Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Party Camp (1987)

Directed by Gary Graver
Starring Andrew Ross, Jewel Shepard, Peter Jason, Billy Jacoby
Rated R
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Guy falls asleep in the gutter with a burrito in his hand. Dreams about some hot chick with big hair. Wakes up to an alley cat licking his face. You'd think the cat'd be more interested in the burrito. So he looks around and finds a chewed-up brochure for a summer camp, and wouldn't you know it, the chick from his dreams is in the brochure. Suddenly, a school bus shows up. "Camp Chipmunk, here I come!" Says the dude. And here we all go. Hold on to your fuckin' balls.

Directed by prolific sex-com vet Gary Graver (Garage Girls, Coed Fever, Private Teacher, Nerds of a Feather, etc. etc) and produced by Mark Borde, the man who brought us Summer Camp, Lunch Wagon and Hollywood Hot Tubs, Party Camp seems like a can't-miss, especially with Jewel Shepard top-lining the cast. The name alone conjures up vivid teen fantasies of lakeside Bacchanalia, of underage boozing and whoring and cabins blowing up and uptight counselors getting ass-banged by grizzly bears. I mean, this is fucking PARTY CAMP, right?

Sigh. Let's just get to it.

Jerry (Andrew Ross) is the burrito guy. A slacker by trade, he's fibbed his way into a summer camp counselor gig. The camp is run by one Mrs. Beadle (the very Ruth Buzzi-esque Cherie Franklin) and silver-helmeted loudmouth Sarge (prolific asshole-authority figure character actor Peter Jason), who spend their spare time dressing in elaborate costumes and chasing each other around Beadle's cabin. There's two groups of kids: the Falcons, who look like Nazi youth, and our protagonists, the Squirrels. The squirrels are, of course, the freaks, losers, poor kids and weirdoes. You know, our people. Jerry ends up in charge of the Squirrels, and Tad (Kirk Cribb) runs the Nazi kids. They, of course, hate each other, and a series of escalating pranks ultimately ends in a do-or-die competition at film's end.

That's pretty much it. It's Meatballs with tits, although not nearly as many tits as you'd think. That's because there are only three of-age girls in the entire movie. There's Nurse Brenda (April Wayne), who is in the movie for about three minutes, Heather (Kerry Brennan) the aerobics instructor, and Dyanne (Jewel Shepard), who dates Tad and appears to be either manic-depressive or on pills.

That's the set-up. It is quickly followed by the expected camp activities montage, which is accompanied by the expected ear-battering theme song. It's by Dennis Dreith, and it goes "I'm going to party camp, gettin' loose is cool."

Best part of the movie, part one:
One of the Squirrels, Winslow (Silver Spoons' star Corky Pigeon) is a computer wiz, so he's somehow rigged up a camera to record the action in the girls' locker room. The boys watch while the female counselors towel off. There's half a dozen of them in there, which is more than we ever see in the movie, but whatever. The point is, while we all peep in, Dyanne stares into the mirror and admires her admittedly magnificent rack.
"Oh wow," she says. "Oh God. These really are amazing. I really was blessed at birth. I must have the best body in the entire town."

Jewel Shepard performs this monologue with such conviction, and with such a weird, off-kilter energy, that it transcends the entire movie. The other actresses completely disappear from the scene. It's practically Shakespearean. I'm not even kidding. Aspiring thespians should watch that shit in acting class, because it's the real thing.

Either that, or she really believes what she's saying. And who could blame her if she was?

Meanwhile, Jerry tries to convince the Squirrels that girls will dig them if they know how to play hackey-sack.
"Chicks see you doing this, they'll know you've got class," he says. "And good breeding."
I know it's not funny. That's the point. So let us fast forward to the...

Best Part of the Movie, Part Two:
While out in a nature walk, the Squirrels come across a patch of weeds that smart-alecky Corky Pigeon identifies as "Angelica Vulgaris", an herb known for it's aphrodisiac qualities. They waste no time in chopping it into a salad and feeding it to Jewel while they sit around the campfire. She fellates a marshmallow and then convinces her young charges to play a round of strip poker. Strangely enough, she loses every hand. And there she is, just standing there, tits-out, in the night air. It's pretty intense. Suddenly, a dude in a hockey mask emerges out the bushes. The chivalrous little brats take off running, leaving Jewel standing there in nothing but panties while hockey mask dude hovers over her. She yelps and bails into the darkness.
The menacing intruder lifts up his mask.
"Anybody seen my puck?" He asks.
Ok, so that's a really long way to go for a dumb gag, but the teenage me practically passed out during Jewel's big reveal. The adult me just felt bad for the actress, but I'm sure she's over it by now. At any rate, that scene is one for the fuckin' books, Jack. One for this book, anyway.

