Whether you overdosed on trail mix and bug juice as a kid or just recently binge-watched Wet Hot American Summer on Netflix, you likely have some nostalgia towards summer camps. If we had unlimited cash (and in some cases, unlimited lives), these are the seven summer camps we’d book a bunk in.
Here at Laser Time, we love summer camp; in fact, we dedicated an entire podcast episode to the topic (listen to Summer Camp Stories)! For one thing, summer camps are just as formative an experience as school; capture the flag accomplishments are just as pride-filled as high test scores, while becoming a bunk outcast is just as traumatizing as any errant classroom fart. When it comes to fictional camps, we recently discovered that it’s something of an under-represented setting. Everyone remembers Meatballs and Friday the 13th, but try to think of other mimics besides Gorp and Sleepaway Camp. To put it in flag football terms, there’s all-star starters on the field, but no roster depth.
The upside is that the most memorable camps have remained with us for decades, and the seven that have made this list are ones we’d gladly spend a week away from our Nintendo Entertainment System to enjoy… even if the cost is our mind or mortality.
7. Camp Hope (Heavyweights)
For chubby kids in the ’90s, it was a little too easy to identify with a film like Heavyweights, as it took the usual slobs vs. snobs concept in a different direction (the leads all weigh about 80 pounds more than your standard summer camp movies). To fill out the chunky roles for all the attendees of a weight-loss camp, the producers found the funny fat kid from most ensemble comedies and brought them into one film (like Ocean’s Eleven for overweight actors). And the lot of them are overseen by an intense, self-centered fitness guru, Tony Perkis (played by Ben Stiller).
Ben Stiller basically has two acting styles: nice guy and egotistical prick. Tony is in the latter section, basically the prototype for Stiller’s villain in Dodgeball. Camp Hope looks it could be a real fun place, but Perkis spends weeks mocking and attacking the husky campers with ridiculous drills until he gets his comeuppance and is tortured while in captivity by the campers (seriously). Once Tony’s dad takes back Camp Hope, it turns into a place where the kids learn to be more active and have fun, making Camp Hope a place for rebuilding self esteem instead of tearing it down. Bonus fact: Judd Apatow co-wrote this film, making it one of the first times he worked with a cast of young, comedic actors.
Entry written by Henry Gilbert
6. Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp (Psychonauts)
There are so many levels of wonder that unfold the first time you arrive at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp while playing Psychonauts. For one thing, it’s a got-dang summer camp for psychics, so you’re immediately meeting an insane cast of uniquely designed campers; all of whom have incredible paranormal powers. Before the game really goes meta and puts Raz inside the minds of Whispering Rock’s strangest counselors and campers, there’s great fun to be had exploring the campgrounds and collecting arrowheads (even psychic camps need to fill their Native American collectible quota).
What also made Whispering Rock and Psychonauts so magical is that it was our first introduction to Double Fine. For most kids weaned on consoles rather than PC, it was the also the first dip into the mind of Tim Schafer. What has followed is a decade of hilarious adventures and experimental games. Whether it’s RPGs where trick-or-treating kids turn into superheroes, a heavy metal fantasy starring Jack Black, and a puzzle game featuring stacking dolls. For everything that’s followed, from Brutal Legend to Massive Chalice, we sometimes become a little homesick for the summer camp that kicked off Double Fine’s adventures.
5. Kamp Kikakee (Ernest Goes to Camp)
The first feature film to credit Jim Varney’s unforgettable character in its title, Ernest Goes to Camp manages a near-perfect mix in almost every way. As the janitorial lifeblood of Kamp Kikakee, Ernest certainly brings his madcap humor as he’s bitten by a turtle and runs from badgers, but it’s balanced against a story of growth where juvenile delinquent campers find an adult they can relate to in the child-like adult that is Ernest P. Worrell.
As far as the Camp… er, Kamp itself goes, you can be assured of a memorable experience when you share the wilderness with Ernest. He’ll keep the toilets cleaned and make any field trip fun with his random pratfalls and mix-em-ups, but he’s also a great leader. Ernest creates strong bonds with the local Native American community but also knows to fight back when an unscrupulous corporation attempts to overtake Kikakee. Where else can you learn the secrets of an ancient Indian tribe and fight the power in the same summer?
Where does Camp Crystal Lake and Camp Anawanna rank? Read on to the next page to find out!