If horror movies taught us anything during the ’80s they taught us that something as seemingly benign as attending summer camp could end in a bloody massacre. Over the last few decades since that time we have been presented with endless horror films that showed us that attending camp isn’t all sand volleyball, canoes and skinny dipping (if you’re lucky enough to be involved with that sort of thing). Indeed, a fun summer outing can quickly turn into bloody mayhem in the blink of an eye.
So with that being said; today we will be counting the ten greatest summer camp horror movies of all time. Let’s get started.
10. Twisted Nightmare (1987)
Twisted Nightmare won’t pull out any surprises as it’s an off its rocker, if run-of-the-mill camp-based slasher, but it does have some attention-grabbing novelties ranging from the fact it was filmed around the same time as Friday the 13th Part 3 (to ultimately be released a couple years later) and that it was shot in the same area as that film as well. Those would remember the barn of doom where the biker gang met their demise at the hands of masked icon Jason Voorhees (and again, it seems to hold some sort of attraction).
The film follows a group of teenagers who win a trip to a summer camp they had attended as children. However, soon after they get there they begin to disappear one by one. For being a low-end slasher the film has its fair share of recycled conventions, but it was a competently done (on the technical side) for what it is. Strictly speaking in terms of ‘80s slashers, Twisted Nightmare really isn’t as bad as most horror movie bloggers make it out to be. Admittedly the plot is excessively simplistic, the pacing is a bit slow and the acting performances are humiliatingly bad, but there are also a handful of positive aspects. Overall, if you want a good and effective horror movie then stay away. If you want a good unintentional laugh, then Twisted Nightmare is a must-see.
9. Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre (2009)
In a wasteland filled with lame remakes, horrible CGI debacles, and direct to VOD films that fail to impress, here is a perfectly acceptable low budget horror/comedy that you may have missed. Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre is bloody, delightful, and bloody delightful in its efforts to create a fun ride through the formula of slashers while at the same time mocking them.
The film follows Caesar, an effete tough guy and his careless half brother, Otto, who have signed up as summer camp counselors. But when the mysterious Carrie (played by genre mainstay Felissa Rose) shows up, the other counselors start disappearing one by one. Just to be clear: this is one of those films that is not to be taken seriously and is, therefore, fun to watch. If you’re looking for serious horror, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for low (or non-existent) budget filmmaking that is more interested in enjoying itself than it is making a serious horror film, this is the movie for you.
8. Madman (1982)
Madman (also known as Madman Marz and The Legend Lives) follows a group of campers who are stalked and killed after summoning an axe-murderer of local legend. Originally based on the upstate New York urban legend of the Cropsey maniac, the film’s central premise and main antagonist were changed last minute due to conflicts with a similar film which was in production at the same time (which we’ll get to in a minute).
Madman is essentially an early ’80s retread of the summer camp slasher genre as a whole. It’s got a big bad villain with a huge axe, it’s got an attractive cast and it’s got a decent amount of gore. Most surprisingly however is the cinematography. While most slashers from this era were pretty low-budget, Madman looks incredibly good. The use of dark blue colors works great and really manages to create an effectively eerie atmosphere. All in all Madman is definitely underrated and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
7. Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)
At Camp North Pines for Boys, the campers stage a revolt against the strict owner, Mr. Warren, locking the counselors up and taking over the camp for themselves. But the revolt soon spirals out of control as the boys also lead a takeover of the nearby girls camp as well. Remember 1995’s family comedy Heavy Weights? Well, imagine that movie if it were filled with sex, murder and mayhem.
This film defines the ’80s; the mullets, the headbands, the ragged jeans. It also stars Samantha Newark, best known for her iconic voice-over work as the speaking voice of Jem and Jerrica in the beloved animated series Jem and the Holograms. Summer Camp Nightmare is pure fun and a great addition to the ’80s teen movie legacy. It’s title is a bit misleading (except the camp part, because this movie’s full of it). It’s story-line is similar to that of Lord of the Flies but it doesn’t take itself that seriously. Definitely a must-see.
6. Stage Fright (2014)
Stage Fright has been described as Wes Craven’s “Scream” meets “Glee” and that’s not actually not too far off the mark for this horror/comedy/musical hybrid. We open with Broadway diva Kylie Swanson (played by Minnie Driver) opening the musical “The Haunting of the Opera” to a packed audience. That same night she is murdered backstage by an unknown assailant wearing the mask of the play’s villain, Opera Ghost. Ten years later, her daughter (played by Allie MacDonald) and son work at a summer camp that is ultimately stalked by a similar masked killer.
The brilliance of this movie is how quickly and smoothly it brings the story between hilarity and tension, sometimes even merging the two. The musical aspects of the movie are excellently done. Though, dancing and cleverness aside, this movie shines its brightest when it’s at its darkest. A Kabuki mask-wearing hair metal-singing psycho is out to spoil the show, and in doing so gives us a slasher villain you won’t soon forget.
