Sleepaway Camp

Date:  1983
Director:  Robert Hiltzik
Cast:  Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Katherine Kahmi, Paul DeAngelo

A father and his two children are brutalized in a freak boat accident while they are enjoying a beautiful day at the lake.  Flash forward to a few years later where outspoken, smart-mouthed Ricky and his shy, odd cousin Angela are on their way to summer camp.  It seems Angela is the sole survivor of the boating accident and now lives with her flamboyantly odd Aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky.  As soon as the two arrive at Camp Arawak, Angela becomes the target of many of the other campers because of her shyness and demeanor.  But soon, those who taunt Angela turn up dead, murdered in very gruesome ways, from boiling water, to beehives, to a curling iron.

It is hard to argue that this film, which has gained an almost unprecedented cult following, remains one of the most shocking of the genre.   From the pure savageness of the murders, to the absolute mind-blowing infamous twist ending, it has more than earned its status as one of the most memorable and talked about slasher films of the 1980's.   On the surface, Sleepaway Camp seems to be a standard, by the book camp slasher film that could be mistakenly dismissed as simply a Friday the 13th, The Burning or Madman clone.   In reality, the only thing these set of films have in common with Sleepaway Camp is the summer camp setting.  Simply put, Sleepaway Camp was ballsy for the time period it was released.   The themes it explores are far more complex and controversial than what most films, slasher or otherwise, were tackling.  Looking back, the film may not have dealt with these issues in the most sensitive or "politically correct" manner, but director and writer Hiltzik deserves some kudos for attempting to set his film apart from the myriad of slasher films being released during the time period.  Furthermore, the film captures the true atmosphere and shenanigans of the summer camp better than any of its predecessors. The teens in the film are just that--teens, not thirty year olds playing teens, and they all appear to be having fun with their roles. The dialogue and jokes are very typical of youngsters, and the quaint, picturesque Camp Arawak looks like a camp that can be found anywhere.  Unfortunately, the problem with the film is that the production values looked dated even upon the film's release.   Besides the special effects, which are very good, everything else about the film looks out dated and stale.  The pacing of the film lags a bit because of a few drawn out scenes that certainly could have been edited since they do nothing to drive the plot, such as the baseball game scene, and the direction lacks focus at times, causing some scenes to not be as effective as they could have been.

While Sleepway Camp may not be the best film when considering the production values, it is a film that should be seen by horror fans.   Even today, the ending still packs as big of a punch as it did upon its release and is certainly one of the most shocking endings in horror film history.  The film has something to it, a charm of sorts, that elevates it above much of what was being released during this time period, which is evident by the reputation and following the film enjoys today. 

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