Sleepaway Camp (1983)Written By: Robert Hiltzik
Directed By: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tierston, Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet, Karen Fields
Country of Origin: United States of America
I make a point of watching the original, theatrical trailer for any movie before I watch and review it. If you’re scratching your head and asking why, my answer is simple: I do it so I can get into the minds of the producers and find out what kind of message their film was supposed to send. After all, I’m sure you can name several movies that you wanted to see simply because they had an awesome preview at your local cinema, and then, those movies delivered the pound-for-pound adrenaline you desired. Of course, there is the other side of the coin, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the side that allows you to believe that cinematic garbage is entirely viewable thanks to the trailer that provided as an accompaniment. The trailer for 1983’s Sleepaway Camp might just have been the most straightforward trailer in the history of cinema.
“Welcome to Sleepaway Camp. Someone is watching you.” Two sentences, which, by themselves mean nothing, but together, send the exact message you would expect from a film created solely to capitalize off of the Friday the 13th phenomena. As we gear up for a remake of Friday the 13th in 2009 and even more from this series, why don’t we look at an equally shocking film that provides a swerve on par with Vader as Luke’s father. Ladies and gentlemen (or, rather, gentlemen playing ladies if you’ve ever seen the film), I present to you: Sleepaway Camp.
Anyone attempting to defend this film for not being a rip-off of the hugely successful Voorhees lineage will find themselves guilty of buffoonery and will be sentenced to watch this film over and over again until they admit to all of the all-to-convenient similarities. First off, we start this flick with, get this, a dramatic score and a look at a dreary camp circled around a large, open lake. Welcome to Camp Arawak: a tarnished spot of land that holds up an ominous “For Sale” sign. Any of this sound familiar? We’re 4 minutes into the film and already I’m praying for a hockey mask and a machete. God I’m sick.
Once the “acting” actually begins in the film, I pray even harder for someone, anyone really, to murder both the kids and adults on the screen. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long, as a freak accident on the lake leaves one man dead and several children traumatized. Lame, but effective for the 80’s. Cue the 8 YEARS LATER graphic and the most terrifying woman in the whole movie: A Mother! She’s sending her kid, Richard and his cousin, Angela off to camp for the summer. This woman is seriously troubled, and I don’t mean in a she’s-going-to-chop-you-to-bits way. I mean in a she’s-just-a-fucking-lunatic-who-we-are-meant-to-think-is-the-killer way. She’s actually a vital participant in the plot who doesn’t show up until we need to tie up the loose ends. She claims to be a doctor, too. Did she give herself a lobotomy?
Anyway, off of that tangent and onto the good stuff. And boy, is it good stuff. Once we get to the camp, we’ve got your standard issue incompetence running the joint, complete with a straw-chewing pedophile that just reeks. Soon, we learn that Richard, or Ricky, is quite the friendly type and his friends are exactly what you’d expect from 14-year old boys: perverts. Angela, however, is quiet. She says nothing at all; she just watches her feet. Moving on, Ricky runs into Judy, a newly stacked bitch of a teenager. She’ll be dead in 30 minutes. Bet on it.
While in the girls cabin, we get an introduction to several more “prosti-tots,” all of whom are deeply disturbed by Angela’s code of silence. Ronnie, the male camp counselor whose dick is way too close to popping out through his short shorts (thank God this isn’t high definition), wants to take care of her and get her comfortable. Luckily for Angela, she ends up with PedoMan who attempts to give her his hotdog. He gets caught by Ricky, and everything becomes real awkward. Guess who is about to bite it? That’s right, PedoMan soon gets dumped into an obnoxiously large pot of boiling water. Gruesome, sure, but we don’t know who did it because it was all filmed in first person view. You know, just like Friday the 13th.
Through all of its problems, the film does have some upside, like the foul-mouthed little fuckers on the baseball field. What’s the perfect response when someone says “Eat Shit and Die?” “Eat Shit and Live.” Or how about “Come on, take the bat off of your shoulder!” “Fuck You!” is the correct response. Really manly stuff considering all of these guys dress like they’re at the roller disco. Honestly, the underage swearing seems to save the movie from any number of other flaws it might have.
Back to Angela, who hasn’t said a thing to anyone yet, but she’s showing interest in Paul, Ricky’s only friend who is not a dickface. In fact, her first word spoken on screen was to Paul. Romance is in the air, so place a bet on Paul getting massacred, too. This is a horror film, romance has no place unless it is smutty. Speaking of smut, skinny dipping and other shenanigans are running roughshod over the camp at night. And murder. You know, just like Friday the 13th.
The difference between this and that Jason-related series seems to be direction. This film just kind of ambles in no particular direction for a long, long time. There certainly aren’t many moments we’re supposed to scream at, and I don’t just say that because of the desensitization of our culture. I say it because literally, there isn’t a god damn thing that could shock you…that is…until you reach the end.
This film is based on one thing, and one thing only: a twist ending. You spend 80 minutes questioning why your summer camp wasn’t this eventful, and then, suddenly, you’re hit with a real swerve. Sure, you’re lead to believe several people could be the killer, but only one person really fits the bill for the motive: Angela. So if it comes as no surprise, then what’s the twist? That’s easy: Angela is a guy. You know, just like Friday the 13th. Wait…what? I know, I spoiled it for you. But, to be fair, it really serves as one of those moments when you throw your hands up and question why it mattered. She wasn’t allowed to just kill people; so she had to have a dick, too? I guess if Jason had a vagina, that’d be shocking, too. Maybe I just missed the part where a girl with a penis was more terrifying than a lackluster body count.
Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Writer/Director/Executive Producer Robert Hiltzik, who can only claim that his name would be worth a shitload of points in Scrabble. His directing of the actors was terrible, he wrote a script that borrowed over 9000 elements from a much more successful camp slasher, and then, in a stroke of brilliance, he packaged the film as horror. It’s not really a horror film. It doesn’t make you jump out of your seat. You just watch, and get a little grossed out by the special effects. We got lucky that he didn’t do those, otherwise we’d be watching a chocolate syrup masterpiece.
Best Name in the Cast: It would be impossible to overlook Karen Fields for her incredible job as Judy in this film. Seriously, she plays the world’s best tease/bitch character and no matter what you think of the film, you’re happy to see her get hers in the end. That, and her death scene is one of a kind, and will make anyone, man or woman, quiver at the sight of it. She had such potential, but then, disappeared in a flash soon after. Tragic.
Quote of the Film:
“She’s a real carpenter’s dream: flat as a board and in need of a screw!” -Judy, antagonizing Angela about puberty, and the lack there of.
We know full well that this film has gore, a terrifying background for Angela (one of her two dads, yeah two dads, was the first guy killed in the movie), and enough sexual angst to make Anthony Michael Hall blush. But what it lacks is creativity, and that’s saying a plethora considering that the whole transgender murderer thing was new at the time. I’ve seen it all before, in a movie that was ten times better and also had Kevin Bacon in it. Hell, there’s even an infamous drowning child scene. But such was life in 1983, because Sleepaway Camp was successful, if only for chicks with dicks. Everyone could disregard what a blatant knockoff it was because the end was completely new. You wonder why they remake every standard setting horror film nowadays? Sleepaway Camp makes it possible, proving that if you tweak something ever so slightly, it seems altogether fresh. That, and adding penises automatically equal a bigger box office gate.