5. Cheerleader Camp (1988)
Cheerleader Camp (also known as Bloody Pom Poms) follows Alison (played by Betsy Russell), a cheerleader at Lindo Valley who’s grappling with feelings of inadequacy. Alison, along with her flirtatious boyfriend and fellow cheerleaders, attend Camp Hurrah, a cheerleading camp. Allison quickly realizes that her boyfriend seems to be more interested in the other cheerleaders then he is in her. Subsequently, the other girls at the camp begin to turn up dead one by one. Alison starts to believe that she has a split-personality who’s doing the killing.
Just the fact that cheerleaders are getting slashed at a summer camp is enough to bring a smile to the face of anyone who loves this horror sub-genre. However, it is the casting that elevates this one to the top of the heap. Leif Garrett, Lucinda Dickey, Lorie Griffin and others make the film more than worthwhile. A couple of certified Playboy Playmates help round out the cast: Rebecca Ferratti and Teri Weigel (who actually went on to become a legitimate pornographic actress). It simply can’t be expressed the joy that one may get from simply knowing that this film exists.
4. Piranha (1978)
In the wake of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975 came countless man vs. nature flicks with everything from bunny rabbits to frogs having us mere humans running for the hills. Joe Dante’s B-movie classic Piranha is considered one of the best imitators, primarily because of its tongue-in-cheek approach and it’s deliberately campy writing and casting (the Jaws video game appearance was a nice touch as well). We have the great Roger Corman to thank for that.
The film follows flesh-eating piranhas that are accidentally released into a summer resort’s rivers. While the film does split its time between an amusement park and a summer camp (as well as numerous other locations) it is still more than worthy to rank highly on a list such as this. Overall, Piranha is a good old-fashioned horror delight for genre fans. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor.
3. Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th is probably the first movie you think of when you think of a horror film that’s set at a summer camp. It’s also the most successful of the bunch (this film, along with its many sequels have grossed over $465 million at the box-office worldwide). It’s also the film that arguably kicked off the entire summer camp horror sub-genre. However, the original Friday the 13th (or any of its sequels) are not necessarily the best that the genre has to offer.
In case you’re a horror movie novice; Friday the 13th follows a group of teenagers who are murdered one by one while attempting to re-open an abandoned campground, Camp Crystal Lake. Not exactly a masterpiece, but certainly not a waste of time either. This film is basically a starters set for the film-buffs who start watching horror films. Friday the 13th may play as a clichéd slasher, a story of sex equalling butchery, but it plays so effectively well and is a horror movie that is too important to simply be dismissed. It collects everything appealing about the ’80s horror genre and wraps it up neatly into this fantastic package. A true classic in it’s genre.
2. The Burning (1981)
Made at the height of the low-budget slasher film craze The Burning is arguably better than the films it was trying to capitalize off of, Friday the 13th in particular (which we’ve argued in the past). The film tells the story of an alcoholic, weirdo caretaker at a camp (nicknamed “Cropsy”) who falls victim to a prank carried out by a bunch of nothing-better-to-do campers who accidentally burn the poor guy alive. After recovering, Cropsy leaves the hospital and heads back to the camp to execute his revenge.
As far as the genre goes, The Burning is way above average. Sure, it has the obligatory teenagers in summer camp and a deranged stalker out for ‘revenge’ but there are some authentic tension-building moments and quite a few sufficient scares. The effects are above average thanks to gore-king, Tom Savini. Rick Wakeman’s electronic music score is far more effective than Harry Manfredini’s psycho-like strings in Friday the 13th. The acting is nothing special, but then again, it never seems to be with films like this. Just one piece of advice: be sure to find an uncut version of the film if you’re able to.
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
After a horrific boating accident kills her family, Angela, a shy and gloomy young girl, moves in with her oddball aunt Martha, alongside her protective cousin Ricky. One summer, Martha sends the kids to Camp Arawak. Soon after their arrival, a series of bizarre and increasingly violent accidents begins to claim the lives of various campers.
Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp is one of the most underrated and greatest slasher films ever made. The film manages to create very creepy atmosphere throughout, the killings are original and gruesome and the disclosure of the murderer’s identity is one of the most shocking climaxes in the history of American cinema. Felissa Rose is marvelous as Angela, especially with her creepy stare. Sleepaway Camp is a bit different than your standard slasher fare; it’s filled with strange and deviant characters, disturbing flashbacks and sexual subtexts. There isn’t much gore to speak of, still we do get an arrow through the neck, a severed head, a bloody stabbing and death by hair curler. This is ’80s horror at it’s greatest; truly one of a kind.