October Horrorshow: Sleepaway Camp

This film is a horror cult classic. It’s one of those flicks a person’s friends tell them about in high school. The teller’s eyes get big and mature elocution disappears. “Oh, man! You have got to see this movie. The ending is crazy!” No further details are given. The line has been drawn. Those that have seen the movie are in an exclusive club, while those who have not are on the outside, looking in with envy. Then the moment comes when a person finally sits down and sees the slasher flick with the shocking twist ending...and it’s a piece of shit.

From 1983, Sleepaway Camp was written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, and stars a bunch of people he picked up at a five and dime somewhere on Long Island. In the movie’s intro, a tragic boating accident has wreaked havoc on a family, killing a father and son. Fast forward eight years and young Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and his cousin Angela (Felissa Rose) head off to summer camp. Angela is a rather withdrawn individual, refusing to talk to just about anyone. She was the lone survivor of the boating accident, and it has left her with some very serious problems.

The camp is no different from any other, except for the fact that this film was shot in the early 1980s. Wow. The ’80s-ness of this movie is extraordinary. This flick is real garbage. It’s a case study in poor storytelling and rank amateurism. But it captures its time and place so well that I was transported back in time while I was watching. I was seven years old when this movie was released, and the children and teenagers that populate the cast were just past being my contemporaries. I remember the time as being a hangover from the ’70s, when the Sleepaway Campchildren of the hippie generation had built up a fair amount of contempt for the world. The kids at the camp are foul-mouthed jerks suffering from raging hormones, and while the readings of the cast are uniformly bad, the dialogue is authentic.

I recall a park not far from where I grew up. The park is still there, but it is a far different place than it was a generation ago. Gone are the basketball hoops where pickup games were just as likely to turn into fights as tests of athletic ability. Gone also is the storage shed where a park worker would come by during the summers to hand out equipment and games. The park was a hangout for kids who had nothing better to do, and after the park worker left, there was no supervision. Kids being kids, we raised hell. That park was where I learned to swear and it was where plenty of other kids learned to smoke cigarettes...and dope. Today the park is little more than a museum for flowers and bushes, everything that made it accessible to kids and teenagers having been excised. The camp in this movie reminds me of that place.

Not long after we viewers are taken to the camp with the protagonists, the killings begin. Why they happen isn’t explained until that twist at the end, but it doesn’t really matter. There is little narrative cohesion to string the killings together. But it does follow a simple rule. If a camper is being a dick to Angela, the next scene will probably feature that character being killed in improbable fashion. All except for Judy (Karen Fields). That bitch manages to make it almost all the way to the end of the movie. If I had been the killer, she would have been the first on my list.

So, the story is weak, the acting is awful, and the killings are ridiculous. Is there anything of value in this movie? No. There isn’t. Even the twist is stupid. I watched this film on its reputation alone, and I felt like I’ve been had. So, in order to spare any of the Loyal Seven having to watch this flick, I’m going to spoil it. Angela turns out to be the killer. Angela is not a girl. She’s a boy. His sister was the one killed in the boating accident, and the aunt she went to live with made her dress up and act like a girl. The reveal at the end is really bizarre, though. A naked Angela has just chopped off the head of her crush and stands facing the camera, full frontal, her face a rictus of rage and insanity. It’s such a weird looking shot because the filmmakers obviously had a male body double don a mask cast from Felissa Rose’s face, and it leaves the impression of being the most horrifying mannequin ever made. In a way, this one shot makes the movie, but it’s not worth sitting through the entire movie to get there. Sleepaway Camp is a far worse film than Alien: Resurrection.

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