***(out of four stars)
Sleepaway Camp came out in 1983 - a time, very long ago when slasher movies were being made a dime a dozen. Well, actually, they're still being made, but the feeling and atmosphere are all but lost with most modern takes on the genre. There was just something about the 80's - the look, the acting, the cheesiness. It was all part of a great time for young, independent filmmaker's who had visions of young, sexy, and most often stupid teenagers being picked off one by one.
The film commences panning through Camp Arawak. The foliage in the back ground is beautiful and I commend the cinematographer already. The camp is run down and boarded up. With a flashback we see a man boating with two young children. Meanwhile, two teens are water skiing. There's a horrible accident and the man is killed, leaving the kids orphaned.
Eight years later, we're introduced to Angela(Felissa Rose) and her cousin, Ricky (Jonathon Tierston). They now live with an eccentric, spaced out Aunt who sends them off to summer camp. Angela is also a bit of a space cadet and Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) hopes that Ricky and his friends will help her open up a bit.
From the get go, Angela doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the camp goers. We follow her through the awkward circumstances that she faces as a young 13 year old. She's constantly teased and almost molested by Artie, (Owen Hughes) the sloppy, overweight cook. For most of the film's duration, it's all about Angela and her struggles at trying to fit in. Yes, Sleepaway Camp is technically a slasher, but it takes a bit of time before the bodies start piling up. There are slow moments that may be trying to build on character development. You could argue that. I don't look at this as a bad thing though. I like the softball game scene, I like the pranks and I like the overall feel of the camp environment.
This film has so many characters that for the most part it's hard to follow most of them. The main players are: an overbearing counselor named, Meg (Katherine Kamhi), her equally bitchy friend, Judy (Karen Fields) and a paranoid camp owner named, Mel (Mike Kellin). Mike Kellin seems to be the veteran actor and does have the chops to pull of some adequate acting.
Like most slasher films, the death scenes are what counts. In Sleepaway Camp, most of them are pretty tame. Writer/directer Robert Hiltzik said that the budget was low; it's not to difficult to tell when watching the film. But still, it does look like he invested every penny of the minimal budget wisely. For example, in one death scene, Judy is killed with a hot curling iron. From the wall we see the shadow of a pair of hands doing this. Again, it's not shown to us, but it's equally effective because we can at least hear the sizzle of flesh being burnt. And can I add that Judy deserves it! In another scene (not sure if it's a death because it's never touched upon) is when the cook, Artie is burned by scolding hot water. You can actually see the boils pumping out of his cheeks as he writhes in pain. The effects for that scene are really memorable and still makes my skin crawl to this day. Some of the other kills are forgettable. There's a scene where one of the young punks is taking a shit in a stall and the killer drops a bee hive into it. The bees literally eat away at the victim. It sounds cool, but doesn't work on screen. I feel they could've done better. A minimal complaint, but still, a complaint.
In the 1980's, slasher films for the most part, were without a doubt predictable. For me, slasher films are just fun. I'm not looking for some brilliant story as much as I'm looking for a great, fun classic to sit and watch with like minded individuals. However, with Sleepaway Camp, the ending is what really makes this film memorable. In fact, I could confidently say that it has one of the most bizarre endings in (possibly) horror cinema history. I can't recall the very first time I saw the ending, it was probably at a young age, but I have to imagine that it floored me.
Again, I feel that Robert Hiltzik really does a fine job with his direction. The acting is so-so, but you have to over look that. I'm not saying the acting is bad, but I'm not saying it's great either. For a film with a relatively young cast, he does a fine job. The story is effective and does shadow any other negative elements that present themselves. It does feel slow at times, but with this film, it works on different levels. I commend any director who makes something little into something big. That takes some talent. After listening to the audio commentary track, it feels like Robert had a great relationship with his cast. And many of them are still friends. How can you fail when you're doing something with so much passion?
I dare anyone to deny the complete originality that Sleepaway Camp harbors. It's just a one of a kind type of film. Even M. Night would be envious of this AWESOME twist ending. Maybe he should take notes.
Starring: Felissa Rose, Mike Kellin and Jonathon Tierston
Written and directed by: Robert Hiltzik