Film #117: The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964)

film 117 the monster of camp sunshine

Rating: 1.5/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

“The motion picture that follows is a fable. In it there are many nudists but only one monster. In life, it is generally the other way around.”

The strange, Gilliam-esque opening credits may hint at the oddity that is The Monster of Camp Sunshine, but even they can’t really prepare you for what’s to come. It’s a nudie cutie with a horror twist and, in our collection, comes as part of a double feature released by Something Weird Video – if there are any other versions of it available, avoid them. Something Weird have created an entire drive-in movie experience, complete with retro adverts for hotdogs, beer, and Vespas, with the added bonus of a whole selection of nudie trailers and short movies (including a particularly entertaining one featuring a large woman and a rather scathing voice-over narrator). The first film in the double feature, The Beast that Killed Women, is reasonably amusing for its badness; The Monster of Camp Sunshine matches that badness with complete and utter deliriousness.

Shot as a silent film with shoddy dubbing in post-production and a ponderous, haphazard voice-over narrator, The Monster of Camp Sunshine has not aged well. It’s delightfully quaint and retro now, of course, but chances are that even when it was first released it looked dated – the swinging 60s fashion is spot-on, and New York looks pretty hip, but the film’s frequent use of intertitles, its uninspiring special effects, and monochrome cinematography make it more like a 40s exploitation movie than a mid-60s nudie flick. The intertitles in particular are a strange addition – the film begins with them, harking back to a far earlier type of cinema, although they are increasingly revealed to be rather tongue-in-cheek. In truth, much of the film is silent – once the leading ladies and their small party leave the Big Apple and arrive at Camp Sunshine upstate, the voice-over is abandoned, the intertitles take precedence, and dialogue is virtually non-existent.

The film opens in New York, in the cluttered apartment of Claire (Deborah Spray) and Marta (Sally Parfait), two young nudists with what is easily the coolest hanging ashtray in existence. Claire narrates the first half of the movie, filling the narrative with flashbacks and events that she couldn’t possibly know about. She’s a fashion model, while Marta works as a nurse in a hospital that appears to have no patients but lots of animal testing. While Claire models topless swimsuits on top of a New York skyscraper (the Empire State Building looming in the background – it’s a dizzying photoshoot, beautifully captured on film), Marta accidentally pours toxic liquid onto some of the lab mice, turning them into vicious monsters who attack her so violently that she ends up precariously hanging out the window, about to plummet to her death. Fortunately, a kindly doctor happens by, and this proactive man quickly disposes of the deadly liquid – by casually chucking it into the Hudson. In a series of highly unlikely events relying entirely on coincidence, the jar ends up contaminating the stream running through nudist retreat Camp Sunshine, transforming the owner’s simpleton brother Hugo into a rabid monster (his dodgy black wig and tissue-paper boils would be the envy of Tor Johnson’s Joseph Javorsky).

As nudie cuties go, The Monster of Camp Sunshine is surprisingly focused on narrative. The film itself is slow – despite the opening intertitles claiming there are many nudists, there really aren’t, and they only feature for a few scenes. That being said, they are proper nudists – whereas films like Nude on the Moon and Orgy of the Dead make sure that their naked beauties resolutely keep their knickers on, here both men and women are fully nude, although modesty is preserved through an assortment of carefully positioned hats, towels, books and musical instruments, while men in particular seem to be constantly walking away from camera. (On a side note, the men’s tan lines are so vividly pronounced that it frequently looks like they’re wearing white shorts.)

Claire’s voice-over disappears once the party – now including Claire’s photographer boss and an inexperienced office assistant who hopes to lose her inhibitions through nudism – leave New York, and after some long, slow scenes in which not much happens, everything kicks off. After fifty minutes or so of fairly generic, mildly entertaining badness, the Hugo-monster escapes his shed-prison and all hell breaks loose, with a quite literal explosion of stock footage. Marta, somehow instantly arriving at the highly improbable yet correct conclusion that the chemicals from the hospital are the cause of Hugo’s new insanity, calls her doctor friend, who races off to the nearest airfield, boards a plane and parachutes into the camp holding a syringe. He may be the “forces of mercy” but somehow the “forces of violence” have also been contacted and, sure enough, soon they also arrive, complete with vast armies. The cavalry arrive. Cannons are let off. There’s a beach invasion! Soldiers from what appears to be the War of Independence drop by, while others peer through the viewfinder of giant missiles. It becomes dark, but Marta, who Hugo ruthlessly attacked with an axe, is still lying in the middle of the field rolling around. The doctor continues making silent pleas from the top of the van, where he expertly landed. More soldiers! Bombs go off, Claire’s boss shoots Hugo with a small pistol, before lobbing a whole load of dynamite (!!) at him. In the midst of the chaos, the small group of naked ladies run amok. It’s deranged, completely unexpected, and quite possibly the most insane, exaggerated, and utterly ludicrous conclusion to a film I’ve ever seen. Nothing quite prepared me for the barrage of lunacy. Badfilm fans will find plenty to love about The Monster of Camp Sunshine, but it’s these five minutes of utter surrealism that really make it.

