I thought there was no such thing as an 80s teen sex comedy I couldn’t enjoy. Even at [what I thought was] their worst, their energy, gratuity and downright stupidity kept me entertained. This was yesterday. Before I watched Party Camp. Fuck.
USA, 1987, Gary Graver
Now, here’s what I really don’t understand about Party Camp. This is directed by the late Gary Graver. Graver has 142 titles to his name as cinematographer and director, but he’s probably best known for his work with Orson Welles, most notably on the fantastic F for Fake (1973). I’m not saying because Graver — a colleague of arguably the greatest American filmmaker of all time — is in the director’s seat that I expected Party Camp to be good. I mean, he also has films with titles like Flesh and Boner (1993) to his name. But, outside of his work with Welles, Graver was an adult filmmaker, so why is Party Camp so damned tame?
Yes, there’s some nudity in a scene that shamelessly apes the pervy video voyeur scene in Revenge of the Nerds. Yes, there’s an incredibly obnoxious scene where characters, in classic politically incorrect 80s style, drug a girl to lull her into a horny game of strip poker. But other than characters occasionally flashing boobs, Party Camp lacks the ridiculous drooling, googly-eyed adolescent goofiness about sex that a teen comedy of this era demands.
That’s not to say it skimps on sex, but the sex here is really fucking weird with a kind of specific middle-age perversity to it. We get a role-playing couple who enjoy dressing up as a fly and exterminator to get their sexual kicks. There’s also an sadist leather-clad nurse whipping bemused ex-child actor Billy Jayne. To be fair, these were the only parts of the film I actually enjoyed if only for their insanity. But while I appreciate their inappropriate inclusion, there’s a genuine slimy perviness in these scenes that makes them feel like they were torn from a Michael and Roberta Findlay joint rather than an 80s teen romp.
You may have noticed I’m ignoring the plot. That’s because there basically is none. I know 80s teen sex comedies are not known for their complex narratives, but there is so little connection between scenes here it may as well be a sketch film. There is no conflict. No difficult to achieve end goal. Our hero, Jerry Riviera (Andrew Ross), is a horny guy who goes on camp with the mission to meet the girl of his dreams (Kerry Wall). He does. And very little stands in the way of their romance. He has no competition. She likes him straight away. The only time she doesn’t like him is when he pulls the classic pretend-to-drown-then-steal-a-kiss-when-getting-mouth-to-mouth routine. And fair enough. That’s sexual assault. She pulls a pretty great face during this scene.
We’re constantly introduced to possible avenues of conflict, but then we’re steered in another direction. We meet the inventively named Sarge (played by the great Peter Jason of John Carpenter movie fame). Sarge is the mean and militaristic head of the camp. So he’s going to be our villain, right? Jerry’s going to stand up to him and make a stand against his fascist dictatorship, yeah? No, not really. Sarge remains mostly in the background. There’s a recurring gag where he drags a kid out of the office by his ear, and that’s about it. Then there’s Tad (Kirk Cribb), the jock. Ah okay! So he’s our villain? Sort of. I guess. But most of the time he just pulls outrageous faces. Even better than Kerry Wall’s face above. My favourite face he makes is when he mistakenly thinks his girlfriend (Jewel Shepard) is blowing another guy. Haha! She wasn’t, Tad! It was just a silly misunderstanding based on the awkward position you were watching the action from! Haha!
Yes, I’m complaining about a lack of plot and conflict in a silly sexy comedy, which is a deeply stupid thing to do. And none of that shit would matter if Party Camp was actually entertaining. Spring Break (1983) is a teen comedy with almost nothing resembling a story, but our characters go on some sort of journey and there’s fun along the way. There are moments in Party Camp that could be construed as fun. The main guy tilts down his sunglasses at least once, which is always great.
Most of the ingredients for a fun time are here. There’s montages, silly 80s tunes, and the requisite jocks versus (the sort of) nerds showdown at the end. But it’s so lifelessly shot and edited that it sucks all potential joy out of every fucking frame. Conversations, characters moving place to place, sight gags — everything takes three times longer than it should. Shots linger on bad jokes and outdated references (like outdated for ’87). Scenes go on forever, or are cut back to multiple times. Peter Jason fighting a balloon should be funny, but it’s not when it feels like it will never end.
I did not expect a film called Party Camp to be boring. I think that’s why this left me so angry. It’s also completely shaken my world view regarding 80s teen sex comedies, which is sad and something I never thought possible. Even Jewel Shepard and bug sex failed to save this. My favourite moment of this film is when I realised I’d misread the running time and it was finishing a blissful ten minutes earlier than I’d thought. I really hate being so super negative. Reading reviews online, it seems that this film does have its fans. I am not one of them. This was the most excruciating film I’ve sat through in a while. Fuck you, Party Camp.
Party Camp is unavailable on DVD, as far as I know. VHS is the only way for you to proudly display this stinker on your shelf.