Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
      ( 6/14/2006 03:12:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"MANY NUDISTS BUT ONLY ONE MONSTER" – When it comes to outdoor living, I'm not even one for going around barefoot, so I've never quite caught the full allure of the nudist lifestyle. It's given us some memorable movie moments over the years, though: Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau shielding himself with a guitar in A Shot in the Dark, Barry Mahon's guy-in-a-gorilla-suit ineptly threatening a batch of non-acting nude cuties in The Beast That Killed Women and "Ron Cheney Jr." stumbling around the country with an axe in 1964's The Monster of Camp Sunshine (conveniently packaged in a Something Weird DVD alongside Barry Mahon’s Beast as a "Monster Nudist Drive-In Double Feature.") Watched Camp Sunshine over the weekend (yup, that's what happens when my loving wife leaves me alone to fend for myself), and, now that I think about it, I'm starting to wonder if my largely positive response to X-3 isn't reflective of the fact that I watched both flicks within twenty-four hours of each other. Next to Sunshine, even The Wild World of Batwoman looks good.

The black-&-white Sunshine concerns itself with two New York City gals, Marta and Claire, who are practicing nudists. Marta, the blond, is a "nurse and research assistant" who works in a hospital lab where cute-looking lab rats are fed experimental serums; her brunette roomie is a clothes model who's shown modeling a topless swimsuit with the Empire State Building looming picturesquely in the background. It's Claire who sometimes narrates the "story," though occasionally writer/director Ferenc Leroget inserts silent movie titles into the film to move the story along – and perhaps fool viewers into thinking that they're watching an intentional camp exercise. (I've been unable to find any additional credits for "Leroget," though perhaps he's producer Gene Kearney – who later went on write for The Night Gallery and Kojak and also has a screenwriting credit on Night of the Lepus.) The movie opens with a professional-looking montage of early sixties NYC (quite possibly, the most smoothly directed part of the movie), followed by extended shots of our two heroines getting dressed for work (lotsa dressing/undressing moments in this movie, usually accomplished with a lit cigarette in hand), as Claire warns us of the horrors ahead. "In New York, just getting up is an adventure," she explains. But the adventure we're about to see "came as close to costing us our lives as a hound does to a treed coon." Thankfully, Leroget quickly eases up on the clunky metaphors in favor of the mildly titillating skin shots.

When nurse Marta is attacked by a handful of experimental rats ("Their killer instincts unleashed!" a title card sez) and somehow forced to hang for her life from a window ledge, the duo decides to high tail it to upstate New York and Camp Sunshine. Of course, we get several dialog-free sequences showing the nudists in their natural habitat: stretched out on blankets with their asses to the sun, playing nekkid croquet in long shot, frolicking in the camp's stream with parasols in their hands and their backs to the camera. But all is not care free in the idyllic nudist camp: Hugo, the camp's developmentally delayed gardener has accidentally ingested some of the same serum that drove the lab rats bonkers.

This monster origin is worth examining a bit more closely since it's so amazingly orchestrated. After Marta's rat attack, Harrison, her pudgy doctor/boyfriend, decides he needs to get rid of the experimental potion responsible for it. So what's he do? Why, stroll down to the Hudson River and toss in the jar containing the containing said dangerous experimental fluid! Cut to a rural setting and a scrawny fisherman sitting on a dock. ("The fickle currents of fate have a different plan," a card tells us.) We watch the fisherman as he pulls in what he thinks will be a fish but instead turns out to be a hot water bottle. Uh-oh, we think knowingly – the guy's gonna cast back in and pull out the jar. But, instead his second cast brings up a deflated bicycle inner tube. A third cast, and this time our patient fisherperson reels a handled shopping bag out of the water. Just as we start wondering how many times we'll be subjected to this protracted tease, the fisherman pulls the jar out of the bag! To get the actual serum within proximity of Hugo, though, our fisherman has to load his spoils into the back of his pick-‘em-up truck, stop on a country bridge that goes over the stream feeding the woods near Camp Sunshine, and then take the jar out of his truck so he can put it on the bridge railing and accidentally knock it off into the stream. Downstream, the retarded Hugo waits to take a swig of the now-polluted waters. Once he does, he immediately starts chattering like a monkey.

His sister, who owns the nudist camp, discovers her hideously transformed brother and decides to chain him in the tool shed. Though she shuts the camp down for the weekend, word of the closing doesn't get to our heroines, who bring along Claire's swimsuit photographer and the photographer's secretary – because four nudists are twice as good as two. We see the unclothed foursome unpack their van (to sprightly banjo renditions of "Camptown Races" and "Oh, Susannah"), carefully carrying folding chairs and the like to keep the camera from catching any full frontal nudity (this is, after all, 1964). Back in the shed, Hugo, whose face has grown scabby even as his once-balding head now has a wig of Pete Rose-y hair, breaks loose of his chains to the strains of "Swanee River," though nobody seems to hear him doing it. (Must be all that banjo music on the soundtrack.) He stalks a skinny-dipping camper, but before he can do anything, um, monstrous, the big dope steps in a leg-hold trap. Once again, the happy soundtrack covers any sounds he might've made.

When his sister discovers the transformed Hugo's absence, she freaks, but decides to keep it from the campers anyway. "Let's not tell the others," she advises Marta, who’s with her in the discovery. "It would spoil Claire's birthday party!" Of course, Hugo shows up at Claire's shindig, but not before we're treated to the sight of a group of nudists sitting 'round the table with a flaming birthday cake within inches of their nipples. Back in the city, pudgy Harrison dons a dented motorcycle helmet and races to the scene with a bottle of the antidote. (Okay, you've dumped the original serum but kept the antidote?) But our stalwart hero is unable to get to the camp ahead of a National Guard troop, who arrive on the scene bearing a ton of stock WWII footage. Hugo, after ineffectually cutting the arm of one of our nudie beauties, gets blown to smithereens and the girls' frightening ordeal is quickly over. "For this hardy band," we're told, "there is no time for sadness. The sun is out, the show must go on." And so it must. All that's left is for Leroget to pad his 74-minute flick with a five-minute montage of randomly selected moments from the movie we've just seen. Sure. Why the hell not?

I double-dog-dare Hollywood to do a remake of this movie . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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