I should preface this by stating that I was traumatized by Girl Scout camp long before I saw any of these films. I was an awkwardly shy kid away from home for the first time in the middle of nowhere with only one friend. The food sucked, the lake was icky (reminded me of “The Raft” segment from Creepshow 2 ), and I swear I pulled latrine duty every time. Frankly, I might take a night at Camp Bloodbath before I would go back to Girl Scout camp. By no means do I shudder from the great outdoors, but let’s just say I would take my chances in an urban jungle long before I would canoe down the Cahulawassee River looking to play Dueling Banjos with the locals. From a horror film stand point, I just feel as if things work out better for folks in the city than in the woods. Whether it is a vacation getaway in the woods, a week at summer camp, or some time to hone your cheerleading skills, these films offer little respite for the weary. As we embark on the summer of 2016, maybe some of these films will help you decide whether you would rather camp along the Appalachian Trail or book a room at the Hyatt this year.
1. I don’t hate bears, but I don’t want to sleep near them—unless it’s a Care Bear, preferably Grumpy Bear. Both Grizzly (1976) and Backcountry (2014) feature bears that are definitely not the type to snack gleefully at the bird feeder in the Poconos. When bears move into the realm of attacking helicopters and requiring bazookas to subdue them, I have to bow out gracefully.
2. Canoeing apparently leads you to the gates of hell. Okay, we all know how the canoe ride ends up in Deliverance (1972) but let’s not forget that Jennifer is innocently floating in her canoe when she is stalked by Stanley and Andy in I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Just when she thought it was safe to go back in the water, Alice Hardy gets picked off by her nemesis in Friday the 13th (1980), the protagonists in Backcountry entered their own personal hell via canoe (take notes, guys, on how NOT to propose to your fiancé), and Angela’s whole life would have been different had her father never taken her out on that boat in Sleepaway Camp (1983).
3. I just don’t like not knowing what is under the water. The shot in Jaws (1975) where you can see the girl’s feet dangling from the shark’s perspective is my own personal nightmare. I already mentioned how my Girl Scout camp lake reminded me of the horrors in Creepshow 2 (1987), but let’s not forget the obvious with Piranha (1978). As if a swimming marathon and swarms of small children aren’t enough to kill you, any time there are bodies of water with names like Lost River Lake my inner Darwinian neurons start firing off. Although, who would have thought industrial waste would finally be the solution to something, we must keep that in mind. It should be noted that it’s not just the swimming hole that holds horrors unknown, but also the drinking water. Life lessons from Cabin Fever (2002) include: don’t drink the lemonade and never buy things from seemingly innocent little girls (okay that last one is just a personal preference).
4. The woods are not the place to work out your family issues. One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t Look Back You’re Not Going That Way” (thanks to a sign in The Christmas Tree Shops), and I feel it holds true in terms of following your past into one of the most inherently creepy places possible: the woods. It’s obvious that Jason Voorhees just can’t move forward—and it might just have something to do with the altar bearing his mother’s head. Alison might not have been subjected to the horror of Cheerleader Camp (1988) if she had just accepted love from other places and dealt with the fact that her parents rejected her. Similarly, Max never would have ended up at Camp Bloodbath were she not trying to work out her family demons. Although the film skillfully incorporated the song “Betty Davis Eyes” (to my delight), Max’s having to deal with her issues in the woods killed her mother and brought her face to face with the machete wielding Billy. (Shout out to Angela Trimbur as Tina in The Final Girls, you had me roaring!) Lastly, and most importantly “Angela” ineffectively tries to work out her inability to cope with her father’s homosexuality, the traumatic death of her sibling, and her crazy aunt’s insistence that daughters are better than sons in Sleepaway Camp (1983).
5. Cabins just don’t provide adequate provision. I’m no prima donna but I do prefer some of those creature comforts in life, and I don’t mean creepy girls crawling up through the floor boards. The Evil Dead (1981) confirms that listening to tapes and reading books are not healthy outlets while camping. If only the cabin had Dance, Dance, Revolution things could have turned out differently. Cabin Fever (2002) reminded me that even if your cabin has a strong infrastructure, you can’t keep all the icky, yuckies out.
6. You have no control over your environment. Rain, heat, and flooding are one thing, but being manipulated by some sadistic psychopaths is another. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) only confirms for me that academics really do like to torture students (and they steal all the beauty from the world as evidenced by their unicorn hoarding).
7. I’m a college kid and we just don’t fare well in the woods. As a pseudo academic, I have to rely on the facts. You don’t have to take my word for it, review the films and see that American college kids aren’t as smart as we think we are: The Cabin in the Woods (2012), Cabin Fever (2002), The Evil Dead (1981) are among those horror films that prove this point. Hell, after this I am afraid to even take my chances in an Escape Room with classically trained “smart” people.
8. Sex is terrible in the woods. There are more horrors in the woods than unplanned pregnancy and poison ivy in your unmentionables. If those rascally counselors were just paying attention and doing their jobs, they could have changed the fate of so many camping coeds, not to mention of Jason Voorhees. While the characters in The Final Girls (2015) are smart enough to keep it under wraps (literally), the kids at Cheerleader Camp (1988) just keep on getting knocked off getting their rocks off. In The Burning (1981) Glazer survives the trauma of premature ejaculation only to suffer a worse fate involving a pair of gardening shears to the neck.
9. The drive home is never as relaxing as the ride there. Maybe it’s just the thought of returning to work, or maybe it’s the fact that the car never starts when you are trying to flee a threat in a horror film, or someone blows up your escape route. Cheerleader Camp (1988), The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and The Final Girls (2015) offer up examples of why Dorothy had it easy just clicking her heels and saying “There’s no place like home.” It’s never the allure and serenity of the woods that keeps people from going home, but rather the arm of Madman Marz grabbing the driver by the face and causing them to crash further in to the woods (Madman, 1982).
10. Let’s be honest, the people in the woods are just down right creepy. Whether it is people who inhabit the woods or just the jerks that go to camp, horror films reinforce my apprehension of wooded wonderlands. To be politically correct we have the “Appalachian Americans” in Wrong Turn (2003) and the board opportunists with a mask fetish in The Strangers (2008) coupled with the sadistic spawn who go to summer camps. Kids these days think they have it bad, but The Final Girls (2015) replicates the horrible tricks from The Burning (1981) that kids played which proves 80s kids can be tougher and more resilient than the pansy cyber bullies of today.[i]
Alright folks, I hope you have enjoyed the ride. As someone who has stayed in Litchfield County, CT, after I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and knows first-hand that there still is horrible cell phone reception, I will stick to hotels for my accommodations and make sure there is civilization within walking / screaming distance when I stay in the woods. And I’m certainly not riding a canoe anywhere with any college friends, sorry Elizabeth and Dawn it’s for your own good.
[i] This bullying is also copied in the film Twisted Nightmare (1987).