Film #51: Orgy of the Dead (1965)

film 51 orgy of the dead

Rating: 1.5/5

“Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!”

In the 1950s and 60s, there were a string of “nudie cuties” – films in which the primary aim was to show a bevy of topless females, purely for titillation. Unlike hardcore, it’s difficult to imagine anyone finding these offensive – they’re often very innocent in their style and content (hence the “cutie” description). Orgy of the Dead isn’t quite a nudie cutie, primarily because it’s not really that cute; directed by A C Stephens (a pseudonym for Stephen C Apostolof, who went on to produce and direct a number of erotic movies), this has gained some notoriety due to its screenwriter, none other than Ed Wood. It’s not surprising, then, that Orgy of the Dead adopts a horror-inspired plot, and one that, despite the ridiculous premise, appears to include vaguely biographical details. This plot, however, is merely filler; the majority of the movie consists of a series of topless dances – dances that, despite those performing them being professional strippers, lack any sense of rhythm or eroticism. It’s a desperately dull, obviously low-budget, tacky film, but the filler-plot just about manages to make it entertaining.

Echoing other Wood-directed movies, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls, Orgy of the Dead opens with Criswell rising from his coffin, spouting gibberish (and even repeating lines of narration from Night of the Ghouls) to introduce the film. He was fifty-eight at the time of filming, and he cuts a rather lecherous figure. It’s worth noting that this is the only film I can think of in which we see Criswell in colour, but it does him no favours. He plays The Emperor – a kind of master of the dead who, along with his sidekick The Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver, clearly ripping off Vampira’s image), forces dead females to dance for his enjoyment. Their dances relate somehow to how they died – so, during the course of the movie, among others we get to see: a girl dance with the skeleton of her murdered husband; a girl who dances like a Native American because she through herself into fire after the death of her lover; a girl who loves gold having coins thrown over her; a streetwalker dancing to a smooth jazz accompaniment; a zombie; and a girl wearing a baggy onsie-style catsuit (complete with ears and tail), with breasts and buttocks exposed. Yes, I must concede that the themes of the dances are somewhat vague and abstract, but the cat girl in particular is a sight to behold.

While Criswell and Fawn Silver leer over these uncoordinated females, our heroes are introduced. Bob (William Bates) is an aspiring author (of course), who would prefer not to write about daisies, dogs and trees (?!) but about horror (naturally). Thus, he drags along his petulant girlfriend Shirley (there are many Shirleys in Wood’s writing, and his transvestite alter-ego also took that name; here Shirley is played by an utterly personality-free Pat Barrington, who also plays the Gold Girl, resulting in a strange situation where Shirley at one point ogles herself) to a graveyard for inspiration, where they stumble upon Criswell’s debauchery. Captured by a Wolfman and a Mummy (the former screams rather than howls; the latter discusses Cleopatra and his hatred of snakes), the comedy sidekicks of the movie, they are tied up and forced to watch, so that they may gain some kind of education, apparently.

Orgy of the Dead is a mess, and the discontinuity is even more obvious because of the colour. As Shirley and Bob drive to the graveyard, the shots alternate between broad daylight and pitch black night. The graveyard is obviously a set, made even more artificial and tacky by the constant overuse of a smoke machine. The dancers are the most ungainly group, and there is nothing about their routines that offer any hint of professionalism; if you’re looking for spectacle, you won’t find it here – although, that being said, one girl displays the most bizarre breast-waggling style I have ever witnessed. It’s less showgirl, more flapping lunatic. Meanwhile, Criswell remains slumped in a corner. Part creepy old man, part deluded ignoramus, it frequently appears that he has lost all sense of what is happening around him. As a result, it’s not only an uncomfortable performance because of his obvious age in contrast to the topless girls he’s ogling, but because he seems to be lacking some of his faculties.

Badfilm fans will, however, be rewarded for their patience. While the routines themselves are a true test of endurance (even cutaways to the girls’ audience show them looking bored and, at times, disgusted), the dialogue in between is wonderfully Woodian (and Wooden) – Shirley and Bob have a “massive” fight that consists of her flatly telling him, “I hate you”. Bob’s attempt at escape is the most incompetent and pointless display of masculinity (he manages about one step before being knocked unconscious). Fawn Silver spends the majority of the movie warning Criswell about the approaching sun, but when he grants her time for her own “pleasures”, she spends an inordinate amount of time writhing around and licking a knife. By the time the night eventually comes to an end, everyone emerges an idiot; perhaps even the viewer, for actually sitting through the whole thing.