Contrary to the experiences of Judy Moody, I’ve never known a summer that wasn’t a bummer. I don’t care how many popsicles I get. They’re hardly tasty enough to warrant the mosquitos that deliver them. I only enjoy summer when it’s trapped inside my T.V. and powerless to force me to wear shorts. Take for example the satisfying onscreen summer presented in the flirting with forgotten flick, HAPPY CAMPERS (2001), a well cast ensemble piece about a bunch of young folks who spend the hotter months as well-meaning yet generally unqualified camp counselors. If I told you how many times I watched this movie you’d rightly feel pity for me and sadder still, I’m starting to like it even more now that it’s old enough to sport a crisp bouquet of early 21st century nostalgia.
HAPPY CAMPERS was written and directed by DANIEL WATERS, who penned the cult classic HEATHERS and if you’re a fan of that one you should give this a try too. I have no idea why it wasn’t considered worthy of a theatrical release back in 2001 but those were strange times and there could be any number of reasons. WATERS smushes together a sweet s’more out of bawdy MEATBALLS behavior and schmaltzy JOHN HUGHES navel gazing (Someone even blurts out, “Don’t get BREAKFAST CLUB on me bitch!”), and while not every crude water balloon hits its mark, it has some smart performances, an authentic summer camp atmosphere and ends up being a surprisingly poignant reverie on doomed love…and it’s funny. Maybe you should just approach it as a FRIDAY THE 13th flick in which nobody dies. That doesn’t sound very appealing so let me get to work trying to squeeze some more horror out of this worthwhile non-horror movie.
DOMINIQUE SWAIN “Wendy”. Aw. A big huge chunk of my love for this movie can be contributed to SWAIN. She is adorably hilarious in this and just when you think her over-enthused “Howdy pouty! Isn’t fun great?” spouting goody two-shoes Wendy is a one-note caricature; SWAIN jazzily doodles over her previous portrait. This performance lead poor unsuspecting me in the early aughts to follow SWAIN like a drunk puppy through many a direct-to-video cinematic fiasco and even though most of those flicks have blurred together in my mind (and probably SWAIN’s too) I’m here to say, I’m all the better for it. Sadly and surprisingly DOMINIQUE has had little luck in the horror genre (both DEVOUR (2005) and DEAD MARY (2007) are aggravating duds) but I spy on the horizon that she’ll be in SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE directed by JIM (CHOPPING MALL, HARD TO DIE) WYNORSKI and co-starring TRACI LORDS! How can I not put all my hopeful eggs into that intriguing basket? However that seemingly sure-fire venture turns out DOMINIQUE and I will always have Camp Bleeding Dove.
BRAD RENFRO “Wichita”. Who better to play a reluctantly soulful oblivious heartbreaker than RENFRO who broke countless hearts when he died of a drug overdose at the age of 25 back in 2008? RENFRO was more than just a talented actor, he had a rare genuineness on screen that could make many a more celebrated star reek of artifice in comparison. What a loss. RENFRO’s largest contribution to horror was his role as Todd Bowan in the also under-seen APT PUPIL (1998), which was based on the novella of the same name from STEPHEN KING’s DIFFERENT SEASONS. As I recall RENFRO was really exceptional in that movie but I’m not going to watch it again to verify that on account of I already have enough trouble maintaining faith in humanity without Nazis aggravating the issue. By the way, did you know our pal BRAD starred in a RESIDENT EVIL 2 commercial directed by GEORGE ROMERO? That is so cool!!! Anyway, Wichita will always be my favorite RENFRO role.
EMILY BERGL “Talia”. As much I adore the aforementioned above, something tells me this movie would collapse like a pop tent without the cynical grounding spine of BERGL’s Talia. Talia’s has come to camp to connect with unrequited love, best bud Wichita only to find herself unduly subjugated to the friend zone. Her acidic self-deprecation provides much needed shady refuge to the summery goings on. Horror fans would best know EMILY from her turn as a telekinetic half-sibling to Carrie White in THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. I gotta say, whatever innumerable problems that batty sequel had BERGL wasn’t one of them. In fact, I think she was smartly cast as she rather comes across as a tart shandy made from half parts SPACEK & half parts IRVING. Like those two, she’s distinctive yet earthy and she too might have found a comfortable corner in movies back in the seventies when folks resembled humans. To be clear, I’m not one for flying deadly CD’s or inexplicable germinating CGI vine tattoos but at least THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 wasn’t the creative graveyard the recent remake was. BERGYL also appeared in the psychological thriller CHASING SLEEP (2000) and was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance in TAKEN, that excellent miniseries about alien abduction.
