“Sleepaway Camp” (1983)

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By Jerome Reuter

Sleepaway Camp, released in 1983, is one of many in the long line of teen slasher films. These things were everywhere back then, and easy to find, thanks to the boom in home video. In recent years, it’s seen a rise in popularity. Some of this can be attributed to a 5 second spoof on Robot Chicken. Aside from that however, this one holds up surprisingly well. Although it might not be as popular as the Friday The 13th series, it’s definitely a unique entry in the genre.

It was nothing bold or new, much of the films tropes had been used several times before. Children go off to a summer camp, where their end of getting killed? Yes, I have NEVER seen that before. My cynical nature aside, here’s a bit of the backstory.

Cousins Angela and Ricky attend a summertime camp, named Arawak. Angela, a quiet introvert, almost immediately becomes the ideal target for camp bullies. Nothing we haven’t seen before, but still essential to the plot. This establishes Angela as the protagonist, and the character our empathy is drawn to. It wouldn’t be a horror film however, if we didn’t have bodies start to pile up now, would we? And pile up; they do, in some very interesting and creative ways.

Here’s what sticks out about Sleepaway Camp for me; the victims are the people who have something coming to them. We see the death of bullies, misanthropes, and even a chef who could be the spokesman for NAMBLA. Unlike other slasher films, this one doesn’t focus its killings on teenage hedonism, but people we’re supposed to hate.

Now, I have to make this point: these death scenes are some of the more memorable ones you’ll see. Nothing is left to imagination; we have deaths by beehive, drowning, bow and arrow, curling iron, and even a shower stabbing (a la Psycho.) My personal favorite has to be the death of the chef, done in by a large pot of boiling water. I still laugh to this day, as they leave the camera fixed on him screaming for almost a whole minute.

sleepaway campchef

The one thing most people remember about Sleepaway Camp is the infamous ending. It’s a plot twist one can only describe as gender bending, to say the least. The twist ending works really well, and they manage to keep the killers identity a well kept secret for the whole film.

I’m a firm believer, that one of the reasons this one holds up so well is a simple one. In an attempt to capitalize on its popularity, there were a few attempts at some sequels. None of which were good, in any way, shape, or form. They were poorly written, and so forgettable, that even Bruno Mattei would call shenanigans.

(Spoiler alert: Bruce Springsteen’s daughter played Angela in the sequels.)

The original is the definition of a cult classic. It isn’t the greatest horror film out there, but it always lifts my spirits.

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