SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
Sleepaway Camp is considered a cult classic horror flick but, to be honest, it’s ‘shock’ ending and controversial… at least at the time… gay subtext aside, it’s actually a routine 80s slasher flick with an average body count and equally moderate blood and gore. Thought, I suppose from the point of view of camp, there is definitely some entertainment here but, in my opinion it’s not consistently campy enough to be ‘so bad it’s good’. It also takes a long time to really get going, which isn’t till the last 10-15 minutes when the bodies really start to pile up and Friday The 13th simply did the whole summer camp slasher thing better. The film opens on a lake with dad John (Dan Tursi) boating with his kids Peter and Angela while his boyfriend watches from the shore. A horrible… though unintentionally hilarious… boating accident leaves John and Peter dead and we then cut to 8 years later with an emotionally traumatized Angela (Felissa Rose) living with her Cruella Deville-like Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) as Martha decides to send Ricky and Angela away for the summer to Camp Arawak. Once there, the shy and withdrawn Angela soon becomes the target of mean girl Judy (Karen Fields), bitchy camp counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) and numerous others who find her solitary and mute behavior weird. Despite Ricky’s efforts to stick up for and protect her, she gets picked on continually. But, someone is looking out for her, as slowly… and I do mean slowly… those who torment the quiet young girl, including the camp’s lecherous cook, find themselves meeting a gruesome fate. Is there a serial killer on the loose who has taken pity on this poor emotionally damaged girl?… is Ricky a little TOO protective of his demure cousin?… or, is Angela not the helpless wallflower we are lead to believe? Writer/director Robert Hiltzik takes his good time answering that question and the shocking and disturbing climax of this otherwise routine flick is what it is really famous for and I’ll admit it works and sticks with you. But, to get to the surprise ending, you have to sit through an hour and ten minutes of a slow moving and fairly suspense-less slasher opus with some moderately imaginative kills… though, I’m not sure the curling iron would have killed the intended victim but, pretty gross nonetheless… and only moderate bloodshed. A lot of the scenes come across as campy and it’s not clear if it’s intentional or not. The acting across the board is also pretty bad, with Gould being really over the top and theatrical as Aunt Martha as is Mike Kellin as camp owner Mel, and the equally poor dialog doesn’t help the film’s case either. Hiltzik generates very little suspense as the two dimensional victims are easy to spot, just wait till the last person to pick on Angela finds themselves alone and there’s a good chance they are getting offed. It’s not till late in the last act that things really get moving and then we get the big reveal and it’s over. If it wasn’t for the effectiveness of it’s final frames, the film really would have been a forgettable run-of-the-mill slasher of the time. And as for the before mentioned gay subtext, it basically consists of Angela’s father John having a boyfriend and a flashback to John and his male lover being watched in bed by a young Angela and Peter. Aside from the couple having underaged voyeurs, the scene is quite tame. Hiltzik also takes far more lingering shots of the scantily clad males at the camp then the females and it is intentional and when all is said and done, it does fit in with the film’s underlying context of budding and sometimes confused sexuality. So, the ending works and the homosexual undertones were still daring for this era and certainly rare in the horror flicks of the time and in that context this has earned the film it’s place as a cult classic and who am I to say different. But, controversies and shocking surprises aside, I find the film a bland Friday The 13th retread and while I respect it’s place in horror film history, I personally don’t feel it lives up to it’s status aside from the infamy of it’s ending. I generally do enjoy the slashers of this era, if not simply for the nostalgia they have but, this one didn’t quite grab me upon the revisit until the climax, which admittedly still works. If you are a fan of 80s slashers and haven’t seen it, I still believe it is required viewing for the connoisseur but, I don’t consider it a real classic or one of the best examples of 80s slasher cinema just because in it’s final minutes it gets creative and it included subject matter that was still sensitive at the time. Nostalgic… yes. Campy at times… yes. Worth a look…yes. Deserving of it’s classic status… not really. An average slasher elevated by a legendary ending. Still better then any of it’s sequels.
The success of Sleepaway Camp lead to a series of films though Hiltzik and Rose wouldn’t return to the franchise until 20 years later with the 2003 filmed Return To Sleepaway Camp, a direct sequel that didn’t actually get released until it went straight to DVD in 2008.
2 and 1/2 curling irons.