So concludes the boner-popping portion of Party Camp. Unfortunately, we still have an hour's worth of lame 'comedy' to slog through. So let's get it over with. Emboldened by their locker-room surveillance gag, The Squrrels bug (ahem) Mrs. Beadle's cabin while she's having a role-playing session with the Sarge (he's dressed like a fly, she's chasing him with a swatter) and play the tape over the loudspeakers the next morning. Beadle nearly has a heart attack over it. In retaliation, she has Tad and Dyanne confiscate Winslow's computer. Of course you realize, this means war.

Jerry and the Squirrels cook up a revenge scheme. Tad ends up in a pit, Silence of the Lambs style. Dyanne gets caught up in a net and hung from a tree. "Are you guys Iranians?" She asks. "Are you Libyans?"
They both get tossed into black bags, dragged through the mud, and left in a pigsty. For a second there, it looks like this movie is going to go into another direction entirely. If Party Camp was made today, surely, this pigsty business would quickly devolve into torture porn.
Tad finally frees them from their bags. Dyann thinks it was all Tad's idea.
"Is this your idea of a date, Mr. Kinkmeister?"
One of the pigs tells her it was the Squirrels. Seriously, the pig talks.
"It's ok," she says. "I kinda liked it."
I feel as though Jewel Shepard may have been having a nervous breakdown at this point. She definitely looks like she could use some Valium.

Some other things happen. They are not important. There's another locker room scene, at least. Eventually Party Camp ends, as summer camp movies must, with a competition that pits the scrappy underdogs against the overconfident overachievers.

I feel the need to point out the obvious here. The film is called Party Camp, and yet, there are no parties in this film, except for a limp dance at the end. And Jewel Shepard, the sole reason why anybody would ever want to watch this film, is mostly just abused. She's either being dragged through pig-shit or forced to undress in front of underage boys.
She even gets shoved out of the way by the other pretty girl - because there are only two, in this 'party' camp - when Tad finally stumbles at the last leg of the race, as we knew he would.

There are brief flashes of goodness in the muck. Dean Miller, who plays Cody, the camp's druggy bus driver, pops up every so often dressed like a teenage dirtbag Hunter Thompson, chomping on his cigarette holder and swilling fruity drinks. He has nothing to do, really, but makes the most of it anyway. Billy Jacoby's portrayal of the earnest, good-natured, poor-kid DA has a lot more gravity than the role really requires. The whole cast, in fact, takes the whole hopeless mess a lot more seriously than you'd expect. But Party Camp is hobbled by a lame script that refuses to get crazy. Its as if they wanted to please twelve year olds and horny teens alike, and ended up leaving them both wanting. Certainly, Gary Graver knew sleaze - there are ass-fucking movies in his resume, after all - but Party Camp is never really sleazy, and it should be. Creepy here and there, but never sleazy.

The fault may not lie with Graver's direction, but with studio tampering and...well, with decency laws. According to an absurdly detailed report on the internet's leading cinematic suckhole, IMDB, there are over twenty-five minutes of deleted scenes languishing in vaults out there, and most of them involve sex. If this obsessive report is to be believed, we are missing out on several Tad-on-Dyanne fuck scenes, a Dyanne shower-masturbation scene, and half a dozen sex scenes involving Nurse Brenda, including one wherein she sports a cheerleader outfit. There is one strange moment at the film's end where she's dressed in tight black leather and whipping young Mr. Jacoby; apparently, a whole sex scene was shot, but when the producers realized that the actor was only 17 at the time of shooting, they destroyed the footage. It is entirely possible that if the offending scenes were left in, and the forty-five or so minutes of tedious camper hijinks were excised, we would have the Greatest Camp Movie Ever. But we'll never know, will we? As it stands, we have a so-so T&A comedy with a mere wisp of T, no A to speak of, and a very broad definition of 'comedy'.

Party Camp
remains a minor cult hit, mostly for the strip poker scene, but honestly, there are much sexier, and funnier, camps to party in. Like Crystal Lake. That place is nuts.

Availability: Party Camp is available on VHS.
Buy Party Camp at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre

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