Now THIS one I remember. If I recall correctly, Welcome to Camp Nightmare was a favourite of mine in the Goosebumps book series. I must have really loved this episode of the show too because I remember it strangely well. The dialogue beats, the story beats, I knew everything that was going to happen and it was a strange feeling because I don’t have any memory of seeing this beyond it’s initial airing. So the only rational explanation is - I have one of them genius brains.
This episode doesn’t bullshit around and opens up with a bunch of kids being ditched in the middle of nowhere by their stoic bus driver while on their way to Camp Nightmoon. See how close that is to nightmare? Don’t worry the kids make the connection later and sound really fucking proud of themselves when they do. We are then introduced to overly cheery Uncle Al, who, primarily because of the poor video quality, I spent the first few minutes trying to sort whether he was also the Al from Home Improvement (you probably know him better as world’s worst Family Feud host Richard Karn). This is in fact, a completely different Al. Oh and also they are told that a monster named Sabre lives in the woods and will eat them if they stray off the trails. These kids are some brave motherfuckers because they don’t even bat an eye.
Shit doesn’t get much better once they arrive at camp as it takes about 2 minutes before one of the kids is bitten by a snake. Unfortunately it’s not the goofy kid with the flat face who laughs at his own awful jokes for about 15 seconds after he tells them. They then meet their counselor Larry, who even if he were the nicest guy on the planet, would still seem like an asshole purely because of the layout of his face (I think it’s mostly the teeth that do it). He’s one of those bullies who in real life could never actually be a bully because fucking look at the guy. His wiry frame and his boy band haircut. His insults are also terrible, mostly relying on calling people dorks and dweebs. Granted, it’s a kid’s show so they can’t go too far and have him call a kid a cocksucker before punching out his teeth.
In the morning snake bite kid is gone and everyone is all “what? Ain’t no kids here named whatever that character’s name is”. But our hero Billy, who I haven’t actually mentioned up until this point because he’s pretty bland, knows some shit is up. But missing kids can’t get in the way of baseball so off they go! It’s there that Larry throws a hissy fit when a player is called safe (the way he throws down his mitt and kicks it is actually pretty funny, though I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be) so in retaliation, he whips the ball at the guy’s head, and I think we’re supposed to believe kills him.
Of course the next day nobody remembers him, and Billy is all “I’m gonna get to the bottom of this shit....after breakfast”. Nobody seems as freaked out as they should bd. Granted when we get to the ending it makes more sense, but Billy always seems more curious than genuinely worried. Your friends are gone man, presumed dead, and everybody says they never existed. This kid would be losing his mind, but instead he’s more “This is quite strange. Oh man yeah eggs!” Also he tries to get in people’s faces about it but it’s never ever convincing.
So then shit goes completely south and his last two friends drown in a lake in front of him after he can’t save them, which again he brushes off as a troubling event instead of something completely soul destroying. Then he finds out that all of the letters he and his campmates have been writing home (there’s no working phone on site, though Al did put a prop one up as a joke because haha false hope is hilarious) haven’t gone anywhere. Also one of the girl’s escaped from their camp and all the dudes are hunting her down with tranquilizer guns. And occasionally Sabre shows up and roars but we never get a good look at him because clearly they had no confidence in his special effect.
So once the insanity hits its apex, we are introduced to the twist, which at this point was starting to get pretty obvious (I should mention this is a 2-part episode, so there’s a lot of build-up). It’s all a ruse! You see Billy’s parents are actually kick-awesome scientists who are going away on a dangerous mission for a long time so they needed to make sure Billy was ready to go with them. And how better to do that than getting a whole bunch of government employees to waste 2 days pretending to be campers and counselors in an effort to make sure this kid is brave. I’d rather see the alternate version where Billy pisses himself right at the beginning when the driver ditches them so his parents have to tell him “Well so long pussy” and take off.
But wait! R.L. Stine wasn’t satisfied with just that twist, but he also had to make sure everyone was a god damn alien too! Yep, the dangerous mission is to Earth! It’s such a sudden revelation and it’s completely needless. You already had one twist, was this really necessary? The second twist is also a huge rip-off of a classic Twilight Zone episode, so I’m wondering if Stine saw that, and figured “kids don’t know what fuckin’ Twilight Zone is” and wrote it into the story.
Welcome to Camp Nightmare is....ok. I’m not convinced it needed to be a 2-parter and the hero is dreadfully bland, but there’s some decent intrigue and some unintentional hilarity. The lead actor went on to do 2009’s Ice Twisters, so at the very least this certainly isn’t the worst thing he was involved with. So it’s a victory!