Released back in 1983 Sleepaway Camp is yet another slasher film from an era that was dominated by them. I remember seeing Sleepaway Camp as a child back in the 80s and I saw so many of these flicks that over the years and as I got older and found my love for these movies all over again I would rent or buy certain movies thinking I haven’t seen it only to realize within a few minutes I saw back in childhood. Sleepaway Camp is one of the movies I never forgot and it wasn’t because of how great it was, but it was the shocking and twisted ending and I think that is the main reason Sleepaway Camp has retained such a large cult following all these years later. Not only does Sleepaway Camp feature a shocker of an ending, but the movie has a very sleazy and perverse feel not seen in many slasher flicks. I think when you see the movie again now knowing the twist it makes the movie even stranger and more perverse.
Even by 1983 the slasher film was starting to hit a bit of a decline and while the rest of the 80s saw plenty of these films to hit the market and have success I think most would agree the early 80s in particular 1980 and 1981 featured the strongest releases of the sub-genre as a whole, but Sleepaway Camp sort of breaks away from the slasher formula at times while keep true to it as well. There isn’t a whole lot done here that we haven’t seen before, but there are actually kids at the camp and while some are the typical ages seen in these movies, but many are meant to be 13 or younger and killing kids is something most films shy away from including many horror films.
Like I stated Sleepaway Camp has a shocker of an ending and a very sleazy and perverse feel, but the movie is also very odd and that in part helps keep the movie above water. In terms of filmmaking Sleepaway Camp isn’t a very good movie even by slasher movie standards; the film while attempting a professional look is very sloppy and rough around the edges and this might make certain movies better like say Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, but these traits will often sink a movie like Sleepaway Camp and while it doesn’t exactly help the movie at the end of the day it’s the weirdness, sleazy and perverse feel that elevates the movie and again the twisted ending.
The screenplay by Robert Hiltzik is rather weak and poorly plotted, but it actually works fairly well in regards that the teens and younger teens act the way they should. Their actions in the movie is very much what kids would do so in that sense Hiltzik gets things right, but besides that the characters though are mostly interchangeable and most of them aren’t very likeable. The script as stated has a very perverse feel as one character who is a cook at the camp refers to the children as baldies and is sexually turned on by the kids. The screenplay is just really odd at times and very sleazy and even though it’s poorly written for the most part these aspects sort of make more out of the script than there really is.
As director Robert Hiltzik delivers a very strange movie and while the pacing can be a little slow at times, the perverse nature of the movie helps keep things interesting. There is a decent feel of atmosphere, but the suspense and tension lack, but while Hiltzik delivers a poorly made movie again the perverse nature and overall weirdness to the movie help keep things interesting.
The acting by most of the cast was rather dire, but Felissa Rose is excellent as Angela and Jonathan Tierston as Ricky is also very good, but it’s Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha that steals the show; Gould has a small role, but she delivers one of the strangest and entertaining performances I’ve ever seen; Gould’s performance has to be seen to be believed.
It’s difficult to go into too much explanation without spoiling the movie, but when you see the movie knowing the twist it really adds even more of a perverse feel to the movie as certain scenes now take on a whole new meaning. Sleepaway Camp is a cult favorite and for good reason and while this won’t make my top 10 slasher flicks of the 80s I get why so many hold it in such high regard, but when all is said and done I do think the ending is the main reason this movie even after all these years has remained such a cult favorite.
–Dave Kaye (Last Road Reviews)
To buy: Sleepaway Camp