Summer Camp: With the addition of 2013’s Sharknado to the annals of campy horror films, this cinema lover is reminded of a cornucopia of other classics that have defined camp through the years, ranging from the works of the high master of the category, John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Polyester), to memorable Japanese offerings (the so-called “nuclear monster” movies of the 1950s), to some in a niche of their own (Mommie Dearest).
But there’s a little jewel that holds a special place in the camp catalog for me. Though I was a kid when I first saw Hot Rods to Hell on TV, I immediately sensed the extraordinary kitsch potential in this B (times three) movie, with its faded Hollywood stars (Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain) as the adult leads in an unintentionally hilarious concoction about a neurotic white-bread family “terrorized” by a group of teenaged hot-rodders. (The plot really is besides the point, though a terrific recap can be found here.)
A favorite scene has a cantankerous and semi-decrepit Andrews, behind one of the biggest steering wheels known to man, urged by an hysterical Crain to drive faster as they’re pursued by their speed-loving tormenters across the fake sands of a California desert. “I’m already going 40,” he snaps.
Sure enough, Hot Rods eventually made it to cult status (at one time, even a website was devoted to its unforgettable cheesiness), and its following is certain to have expanded via DVD and Netflix.
This year’s Sharknado benefits from a perfect storm of timing and topic — summer and sharks — along with weather phenomena in recent news, that, together with its absurdity, assures an entry in the chronicles of camp. Hot Rods, released in 1967, shows the real deal is timeless.
Where movies are concerned, the truly terrible always — and thankfully — endures.