Some of the most defining moments of my life took place at summer camp. I attended as a camper three times, once at 6 (far too young, not a great experience) and again at ages 11 and 12. For the last two times, it was a church camp, cabins, a lake, everything you would visualize if thinking of camp. I think what I remember most was the relationship I formed with a female counsellor. I was 11, she was 17. I think this was the first time I was in love, puppy love of course, but the feelings were strong and the feelings were real. She could see I was struggling fitting in and took me aside for long walks and long talks. She began a story with me on my first day that continued all week, with the last chapter happening as I was ran to my parents car to go home. I wrote her after, but never heard anything back.
When I was in grade 11, a good friend and I applied, and were accepted as counsellors at a different camp than the one I attended. Although I attempted to bring things full circle, trying to be there for kids who were not fitting in, but the memories with the most impact had nothing to do with the kids who attended. What I remember most is the time with the other counsellors, the week of training and the two or three days between each new week of camp. It was during those times that I experienced the biggest jolt to my sexual awakening. I lived rather rurally, and most of the other male counsellors were from the city. All but 3 had been at the camp before. They were all comfortable around each other which made it both easy and difficult to be with them. They welcomed me in fully, yet because they were so tight, I felt like an outsider at the beginning of the summer.
These guys, all between 17 and 21 had no issues with being naked, in fact when there were no campers, most swam, canoed and laid out in the sun nude. There were female counsellors as well, but there was a division. Although some of the female counsellors sunbathed nude as well, they did it privately, more discretely in a field or isolated place. While swimming, the girls wore suits, but most of the guys were naked, most didn't seem to care. As the summer went on, the more comfortable I became, with myself and my body. This summer was also the first time I was around openly gay people. It was not a guy, but a female art counsellor, out and happy. By the middle of summer she and one of the lifeguards were in love and spent most of the time holding hands and laying around intertwined. What I was most surprised by was how no one cared. No one judged, no one made jokes, there was just pure and beautiful acceptance. I longed to return the next summer, but had to find a higher paying job with college on the horizon. I look back on that summer as a pivotal time in my growing up and basis for my commitment to not caring nor judging what makes other happy.
Camp routines are generally pretty much the same. Early wake up by a blaring trumpet, morning vespers, dining hall, clean-up and showers, arts & crafts, dining hall, swimming and games, dining hall, clean-up, evening vespers and campfire.
There is something primal, even in 2015, about starting a fire and gathering around it. Although we do it for pleasure, we are not that many generations away from those who did it out of necessity. I still have days the songs from around those fires spin around in my head, especially the song sung in the round. One of my favorite parts of the campfire was the end. Walking back to the cabin, dozens of people, now one from the experiences round the fire.
This piece didn't exactly start out as a summer camp themed post. I caught the 1986 John Lithgow film The Manhattan Project a few weeks ago on the movie channel and took notice of adorable actor Christopher Collet. Collet and Cynthia Nixon play the high school kids who get caught up with scientist Lithgow after Collet's character Paul steals plutonium to make an Adam Bomb for a national science fair.
Collet's career spanned most of the 80's and 90's on both film and television. Collet has the distinction of romancing 2 of the 4 Sex And The City ladies, Nixon in MP and Sarah Jessica Parker in 1994's First Born. In checking out Collet's resume, one of the movies that grabbed me was actually his first film, 1983's Sleepaway Camp. I had no idea what I was getting into...
Collet with Sarah Jessica Parker in First Born (1984)
Writer and director Robert Hiltzik's film is crazy. On one hand it is a bit Friday The 13th, but it is so campy, it is almost more a comedy than a horror flick, not that it isn't frightening... The ending has to be one of the creepiest, and by today's standards, offensive reveals of a killer I have seen on film. I won't spoil it for you, but if you really want to know, just image search Sleepaway Camp 1983, and you will see what I mean.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
I can't say the film wasn't original. The ending was wild and most of the campers and counsellors wore their 80's short shorts. It was also fun hearing the voice of James Earl Jones, but then realizing that voice was actually coming from his father, actor Robert Earl Jones who has a small part in the flick.
I didn't include any caps of Collet from the film in this piece. Although Sleepaway Camp marks the actors only nude scene, and although it was just a rear shot in a prank scene with some of the campers, Collet was only 15 at the time of filming. Oh the 80's! There was however, an older set of campers, who had a late night skinny dipping scene worthy of a few caps. I uploaded the scene on my YouTube page HERE:
I really enjoyed this film, crazy ending and all. It was a twisted fun ride, that although offensive in many ways, can be excused given it was the early 80's. I had no idea what was coming, so was really surprised (and a wee bit revolted) by the twist ending. I guess that is really the point of a good summer camper horror flick.
I was a little young to catch it in the theatre, but I remember being about 12 or 13 when I first caught a viewing of Little Darlings on TV, I soon after bought a used VHS copy for myself. Matt Dillon's tighty whitey scene, (his first, but not last) warranted repeated viewings.
Dillon on the set of Little Darlings
No matter how many camp movies I have seen since, I think Dillon's Randy still hold the crown as the Ultimate Camp Stud. With that long wavy dark hair, that adorable accent and of course that smile. Who wouldn't have wanted to join him in the boat house? Well... except maybe Kristy McNichol...
A couple of consistency production shots to make sure those tight jeans and undies were just right every time.