Is there a more perfect popcorn-munching, roller coaster-riding, horror date movie than the camp slasher? Made famous in the 1980s by box office hits like Friday the 13th, camp slashers were so prevalent they nearly became their own genre.
Now that spring is here and the weather is getting warmer, it’s time to dust off those old DVD’s and clam shell VHS tapes. Today I bring you six of my favorite camp slashers, perfect after a night of grilling hot dogs and roasting marshmallows.
What is it about camp slashers that make them so darn fun?
First, camp slasher movies keep the plot simple rather than convoluted. A psychopath/monster/evil entity is stalking a bunch of teens or twenty-somethings, typically played by actors and actresses who are actually thirty-somethings and forty-somethings.
Secondly, the setting is in the middle of the deep, dark woods, many times bordered by a beautiful lake. So many wonderful places for the killer to hide, biding his time.
Thirdly, summer camp brings back all those coming of age, adventuresome memories of getting away from Mom and Dad, learning how to survive in the wild. Well, more like running relay races and going on nature hikes. What better setting for a horror movie than the formative summer camp?
So get the popcorn popping and put those marshmallows over the fire. It’s about to get bloody.
Sleepaway Camp is one of the seediest camp slashers of the 1980s. The movie follows the bashful Angela Baker, who is sent away to summer camp. The counselors in this movie are some truly horrible people. Fights break out, and the counselors sit back and enjoy the mayhem. I can’t watch this movie without using the word “pedophile” to describe the intentions of some of the counselors.
Surprise, surprise: people start dropping like flies at Sleepaway Camp, and it soon becomes obvious that a killer is on the loose. The reveal at the end is so disturbing…well, I just don’t want to talk about it.
Going purely by release dates, The Burning was the very first camp slasher. Interestingly, the movie is based on the northeastern urban legend of the Cropsey Killer, a real-life lunatic who was believed to be a serial killer. At the same time The Burning was made, so too was Madman, also based on the Crospey Killer urban legend.
In The Burning, a camp caretaker is burned in a prank gone horribly wrong. The caretaker returns to camp for his revenge. A very gory film, The Burning is infamous for its ultra-violent canoe scene. Once you see it, you’ll never get it out of your head.
Fun personal note about The Burning. A co-worker of mine was one of the kids in the lunch scene, which featured Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) when he still had hair.
The Friday the 13th movies generally degraded with each sequel, but Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part 6 is my third favorite in the series.
Tommy Jarvis, after hacking Jason Vorhees into pieces in Part 4, returns several years older. Believing Vorhees is not truly dead, he opens Jason’s grave to, well, kill him some more. Suddenly a bolt of lightning strikes, and Jason is revived. As you might guess, Jason heads straight for the summer camp after his revival.
Okay. The premise is ridiculous, but once you get past the premise, the movie gets pretty fun with a few good chills.
The “other” Cropsey Killer movie, Madman is the story of Madman Marz, a deranged farmer who killed his family in their sleep before the town tracked him down and hung him from a tree. Shockingly, Marz’s body disappeared after the hanging, leaving many to believe he was still alive, stalking the woods.
Enter a group of campers and their counselors in the final days before camp closes for autumn. Something is killing them one by one, and it has an ax.
Some might think the premise is too simple, the story too predictable. But I love Madman. The movie is creatively shot, Madman Marz is a frightening monster, and the kill scenes are suspenseful. I actually prefer Madman to The Burning.
The original camp slasher masterpiece. Technically, The Burning was released first, but Friday the 13th was the movie that defined the camp slasher genre. No hockey mask in this one, and if you never saw the original, you might be surprised to see who the killer is.
The Friday the 13th series is known for having its share of fun and laughs, but the original is probably the most brooding of the bunch. At times legitimately frightening and always a great roller coaster ride, Friday the 13th is an absolute classic.
It is rare for a sequel to live up to the original, let alone exceed your expectations. Friday the 13th Part 2 might be the best movie of the series, providing a perfect combination of teen hijinks, sex, comedy, and sheer terror. The jump scares in the sequel are out of this world.
Still no hockey mask, but Jason is on the loose with vengeance on his mind. Personally, I’m a big fan of the grain sack-wearing Jason. I think you will be, too. Friday the 13th Part 2 stars Amy Steel, who I feel is one of the best “final girl” heroines in the history of slasher movies.
I could easily expand this list to include slasher movies with camping involved, and if I did so, I would add the fantastic Just Before Dawn and The Final Terror. But for now, let’s stick to those gory summer camp memories.
What are your favorite summer camp slasher movies from the 1980s?