JAIME KING “Pixel”. Hey, HAPPY CAMPERS is KING’s film debut! Back then she went by JAMES but her real name is JAIME because she’s named after THE BIONIC WOMAN– that is true and the cutest thing I ever heard. Who knew ex-models could be so likable? JAIME plays ethereal pansexual hippy chick Pixel who has a penchant for skinny-dipping. Having more than three (the magic number) horror roles under her belt, I’d say KING is has earned official scream queen status. Beyond her troika of loose horror remakes (MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, MOTHER’S DAY, SILENT NIGHT) she was also in THE TRIPPER and did a bang up job as a concerned mom to a kid plagued by Chinese sweat shop ghosts with a grudge in the underloved Canadian shocker THEY WAIT. As if that weren’t enough she got all goth-ed out as a distressed dead lady in a coffin for a music video directed by her husband…
JUSTIN LONG “Donald”. Fresh off of his screen debut playing a nerd in GALAXY QUEST, LONG was again cast as a nerd in HAPPY CAMPERS. Don’t cry for JUSTIN though, he won’t be typecast forever, when it comes time to cast voices for ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS he miraculously gets the part of Alvin rather than Simon! LONG also has some pretty impressive horror cred. Around the same time he did the forgotten CAMPERS he starred in JEEPERS CREEPERS, which was a huge hit and has been forgotten by few. You’ll also find him playing a bewildered boyfriend in SAM RAIMI’s DRAG ME TO HELL and CHRISTINA RICCI’s suffering fiancé in the uber morbid AFTER.LIFE. I’m granting LONG extra horror gold stars for reading the audiobook of STEPHEN KING’s EVERYTHING’s EVENTUAL.
KERAM MALICKI- SANCHEZ “Jasper”. Wow, this movie has a gay character and it isn’t presented as any big whoop! I love when that happens. Not everybody is completely comfortable with Jasper’s orientation but somehow his own self-acceptance seems to nullify that issue better than any soapbox. Let’s check out SANCHEZ’s super impressive horror hit list! Like any worthwhile Canadian actor he has appeared on FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES, he also did a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and later, TRUE BLOOD. You may recall him as far back as CHERRY FALLS or a recently as TEXAS CHAINSAW 3-D where if I’m not mistaken, he got shoved on a hook and sawed in half! KERAM also directed this horror short…
JORDAN BRIDGES “Adam”. I gotta say, BRIDGES is very convincing as a lunkhead and trust me, I know lunkheads. I’m practically a lunkhead magnet. JORDAN shamefully has not fulfilled his horror film quota in any way shape or form. I’d be forced to throw him out the airlock but his life shall be spared due to the fact that his uncle JEFF has worked with JOHN CARPENTER (STARMAN) and also buried America’s sweetheart SANDRA BULLUCK alive in the remake of THE VANISHING and that has to count for something.
PETER STORMARE “Oberone”. Swedish actor STORMARE plays the camp’s director who is hit by lightening and left catatonic allowing anarchy to reign. STORMARE has not been in every movie ever made but it’s not for lack of trying. I guarantee you’ve bumped into him somewhere between FARGO and BAD MILO. For our purposes here, allow me to point out that he was a fantastic as Lucifer in CONSTANTINE. Even if you didn’t like that movie you have to admit he sorta ruled in that.
So that’s the horror of HAPPY CAMPERS. If you like eighties movies that are not eighties movies or horror movies that are not horror movies, this could be your jam. Again I’ll warn you that there is no body count but as one character appropriately notes “Who needs a serial psycho when we have ourselves?”