Our Ten’s List: Top Ten Memorable Movie Camps
We continue our celebration of Summer vacations this week by looking at everyone’s favorite character building summer chore: going camping. The bane of Nintendo owning children everywhere, right around July fathers all across America are struck with a terrible brain fever that compels them to take their loved ones out into the woods and force them to build fires, gut fish, sleep on rocks and pee in the bushes. If it weren’t for the invention of canoes, camping would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and only used on prisoners. And god forbid your parent’s mania extended to sending you to a private summer camp like some the ones featured on this list!
10. Camp Hope
from Heavy Weights (1995)
If you’ve ended up at Camp Hope, chances are you’re not looking forward to it. A summer weight loss camp for obese boys, Camp Hope used to be an inspiration for kids looking to enjoy their summer away from other kids who would pick on them for their weight. But when the camp’s ownership changes hands from a benign older couple who let the kids pretty much do as they please into the hands of their son and fitness freak Tony (Ben Stiller) the children soon realize that the summer is going to be a long one.
Tony runs the place like a boot camp crossed with a late-night get-fit infomercial. He humiliates the campers, destroys all of their hidden candy, forces them on long hikes, and generally makes life miserable. Despite all that, the children go all Lord of the Flies on Tony, and actually end up gaining weight after finding a treasure trove of snacks left by past campers. Unless the kids manage to ditch Tony and get their act in gear, the final week’s competition against another boys camp is going to end like it always does: with humiliation and crushing defeat for the boys of Camp Hope.
9. Space Camp
From Space Camp (1986)
What child wouldn’t want the pressure of learning highly technical scientific and mathematical skills so they can pretend to pilot the space shuttle? Space Camp promises to offer gifted children a chance to live like the astronauts…which it turns out is a grueling life-style demanding complete dedication and a decided lack of gee-whiz fun. While Space Camp amenities include a talking robot name Jinx, the robot is more trouble than he’s worth. The robot continually reports on the kids as they attempt to break curfew, sneak out, or otherwise have fun. And when the kids get a chance to sit in a real space shuttle, it overhears one of their wishes to actually go to space…and initiates the launch countdown!
Many summer camps offer the stars, but Space Camp delivers: the team of under-prepared teens are blasted into orbit and have to use their meager training to try and survive long enough to figure out how to get back to Earth. Running out of air, being stranded in space, and not exploding top the list of exciting adventures on offer from Space Camp. As this film released just months after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster that killed a civilian school teacher, you can imagine how popular this film was at launch!
8. Camp Kikakee
from Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
Once upon a time, Jim Varney was the titular Ernest P. Worrell, a lovable, literal-minded yokel at the heart of a nine movie empire. Seriously, there were nine Ernest Does X movies, five of them making their debuts in theaters, as well as several television series and specials. Not bad for a guy who got his start selling Coca-Cola on local television spots!
At Camp Kikakee, children learn about the proud history of Chief St. Cloud’s Kikakee tribe. Ernest, a maintenance guy with dreams of being a camp counselor, is finally given his chance when a group of troubled children nearly kill their regular camp counselor. When nobody is willing to take them on, Ernest volunteers, and manages to have limited success with this simplistic and good-natured manner. The camp is put to the test, though, when a local land developer tricks Chief St. Cloud out of his deed to the land, intending to tear down the campsite and turn it into a strip mine.
In Home Alone fashion, Ernest and his team of Second Chance campers have to rig the camp with enough booby traps and pratfall tricks to stave off the developers until the camp staff can get the local government to recognize the historical value of the camp.
7. Camp Chippewa
from Addams Family Values (1993)
When a gold-digging serial killer arrives at the Addams’ Mansion to target Fester Addams, she decides to get rid of the suspicious children, Wednesday and Pugsley, first by sending them to Camp Chippewa. Straight laced, brimming with cheer, and full of good intentions, Camp Chippewa is about the worst place to send the Addams’ children, as the camp staff quickly learns.
This top ten memorable movie camp features all of your favorite activities such as drowning in a lake, roasting campers like marshmallows, and even the time honored tradition of a summer play in which the vengeful spirit of Pocahontas extracts her grizzly revenge upon the settlers who displaced her people. There’s even a hint of romance as Wednesday meets a young man who has as many deathly allergies as Wednesday has deathly torture devices. A match made in…well…you can guess where. Luckily, the camp allows day passes, so the children have plenty of time to save their bumbling uncle from becoming the latest corpse in the Black Widow’s web.
6. Camp Ivanhoe
from Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Camp Ivanhoe is where young Khaki Scouts learn all of the morally upright skills they’ll need to become fine upstanding young gentlemen. Instructed by the slightly neurotic Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton) the young men make great progress learning how to camp, scout, hunt, and a myriad other outdoors skills. Unfortunately, all of this training means that when Sam, a perennially orphaned child with a troubled past, decides to flee the camp, he’s actually pretty darn good at evading the authorities.
