Sleepaway Camp franchise
Ages ago, back in the early days of this blog, I did a quick pass at the Sleepaway Camp films. It was a brief seven hundred word overview of four movies in one post which really doesn’t do this series justice. I think it’s long past time for a genuine franchis focus on Sleepaway Camp.
Sleepaway camp used to be one of those films, where even in the horror community only people who were really in the know understood what you were talking about. 25 years later, it started to slowly rise in visibility, notably with the release of the DVD box set. It’s notoriety… or should I say infamy, was only increased by the fact that the box that had to be recalled when the Red Cross objected to the cover art featuring its logo. It really started to gain respect as a beloved horror classic though, once the cast, most notably Felissa Rose (and to a lesser extent Jonathan Tiersten) started to hit the convention circuit hard. Felissa is a regular now, and I can count on running into her once or twice every year. Tiersten was slower to embrace con culture, but these days, even he has started doing more and more shows.
The film opens on an idyllic summer day as a couple of kids squabble on a boat with their father. Little do they know the tragedy is about to strike when a couple of teenagers doing some motor boating and waterskiing get too close and clobber the dad one of the tykes. We fast forward eight years later when Angela, the survivor has been sent off to live with her curious Aunt Martha and cousin Ricky. There’s definitely something off about Aunt Martha, but you could easily just write it off as the actress chewing the scenery in a grindhouse movie. It doesn’t matter though because the kids are on their way away from home and off to camp Arawak, home of possibly the most pervy cook ever and a hunky counselor who not only wears the shortest shorts possible and has a penchant for half belly shirts. Stuff like this just screams the 80s.
Ricky greets old friends, and introduce them to Angela, who doesn’t really talk and is painfully shy. Ricky’s girlfriend from last year, Judy has gotten a little top-heavy since the previous summer and in addition to growing a bust, she also seems to have grown some significant attitude. The cabin counselor Meg (that’s M-E-G!) isn’t much better. She and the other girls resent any compassion showed upon the introverted Angela.
I’m a short 16 minutes into the movie, Ricky have to rush in and save Angela from the tender attentions of the pervert cook. And yet, mere minutes later, the cook ends up scaleded – somehow just having accidentally toppled a large pot of boiling water all over himself. If you’re here for the gore, this is as good as it gets. There’s a few other latex effects, but this one is by far the best.
We’re not sure exactly who it is that murdered the cook though, all you see are a pair of diminutive hands and the killer is left a mystery. It’s here where I really I feel like this film defines itself more as a giallo than a slasher. Things have gotten going, and we’re going to spend the next hour trying to figure out who the killer is, that is if we can draw our eyes away from the hunky counselors pecs, bulging from a shirt two sizes too small for him. The camp owner on the other hand, chomps on his cigar and asks the head chef to try and hush it up. He knew what the cook was, and this is probably all for the best.
We cut over to some juvenile camp shenanigans, to try and keep the atmosphere up. It’s dumb, but gets you right into the spirit of things before we head out to the softball game and then over to the Canteen to hang out.
The more we see of Ricky, the more the kid seems to be on a short fuse, and gets awfully mad when someone picks on Angela. Mad, even violent. Meanwhile, Ricky’s buddy Paul is getting friendly with Angela. Not necessarily trying to make time yet, just trying to help out a buddy sister. On the other side of the building, Judy enjoys the attention of the boys, but something about Angela just irritates her and she resolves to take it out on her later.
Out in the dark, the counselors are up to their own shenanigans, the stoners getting baked under the pier, the boys trying to entice the girls in the skinny-dipping in the lake, and a couple rowing out into the middle of nowhere, for the boy to prank his date.
Out of nowhere, a dark head pops up from the water, seizing his scalp and pushing it under. When daylight breaks, they’ll discover another dead body. The camp owner chews his early morning cigar, in denial and terrified of bad publicity. The hunky counselor is not quite so sure though, he remembers the boy being a good swimmer.
Elsewhere, Angela and Paul watch the other girls play volleyball, and Judy makes sure to get her in trouble. Meanwhile, Paul’s trying to steal a kiss.
We get into more campground shenanigans, with Judy playing up the mean girl bit to a hilt. Gossiping and teasing and even flirting with Angela’s new boyfriend Paul. Ricky goes off on a few more tantrums as well… It’s amazing amount of energy and profanity coming from such a small package! (Tiersten recalls part of his audition was to cuss out the producers, and he’s fairly certain that’s what got him the role)
Meanwhile, the bodies keep piling up, as one camper suffers death from bees! Dumping an active beehive into a bathroom stall is actually clever and innovative, but it’s threatening to shut down the camp. Word is getting out among the campers that there’s a killer on the loose, and The counselors decide to combine the remaining campers and work on the buddy system.
That doesn’t stop Angela and Paul from sneaking out, Paul’s on the make now and trying to reach second base… But Angela suddenly has a strange flashback of her dad in bed with another dude, and jumps up to run away. She kind of blows it off just explaining that she wasn’t ready. Judy on the other hand sees this as her opportunity to try and cut in between them. She continues to flirt with Paul, and After one more counselor is dispatched, it’s time for Judy to get hers… assaulted mystery killer in the most heinous use of a hair curling iron ever seen in cinematic history. Seriously, it’s the least gory and bloody kill of the entire film and yet absolutely the most memorable.
We’re about to hit the ending here. It’s the absolute most shocking ending of any Grindhouse horror movie that I can imagine. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to stop right now and watch the movie, because that’s the thing. People don’t really talk about Sleepaway Camp. They talk about the ending. It’s that reveal at the end that sets this film apart from every other campground slasher out there, and makes it a unique film. It’s a sort of movie that stands alone with no real way to follow it up or create a sequel.
Of course, they did anyhow.