Not Quite Horror: “White Water Summer” (1987)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There more than one way to watch a movie.

White Water Summer (1987)

The Monster: Vic (Kevin Bacon) is the worst kind of monster; he’s a man who means well. He convinces Alan’s (Sean Astin’s) parents to send their son with him some other kids on a hiking and white water rafting adventure.

Once the trip begins, Vic’s efforts to toughen up the city kids quickly reveal themselves as being dangerous and out of control. He takes a special sadistic joy in tormenting Alan, in an effort to break his spirit. When Vic is severely injured along the way, Alan proves his courage to Vic by saving his life.

The Horror: Kevin Bacon’s most famous work in the field of horror is undoubtedly Friday the 13th, but his performance as Vic is menacing enough to make the outdoorsman seem like a slasher killer, even though he never murders a single person during the course of White Water Summer.

Vic is introduced to the audience as he walks the median of a busy city street. Clearly out of place, hauling his hiking gear on his back, he has the look of a man without fear. When he is finally in his element, hiking with the boys, he pitilessly demands they face their fears and do as told. He makes them cross an unsafe rope bridge despite their protests. Complain about Vic and he’s likely to appear behind you.

The Shared Fate: Vic is a slight exaggeration of real-life figures like camp counselors, baby sitters, and older siblings. As teens or young adults, these people represent authority. However, they often lack the experience and emotional maturity to make the best decisions.

White Water Summer is an almost-slasher. Vic, the would-be killer, is motivated by ego, not revenge. The campers are younger, and they are punished for weakness instead of sexual promiscuity. In the end, everyone lives. Still, it doesn’t take much to stop the movie before Vic’s injury and imagine a body count even Jason Voorhees could be proud of.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen