- Movie: Sleepaway Camp
- Director: Robert Hiltzik
- Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten
A Little Context
If you’re a slasher or horror movie fan and you’ve heard of Sleepaway Camp, then you know this movie is famous for its ending. I struggled a bit with labeling this a “bad movie” because it seems like it often gets a pass due to the ending alone. Rotten Tomatoes for example has it at 83%, but reviews are all recent, and aren’t shy to disparage the movie despite giving it a good score. Ultimately I decided that a memorable ending does not negate the shittiness that proceeds it. This movie without the last five minutes is very generic. Take a look at this trailer and you’ll see what I mean. If you didn’t know this movie even had a twist, let alone a good one, you’d probably pass right by it. Oh yeah, AVOID THE COMMENTS:
Released in 1983, at a time when slasher films were in the their heyday, Sleepaway Camp feels like an obvious attempt at cashing in on the craze. Eventually it becomes apparent that someone had a great idea for a payoff, and just needed another 80 minutes to make it a film. Five years prior to this, John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote the amazing Halloween and the slasher boom began. While slasher movies existed before, many tropes common in films of this type originated here. In 1980, we had another trendsetter in Friday the 13th. By 1983, we had copies of copies with nothing new to say. Enough history, let’s jump into this…
Sleepaway Camp follows two children–Angela and Ricky. Due to events during the opening of the movie, Angela lives with her aunt Dr. Martha Thomas and cousin Ricky Thomas. She is quiet and introverted with poor social skills. In order to get her out of her shell, Angela, with Ricky, are sent to Camp Arawak for the summer. The camp is full of bratty and/or horny teens and preteens and creepy and/or uncaring staff. Overall, everyone kind of sucks it never really seems all that fun. But then suddenly–murder!
For a slasher film Sleepaway Camp isn’t particularly scary. It doesn’t really seem like it even tries to be. It doesn’t seem like a horror film. Which is either an interesting stylistic choice, or ineptitude. If you removed the murders this movie would appear to be a boring story about summer camp and teenagers trying to get laid or being mean to each other. Both of which you get a lot of. I appreciate the frankness of the dialogue as it does feel authentic, after all teens and preteens are pretty vulgar. Though there are definitely some awkwardly written lines that you will laugh at. I feel like a lot of modern movies and TV shows tend to shy away from this.
On the flip side of the “realism” however, is that this movie introduces some vulgar/creepy camp staff. One in particular is a chef who is an overt pedophile, and makes comments about children to other people. Apparently no one cares. The camp owner is an elderly gentleman that is looking to get with one of the much younger staffers. Overall, just be prepared for a sometimes-uncomfortable sexual element to this movie.
Besides slashers in general, there is one other movie that you can really draw some parallels to with Sleepaway Camp and oddly enough it’s Wet Hot American Summer. I don’t know if anybody involved in Wet Hot American Summer has ever credited Sleepaway Camp as an inspiration, but I am convinced that it was. For one, the fashion. What people are wearing looks like a parody of the early 80s, but exaggerated to the point where if this movie were modern you’d say “there is no way they actually wore that.” White socks are pulled up. Shirts are very tight. Shorts are VERY short. One camp counselor in particular is basically always showing an outline of his penis. It seems strange to me that either in real life, or in the movie, someone wasn’t like, “hey, maybe you shouldn’t show your penis-outline to all these kids.”
Before I wrap this up I’d like to touch on something that I think the movie does well. Sleepaway Camp delivers some fairly satisfying deaths. Despite sometimes being somewhat uninspired (naked girl in the shower? really?), they manage to be pretty gruesome. This is due in large part to some pretty decent make-up effects. Again, I feel like there is something missing atmosphere-wise as the suspense never really lasts pass the scene itself. The fact that the camp staff is constantly hiding the deaths means there is no real suspense among the campers, which meant that I also didn’t really feel the tension build. At the end, when shit is going down, is the first time you really feel anxious. It’s a feeling I wanted through more of the movie.
Again, not to belabor the point, but this movie is ultimately all about the ending. I don’t know that it will really scare you, but it is one of the most interesting I’ve seen. And it will make you want to watch the movie all over again to look for the clues.
But Can I Drink To It?
Yes, definitely. This will be a fun movie to drink to and alcohol will make things that much better when shit goes down.
Rules (prepare to get hammered)
1. Whenever Angela doesn’t respond to someone – DRINK for 3 seconds!
2. Uncomfortably short shorts – DRINK for 5 seconds!
3. “wicked dump” – finish your DRINK!
4. If someone can guess by twist before the end, everyone else has to TAKE A SHOT! If not, everyone takes a shot.
Here is the edition I watched and where you can find it: Sleepaway Camp (Collector’s Edition) from Amazon for $25. It’s a pretty well put together package with some good special features. HOWEVER the entire movie is available on YouTube for FREE. So yeah, that’s a good option too.
Post by: Tyler P.
Tyler Phillippi is a former improviser and musician. Now, he mainly focuses on getting through his Netflix queue. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org