Review: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Sleepaway Camp

Directed by Robert Hiltzik
Starring Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields

About 40 minutes in, one of the counselors walks into a room full of young campers wearing a transparent blue t-shirt and shorts that barely cover his ass. If this were any other slasher movie, I’d be a little shocked. But this is different. This is Sleepaway Camp.

Writer/Director Robert Hiltzik has created what may be the most sexually confused horror film of all time. After dark at Camp Arawak, male camp counselors go skinny dipping together. In the cabins, boys in short pants get into fights, writhing all over each other in barely disguised ecstasy. Pranks are pulled that involve sit-ups into poised bare buttcheeks. The male counselors ooze homosexuality, their hairy bodies exposed like freshly-peeled bananas. At the same time, the boys show every intention of asking girls out, but rarely do. Cool kid Ricky only has eyes for Judy, who has recently developed breasts. Ricky’s introverted cousin Angela even finds a date, but she won’t go past first base. Sexual frustration thrives. Even the younger children are being longed for.

I believe Artie, one of the camp cooks, says it best: “Look at all that young, fresh chicken. Where I’m from, we call ’em baldies. Makes your mouth water, don’t it?” I think Artie got the job because he was honest about his love for children.

But beyond sex lies anger. A friendly, homoerotic game of softball becomes intensely heated. Later, a gang of unruly boys throws water balloons from the roof of a cabin. They hit Angela with one, and Ricky screams up at them from the ground, his adolescent voice cracking in anguish. Judy, the most popular girl at Camp Arawak, sneers at everyone she sees and finds time to berate anyone who speaks a word to her. Her shirt is emblazoned with her own name, printed over her extremely visible nipples. When an older boy turns down her advances, she screams at him, her face livid with rage.

Behind the scenes, campers and counselors are turning up dead. Mel, who runs Camp Arawak, chomps on a cigar at all hours and decides that the show must go on, no matter how many children are gutted in their sleeping bags. When one of the counselors is found on a bathroom floor, dead and covered in bees, he worries that they’ll force him to shut everything down. He takes a drag on his cigar and grunts a few words of anguish. You don’t even need to be paying attention too hard to realize that Mel is the real murderer here.

Sleepaway Camp takes the summer-camp-murderer formula that the Friday the 13th films created and perfects it with more intense POV sequences and more imaginative deaths. Plus, most of the murders take place just off-screen, or are only seen as shadows on a wall. However, many of the plot twists are completely insane, and most of the characters aren’t developed past first names. But the atmosphere, coupled with some unique themes, manages to make the film worth much more than many of its contemporaries. The twist ending is one of the most shocking in the history of any genre, and it makes up for most of the movie’s shortcomings.

But it’s no matter. After the film is over, the killer is revealed, and the bodies are collected, all that remains are fleeting images of men in transparent shirts and girls in ill-fitting swimsuits. Because sex is everything. Don’t believe me? Just ask Sleepaway Camp.


Links:

Amazon – Sleepaway Camp DVD
Amazon – Sleepaway Camp VHS
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

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  1. […] “Sleepaway Camp takes the summer-camp-murderer formula that the Friday the 13th films created and perfects it with more intense POV sequences and more imaginative deaths. Plus, most of the murders take place just off-screen, or are only seen as shadows on a wall. However, many of the plot twists are completely insane, and most of the characters aren’t developed past first names. But the atmosphere, coupled with some unique themes, manages to make the film worth much more than many of its contemporaries. The twist ending is one of the most shocking in the history of any genre, and it makes up for most of the movie’s shortcomings. But it’s no matter. After the film is over, the killer is revealed, and the bodies are collected, all that remains are fleeting images of men in transparent shirts and girls in ill-fitting swimsuits. Because sex is everything. Don’t believe me? Just ask Sleepaway Camp.” William Tuttle, The Video Basement […]



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