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BONUS: Nudist Colony of the Dead
A Serious Look at an Unserious Nudist Horror Flick
Earlier this week, I posted a piece that I had been working on for months called “Flesh & Blood: Exploring the Nightmare of Nudity in Horror Film,” in which I compiled an overview of different ways that nudity has been employed as a device in horror films, and to what effect. If you have not read that piece yet, I encourage you to check it out before reading this piece. However, if you’re not interested in reading my 5000-word dissertation on the subject, I can provide a brief summary.
Horror as a genre, whether in film or in other media, serves as a reflection of our own societal, cultural, and personal fears and anxieties rather than, as may be assumed, to encourage us to fear something new. Whereas early horror more often relied on actual, physical monsters, modern horror’s many “monsters” tend to be more complex and fluid, reflecting the changing fears already running through our heads. They represent complex ideas like power imbalance, xenophobia, repressed sexuality, our anxieties about war, and any other top-of-mind cultural issues. Within this context, nudity in horror has served to illustrate Judeo-Christian ideas of sexual and moral impropriety, a fear of death and aging, human vanity, strength, and womanhood, among others.
In the spirit of spooky season and Friday the 13th, I wanted to run a quick bonus piece that takes those learnings and applies them to Mark Pirro’s Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991) as a treat… or maybe it’s a trick? Opinions may vary.
“Just because you can’t stand looking at your own bodies, doesn’t mean you can deprive us of our rights!"
Nudist Colony of the Dead is a low-budget, highly camp musical horror film that plays with the summer camp slasher trope recognizable from movies like Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, films whose nudity-related themes were referenced in my earlier piece. And it also incorporates zombies! Or they might be ghosts, it’s hard to tell.
Many actual nudists are likely to take offense at the title of the film which references the nudist “colony,” a term that real-life nudists do not use, preferring to refer to their community spaces as clubs, parks, resorts, or camps. But if the word “colony” is offensive to the you, then there’s not much hope that you will enjoy the film itself, which is filled from start to finish with politically-incorrect, irreverent, crude, raunchy humor at the expense of both the nudists and their nemeses in the film: the prudish, conservative, religious fanatics and the sympathetic judge who shut down Sunny Buttocks Nudist Camp and transferred its use to the church. No one is free of ridicule in the film, so enjoying it requires a suspension of one’s own sensitivities and a willingness to be in on the joke.
With those warnings aside, I thought it would be interesting to apply that earlier analysis of nudity in horror to this particular film that turns nudity into the main focus. So, what does Nudist Colony of the Dead have to say about us and does it play by the same rules as other horror films?
As already mentioned, Nudist Colony of the Dead has a very summer camp slasher-style premise, so we would expect some kind of messaging around either the admonishment of sexual and moral impropriety or, conversely, the rallying cry to live life to the fullest because death is coming for us all anyway. While most films of this type would see sexually active teenagers judged, hunted, and slaughtered for their on-screen sins, Nudist Colony takes a slightly different approach. The stalking, slashing killers are the nudists whose rotting corpses now haunt the grounds of Camp Cut-Your-Guts-Out, the religious retreat that took over after the closure of Sunny Buttocks Nudist Camp. The victims are a diverse group of teen campers and their strict, middle-aged camp counselors, sent to the camp to “save the teens from fornication.” The nudists pick the church campers off, one by one, until one final girl remains and escapes the camp, only to later uncover a major plot twist.
Perhaps because I personally align myself with the nudists—but also because the film itself encourages sympathy for their plight—it feels as though we’re supposed to be on their side, cheering as they punish the campers and counselors for the zealotry that shut down their nudist camp five years prior. In this case, it’s the nude punishing the prude, upending the classic slasher trope by targeting the most devout and “moral” of the campers first rather than punishing the sinful or impure. You do feel some kinship with the doomed campers, however, especially those who didn’t really choose to be there in the first place, like the ones playing strip poker and telling ghost stories by the fire. Ultimately it does subvert the horror trope, and whether you’re rooting for the nudists or the campers is irrelevant. The overall message is that prudishness and bigotry are the enemies of a life will-lived, that zealotry is actually the monster that disrupts stability and social order.
In the context of how nudity is incorporated in other horror films, Nudist Colony plays into the nudity-slasher trope in a way that leans heavily into the interpretation that we should live life to the fullest because we’re all doomed regardless. The actual depiction of the naked bodies throughout the film also suggests a similar response, depicting a nudity that is literally rotting and decaying, which generally incites a fear of old age and death in horror films and encourages the enjoyment of our youth, sensuality, and vitality. That being said, the entire film is so absurd and over-the-top that it feels just as absurd to try to apply much of a deeper meaning to its details. The nudity is a gimmick here, but it stands in as the starkest (no pun intended) contrast imaginable to the extreme religious, conservative, and puritanical ways of thinking and interfering in the lives of others that the film paints as its monster. This positions nudists as the opposite of prudishness and bigotry, which seems like the right side of the fight, except that their tactics and talking points are hardly any less outlandish or cruel than those of the zealots. The film is ultimately not promoting nudism as the solution to zealotry but, more likely, denouncing extremes on either end.
Regardless, the final musical number of the film summarizes the basic plot fairly well, and I think that’s just about as much of a message as we need to take from it:
“Kill, kill, kill all the zealots! Zealots make us cry, they wage war on us! Now we make you die, it be glorious!”
Would I recommend this film to nudists? To non-nudists? To anyone? Most people, including most nudists, are very unlikely to enjoy this film unless they just want to turn off their brains and savor an example of low-quality, low-budget, irreverent, camp “horror.” If that sounds fun to you, you might enjoy it just for the novelty of it. It’s ridiculous and grotesque and dimly lit, yes, but that can be a joy in itself.
Nudist Colony of the Dead can be rented or purchased on Amazon Prime. Check out the trailer below!
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