Together with his pen-pal love interest Suzy (an equally odd teen who lives across the bay) the pair lead the scoutmaster, social services, and even the police on a hunt across New Penzance Island as they attempt to find a fabled cove they’ve dubbed Moonrise Kingdom. When it becomes known that the two young lovers are about to be separated by the powers that be, the entire Khaki Scout platoon comes to their rescue with a hare-brained scheme to set the children up as crab fishermen on the long haul boats that visit New Penzance. Say what you like about the Boy Scouts, but in the Khaki Scouts you really get a lifetime’s worth of memories.
5. National Park Campgrounds
from Grizzly (1976)
An un-named campground at the heart of an un-named National Park is the setting for a massacre featuring one grizzly Grizzly bear. Despite an alarming number of scantily clad female campers being mauled to bits, the dim witted Park Supervisor refuses to close down the camp, meaning even more tourists and rangers end up on the receiving end of a nasty bear hug.
Grizzly was maligned by critics as being a shameless “Jaws on land” rip-off. And they were right…but that doesn’t mean that Grizzly isn’t also a ton of fun. The first scene where the bear’s shadow appears behind a camper’s tent scarred the living bejeesus out of me as a child, and the film only gets more gore drenched and ridiculous as the bear-hunt continues. I don’t want to give it all away, but the final showdown involves a bear, two trackers, a helicopter…and a bazooka. You’ve got to hand it to them, when Grizzly decided to jump the shark, it did so with style.
4. Camp Firewood
From Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Most of our Top Ten Memorable Movie Camps are concerned with the lives of the campers, but Wet Hot American Summer is all about the counselors. As the final day of summer approaches, it seems everyone at Camp Firewood has an unrequited love they need to settle before camp lets out for good. There is also a big talent show to be staged, but that really plays second fiddle to the desperately horny camp staff trying to put the final touches on their summer flings. I’m sure the kids can just, you know, take care of themselves.
Wet Hot American Summer is a pure nostalgia trip, complete with tube socks and short-shorts, brought to you by some of the funniest comedians you’ve never heard of. Paul Rudd and Jeneane Garofalo are probably the biggest names attached, but most of the heavy lifting is done by cast members of The State, a short lived comedy troupe from MTV that went on to create Reno 911, Stella, Viva Variety and a score of other crazy comedies that Comedy Central aired late at night for most of the early 2000’s. Developing a cult following, this film also got a prequel on Netflix recently, so before seeing how it all began, see how it all ended in Wet Hot American Summer.
3. Camp Northstar
from Meatballs (1979)
Bill Murray is a now known as a lovable goofball who makes touching comedies. In the 80’s, he was a lovable wise-ass who made low-brow comedies, each one a classic. His first big starring role was as Camp Counselor Tripper Harrison, a prank-loving senior counselor for a misfit group of kids and adults at Camp Northstar, arguably the worst camp in the area. In a typical slobs versus snobs touch, Camp Northstar has to compete against an elite summer camp of rich kids and snotty counselors across the lake, and Tripper thinks he finally has the right group of losers to actually win.
Meatballs is one part Porky’s, one part Caddy Shack, with a little Revenge of the Nerds style competition thrown in for good measure, and that’s enough to land in our Top Ten Memorable Movie Camps. Director Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray prove to be an unstoppable team who went on to create Stripes and the Ghostbusters franchise after making their big lake splash at Camp Northstar.
2. Pechoggin Lake
from The Great Outdoors (1988)
Another comedic legend, John Candy, got into the camping business, and I’m not referring to the awful Saturday morning cartoon Camp Candy. Candy stars as Chet, a stressed out business man looking to get his family away from it all, but who ends up saddled with his obnoxious in-laws (featuring Dan Aykroyd) for one hellish summer.
Pechoggin Lake features lousy fishing, testy locals, insane eating contests and an angry Grizzly bear named Bald Head who holds a grudge against Chet for having blown the hair off his skull in a hunting trip gone awry many years ago. Add in an abandoned mine filled with dynamite, and you have all the ingredients for a fun filled summer of nearly being murdered at every turn. Who could have known that summer camps could be so dangerous…
1. Crystal Lake
from Friday the 13th (1980)
Jason Vorhees could have warned Chet just how deadly summer camps can become. After succumbing to a freak drowing at Crystal Lake (partly attributable to the camp staff being more interested in getting their dicks wet than in watching their campers) Jason returns to exact a bloody revenge on the staff and denizens of Crystal Lake camp.
Spending a decade at the bottom of a lake apparently has done wonders for Jason’s physique, since he returns as an 8 foot tall murder machine capable of swinging a sleeping-bag full of co-eds over his head, one handed. Perhaps if Tony from Heavyweights had adopted mandatory drownings in his regimen, the fatties would have all turned out so muscular? Over the series of a dozen movies, Jason eventually left the confines of Crystal Lake to continue hunting the people responsible for his fate, which let us stress again was unfortunate but really just an accident. Talk about going overboard. If you’ve never seen any of these gory slash-fests, stick to the original…and never want to go camping again!