released from the crumbling prisons that are America's schools and being sent off to life-guarding jobs, coal mines, or, if they're lucky, sleepaway camp. Not one of those lucky kids? Well here are some movies to watch that will make it feel almost like you're there.
The Parent Trap (1961/1998)
Whether you prefer the cutesy hominess of the Hayley Mills original or the slick, yet still charming, polish of the Lindsay Lohan remake, the first half or so of both separated-at-birth movies are pretty gosh darn good camp movies. Silly pranks all lead up to a big, satisfying (if completely obvious) discovery, plus both Mills and Lohan ably and winsomely play dual roles. I know the song in this video isn't from a camp scene, but just look at how adorable! "You gotta get with the new sound!"
In his first film role, Bill Murray plays the head counselor of the rundown Camp North Star, a place full of misfits and dweebs and lots of girls with big boobs. This movie typifies the Underdog Camp vs. Rich Camp trope that was later used in so many shitty (but glorious) camp/ski school/whatever else movies of the 1980s and early '90s, and has been parodied in more recent fare like Old School and Hot Tub Time Machine. Of course Meatballs still does it best and Camp Mohawk still sucks.
Little Darlings (1980)
The girls get to have the sex-related fun (and drama-rama) in this comedy starring Christy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal as Angel and Ferris, two girls (one downtown, one uptown, respectively) who challenge each other to lose their virginity by the end of the summer. Matt Dillon-related fumbling ensues, Cynthia Nixon pops up as a brainy/bitchy friend, and it is wonderful. It looks like it cost about $4 to make, but it's wonderful.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
If Friday the 13th is a little too staid a summer camp slasher movie for you, move on over to this grimy cult classic. For the most part it's a pretty standard, if slightly more gruesome than usual, one-by-one-they-all-die type thing, but hold onto your butts (and other parts) for the wham-bang surprise ending. It's one of the most surreally silly twists to be found in slasher moviedom.
Granted they spend a lot of this movie in space, but Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan, and Leaf Phoenix are technically at sleepaway camp, even if it's a camp run by NASA and there's a robot named Jinx who sends the kids on a crazy adventure. I mean, that was sort of like your camp experience, right?
Camp Cucamonga (1990)
Like some sort of amazing supergroup, this TV movie featured a bevy of young actors of the day from all your favorite TV shows — Candace Cameron, Josh Saviano, Jaleel White, Chad Allen, and Danica McKellar among them. Plus there's a young Jennifer Aniston as a counselor and, because of course why not, none other than Watergate mastermind G. Gordon Liddy. No summer camp movie is complete without G. Gordon Liddy. If only he'd joined the kids on the legendary theme rap.
Camp Nowhere (1994)
Much in the same vein as Cucamonga, Camp Nowhere featured young stars — Jonathan Jackson, Andrew Keegan, even Jessica Alba — getting zany at a camp of their own making, one without counselors or adult supervision. Believe it or not, this movie has actual bursts of wit mixed in with Christopher Lloyd's dopey slapstick, and a charming little romance that's surprisingly realistic in its shy simplicity. Mostly though it's just goofy and has theater camp jokes and fat camp jokes and Jonathan Jackson plays with his hair a lot, which is what the girlies (and some boyees) wanted to see in 1994.
Bug Juice (1998)
OK, so this isn't a movie, whatever. It was a Disney Channel reality show back in the late '90s that followed the campers at Camp Waziyatah in Maine. Full of all the attendant awkwardness of camp life — crushes, dances, the dreaded swim test, more crushes — Bug Juice was the kind of thing you watched if you never went to sleepaway camp but were curious about how it all went down. Turns out, it's mostly like life back at home, only with more pine needles. And more crushes!!!!
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
It might be unfair to put a movie that makes fun of camp movies in a list of good camp movies, but fuck it. WHAS is just such a loopily hilarious, determinedly weird movie that it must be included. The movie is brimming with tiny, wonderful, bizarre details ("Arts and farts and crafts!") that are too numerous to name individually, so we'll just say that, among all the other terrific stuff, WHAS has perhaps the most delightfully subversive sex scene of the past... long, long time. Decades? Decades.
The summer alma mater of Mandy Moore, Natalie Portman, Zach Braff and other showbiz notables, Stagedoor Manor theater camp in the Catskills is the performing arts camp for ambitious Broadway dreamers. And these desperate weirdos make great subjects — both heartbreaking and heartwarming — in this tragically overlooked 2006 documentary. Sure many might point to the film Camp as a more flashy (and fictional) version of the same story, but where that film has contrivance and over-the-top silliness, Stagedoor shows off the genuine ache, agony, and ecstasy of being a kid who longs for the stage. If you were a theater kid, you must watch this. See if you can get through the whole thing without having to pause and laughshriek out of self-recognizing embarrassment.
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