Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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“Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, anyone with sinister or less than honorable intentions gets their comeuppance.” — IMDb

Sleepaway Camp, a well-known cult classic among horror enthusiasts, is what I’d consider to be a “great bad movie”. It was director Robert Hiltzik’s first film (and, really, he only went on to direct one other distant sequel) and one he should be pretty proud of, really.

The film opens with a dad and two kids playing out on a lake. There are some teenagers nearby driving a speedboat rather recklessly, who tragically crash into the family, killing the father and one of the children. We fast forward 8 years to Angela (Felissa Rose), the survivor of the accident, heading off to Camp Arawak with her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), who she now lives with. She is understandably traumatized by the events and extremely shy and quiet as a result, which makes for lots of teasing at camp (and lots of punishment for those who tease…).

** SPOILERS! **

Overall, this is your typical campy (literally and figuratively) teen slasher. It was riding the waves of Friday the 13th (released in 1980) and the similarities are unmistakable — gruesome killings played out in an act of vengeance on camp kids and their counselors. Sounds a bit familiar. But really, who doesn’t like a campy teen slasher film?

Ricky’s mom (Desiree Gould) keeps the weirdness factor up right away with her WILDLY over-the-top acting and just plain bizarre persona.

Despite the acting not being the greatest (is it ever?) and the sheer number of short shorts and crop tops (mostly on the muscular male counselors), some of the kills are surprisingly awesome. The counselor getting drowned under the canoe was nothing wild until you see his corpse the next morning with a water snake slithering out of his mouth. The disgusting pervert of a head chef got DRENCHED in boiling water and the length of time he is allowed to go on screaming in agony is, well, satisfying in context. Or Judy (Karen Fields) getting killed with a hair curler, where it’s more about what we don’t see than what we do.

This movie is also now responsible for one of my favorite moments ever: when one of the other kids says “Eat shit and die, Ricky!” and Ricky responds, in all seriousness, “eat shit and live, Bill”. Brilliant.

But the real reason we will all remember this movie forever: THE ENDING, HOLY GODDAMN. Honestly, Angela being the killer didn’t surprise me for a second. I thought that was obvious from the very beginning. But the twist of her actually being Paul and raised as Angela because crazy Aunt Martha “always wanted a daughter” was a doozy, and the visual of his surprisingly-muscular-for-a-pre-teen’s naked body drenched in blood as he hisses maniacally was just… wow. Wow. Wow.

On top of it being a WILD leap into left field, it made the motivation behind the killings a bit deeper… surprisingly deep for an early 80s slasher film, really. I wish it had been explored more and given the attention it deserved, but it introduced these sort of half-baked ideas of sexual repression, trauma from sexual molestation, and being forced to live in a body that isn’t your own into the film, which was interesting even if not fully fleshed out.

Ultimately, worth a watch JUST for the ending alone. For real.

Rating: 6.5/10 | Director: Robert Hiltzik | Writer: Robert Hiltzik | Music: Edward Bilous | Cinematography: Benjamin Davis | Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Desiree Gould

 

 

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