If you have seen Sleepaway Camp you know. In the sea (or lake as it were) of the slasher-revenge in the woods-horror genre, it is a movie with a difference. This is due particularly to the jarring, all mouths-agape ending. Once you have seen it is forever burnt into your memory (I have said too much). Having re-watched it probably 25 years since I last watched it, I can definitively say everything was different than I remember it. That is, except for the ending, that was exactly as I remember it.
Now, like most summer camp movies, it follows kids dealing with adversity, bullying and social acceptance but here with heavy doses of Friday the 13th. The main character Angela (played by Felissa Rose in her film debut) is dealing with childhood trauma from her past: the death of her father and sibling from a boating accident. This incident has made her shy, almost mute and awkward, even more awkward than usual for a teen. Angela often stares blankly into space, or, much to their annoyance, her fellow campers. At Camp Arawak she is an outsider, along with her cousin, who staunchly defends her from the taunts of bullies and the sexual advances of creeps.
However, it doesn’t end there. Indeed the real threats are the “adults” themselves. Reckless camp councillors (it was a rough decade for camp councellors getting a bad rep) are mostly apathetic or worse in on it. Angela’s aunt (played by Desiree Gould), who is Angela’s caretaker is creepy as hell, wearing a beret and may actual be Crispin Glover in disguise. The head cook has an unsavoury appetite for under age girls which fellow staff don’t seem to be worried about (I mean we are only running a summer camp for kids). Creepier still the camp owner is always trying sweep things under the proverbial rug (including his own creepy problems).
There are a couple rock n roll references in Sleepaway Camp (it’s that era so you know it is bound to happen), including this cutoff poster by Canadian 80’s rock band, Loverboy. I believe this is what you call some serious mise-en-scene. There is another rock n roll reference as well. One of the mean kids Kenny wears a pretty bad ass Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt with the grim reaper.
The movie is pretty enjoyable however. There are plenty of WTF moments from the onset, like writer and director’ dedication to Robert Hiltzik’s opening dedication to his mom. (Pictured left: yes that is
what he writes). However, the movie couldn’t be anymore scathing to maternal figures. There are lots of funny one liners (“Eat shit and die, Ricky!””Eat shit and live, Bill”) and because it is a slasher horror movie, there are some interesting “outdoorsy” deaths that make it very distinguishable in the genre. Perfect for watching at the cabin, cottage or RV.
Length: 1h 24m
Rated: R (Violence, Nudity)
Best time to watch: Most of the scenes take place during the day (except for a couple deaths and the finale). Because of this and its pacing (which isn’t too bad for a film of this type), I would actually recommend watching this during the day or early evening.
***Spoiler Alert: Sleepaway Camp
SPOILER ALERT: Sleepaway Camp has received recent criticisms as being homophobic and transphobic. There is some validity to this, however there are transgender and homosexual defenders of the film that note that her gender is forced on her, not chosen. Also, the fellow campers bully her unaware of who she really is. Furthermore, the figure at the end bares little resemblance to a human. Is it a monster of sexual repression, which is the narrative of many horror movies? Also, I don’t exactly know if we should take any of this really seriously.
Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is featured on the 1st Cottage Country mix: