Freakout at Camp Groovy: A Film Classic Turns 40
Contrary to what a lot of local residents think, Chrislip has never been known as the Hollywood of the midwest. But there was a time when that non-fact was even less untrue than it isn’t now.
Whether we were born at the time or not, all of us remember the summer of 1970. That was the year that the only film ever filmed in Chrislip was filmed in Chrislip.
Freakout at Camp Groovy isn’t a movie that will make anyone forget Citizen Kane. As one reviewer at the time put it, “Freakout at Camp Groovy won’t make anyone forget Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” But over the decades it’s developed a cult following among the kind of people who go for that sort of thing.
Filmed at Camp Chrislip over four days at a budget of nearly $900, Camp Groovy tells the story of two teenagers, Wren and Skye, who meet and fall in love at summer camp. Their romance is threatened by the sinister newcomer, “Funky Dude,” who gives Skye a marijuana-laced brownie. Skye goes on a drug-fueled rampage and butchers several fellow campers with a meat cleaver before being talked down from his “mary jane” high by Wren.
The movie’s director, Earl Dowland, said he hoped his film would spread the message that drugs are bad and love is good. These days Dowland has two expensive divorces behind him and spends his nights with a pretty painted mistress named Xanax, so he is apt to reverse that order.
The movie was released right around Christmas, 1970. It opened to generally poor reviews, and failed to rise above cult status. It did, however, spawn a couple of lines that briefly became national catchphrases: “Dude’s messin’ with my head, man,” and “Camp Groovy – the perfect place to camp… and to groove.”
Actors Debbie Schenkman and Ronald Dunphy, who played Wren and Skye, were in Chrislip to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary. Both were film students at the University of Michigan, studying Nietschean philosophy in early German cinema, when they landed the pivotal roles in Freakout at Camp Groovy. They subsequently went to Hollywood, but had only limited success. Debbie was in a Sprite commercial in 1971 and retired from acting in 1980. Ronald claims that he nailed Patty Duke.
Both have very pleasant memories of Chrislip. “There was a store of some kind up the road,” recalls Dunphy. “I think I bought some gum there once. I gave a stick to Debbie, and I remember her saying thanks.”
You can write a movie script, but you can’t write those kind of memories.