Sleepaway Camp (1983)

FEBRUARY 13, 2009


With Friday the 13th remake hitting theaters today, I was in the mood for a summer camp slasher that actually took place at the summer camp (one of my gripes with the remake - not nearly enough of it takes place at the camp). So what better option than Sleepaway Camp, one of the more notorious ripoffs of the original Friday the 13th?

You might wonder why I’ve never seen it. Well, it’s just one of those movies that somehow escaped me during my slasher-obsessed youth, same as The Burning and (STILL) Night School. I started watching it at a friend’s in college, but we didn’t get too far before my friend felt compelled to fast forward to the film’s final three minutes. So I got a twist spoiled without having any of the context. Some friend!

Luckily I still enjoyed the hell out of it, though there were a couple of blemishes. The setup sort of cancels out any chance of really graphic kills - they all have to look like accidents, or the camp would close and the movie would be over. So instead of machetes and knives, people die via bee stings and drowning. We still get some nice makeup, but precious little in the way of actual blood until the “all hell breaks loose” final 10 minutes or so. Also - the killer could only be one of two people, and even if I hadn’t already seen the end it was kind of obvious who it was. Granted, the real twist is WHAT the killer was, but still, some element of mystery would have been nice.

Otherwise it’s a ball. For once, the killer has no qualms about killing other kids (probably because the killer is a kid herself), so that’s cool. In fact, I’m surprised how many of the older counselors are still standing at the end; I figured they would make up the bulk of the body count, but it’s actually pretty even with tykes and adults. And one is killed, according to Wikipedia, via a curling iron to the vagina, which is a pretty goddamn harsh thing to do even to an adult. However, the movie itself doesn’t make the iron’s destination clear, so maybe it’s just the rare case of misinformation on Wikipedia.

I also loved the rather confused sexual nature of the film. Our killer is a boy raised at a girl, but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. His/her dad was having an affair with another man, and when her and her brother (or, I guess, him and his sister) see this, they retreat to their bedroom and touch each other. Hey-O! We also have a would-be child molester working at the camp, a girl who is inexplicably attracted to the 70ish old crank who runs the joint... and, assuming Wiki is right, a goddamn curling iron shoved into a 14 or 15 year old girl’s vagina! And you can’t forget the end, which features a naked Angela cradling a naked boy on “her” lap before standing up and delivering the most abrupt conclusion in film history.

Also: the wardrobe. Did ALL males in the early 80s wear the shortest shorts available? The only people in the movie wearing pants are female (or Angela). One guy even has a short shirt. And the main, overly sympathetic counselor guy, wears a shirt that’s so tight it makes him appear to have the largest breasts in the film. In short, I felt really dirty watching this movie.

The movie also begins with one of the strangest dedications ever: “In fond memory of Mom; a doer.” Putting a dedication at the top of a film aside, what the hell does this say about the guy’s mom? The only female parental figure is a batshit woman who raises a boy as a girl. Gee, thanks. Dedicating Psycho to one’s mom would be more appropriate.

The DVD (which apparently has some cuts, though nothing major since the movie isn’t particularly violent/gory by design anyway) has the trailer and a commentary with Felissa Rose, director Robert Hiltzik, and founder Jeff Hayes. It’s largely “Oh do you remember when we shot this? It was so hot/cold/whatever” type comments, with Rose dominating the track. It’s hardly essential, but somewhat entertaining nonetheless. Apparently, there are no deleted scenes, and this being 1983, behind the scenes footage for the DVD wasn’t on anyone’s mind. So I guess there wouldn’t be much more; unless they could round up more of the cast/crew for a retrospective piece. There’s a boxed set with the first three films, as well as some footage from a never completed alternate fourth film, but now that Return to Sleepaway Camp has finally surfaced (5 years after it was shot!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a new set was released.

What say you?


  1. trivia: When you were watching sleepaway camp we were watching return to sleepaway camp at the same time, thus merging the two coastal lines in an awesome sleepaway camp mind melt

  2. The best WTF ending ever. If you know more wtf endings please tell me?

  3. wanna see more films like this again

  4. Hah, just watched "House at the end of the street" and I was reminded of this movie..similar premise! I actually knew the girl that was on water skis, the girl was in fact played by a dude.Funny movie.


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