Sleepaway Camp Reviews
The entire intro scene to Sleepaway Camp is rather senseless. As two teenagers drive their motorboat aimlessly towards the shoreline as a boat capsizes in shallow water, none of the characters are capable of moving a few inches to get out of the way. This entire scene feels cheap and sets up a rather amateur film. Considering it is the only film director Robert Hiltzik would make for more than 20 years it's clear that he has limitations.
The dialogue in the following scene immediately signifies that his writing skills are no greater. The eccentric Aunt Martha immediately discusses her children going away to camp, signifying their relationship and revealing to audiences that something is rather suspect. It's made worse due to the campy performance of Desiree Gould which is ridiculously over-the-top. The dialogue in the film is almost tongue-in-cheek with its cheap nature as if the director intentionally wants audiences to laugh at the slasher conventions. I'm not sure how intentional this was, but either way it gave a strange touch of camp to the film at many times without leaving me laughing. I certainly like the fact that the film doesn't take itself too seriously, but it can be a little too much of a B-movie for its own good.
Of course, the value of Sleepaway Camp lies on how it uses the distinctive features of a slasher movie. The first victim of the murders is a bit player by the name of Owen Hughes, an actor whose only role has ever been Sleepaway Camp. After collapsing and scalding himself in water which leaves him with half-assed burns captured with rather cheap makeup, he spends the rest of his role screaming endlessly. This scene supports the possibly intentional comedic touch of the film, but there is little in the way of thrills there. Being a low-budget production, Sleepaway Camp is able to make effective use of its location with a genuine feeling of isolation in its setting and production values solid enough to depict the many kills well enough. There is not too much blood and gore in the film and there are certain sequences which feel rather cheap in this regard, but the majority of it is quality enough to pass. However, there is really no tensity in the experience due to its tonal imbalance. The film doesn't take itself seriously so viewers are even less likely to, but a slasher film is clearly meant to have atmosphere of some kind. With Sleepaway Camp, there is really minimal largely due to the fact that the tonal inconsistency sets the mood as being too light and the acting, sound editing and musical score fails to achieve any real tension. The musical score is an odd mix of tunes. One moment the music is too subtle and repetitive, the next it's screeching at a painfully high pitch and loud volume which just makes it a tedious experience. This means the score is composed of predominantly awkward sounds which are never really consistent in any way, shape or form.
Succumbing to the character limitations of slasher films, the characters in Sleepaway Camp are all careless teenage archetypes, few of whom are all that likable. In a sense this means the viewer is more likely to take joy in seeing the characters get killed, but the more annoying ones can be a challenge to tolerate while they're alive. Some of the characters have pretentious freakouts for random reasons. The most notable of all is Meg, played by Katherine Kahmi. Her monotonous but gradually loud cries are laughable in banality, and when she pretends to be murdered it seems like she is feigning an orgasm. And then there's Mike Kellin who has the natural persona of someone from an old cowboy movie and uses his gruffy voice to retain dramatic pretention, most notably in scenes where he delivers monologues in mimicry of some kind of half-assed Christopher Walken impression. And Karen Fields is incredibly repetitive and campy like someone out of a John Waters film with the face of the Grinch's young Caucasian daughter. The standard for acting in Sleepaway Camp is minimal with the characters not being old enough to hide their limitations behind nudity.
However, Felissa Rose delivers a decent performance. It's heavily implied the entire time that the killer is Angela Baker and many viewers are likely to come to this conclusion, yet despite going into Sleepaway Camp well aware of the killer's identity I still managed to appreciate Felissa Rose for managing to consistently maintain an introverted nature where she consistently seemed innocent and harmless before turning it all around with a terrifying facial expression which terrified me in my childhood and still to this day remains unforgettable. Felissa Rose's silence prevents her from succumbing to the cheap nature of the script and instead focuses predominantly on the physical side of things, conveying fear and some kind of underlying emotional trauma without overdoing it.
For fans of slasher films, I'll admit that there is certainly creativity in the way the characters are killed. It isn't the same repetitive series of slice and dice this time around, there are a variety of ways they fall victim to the killer ranging from conventional stabbing and drowning to bee nests and curling irons. But what's more creative is the unpredictable nature of the film's ending. No matter who is responsible for the killings in Sleepaway Camp, there is no guessing the true identity of the killer until the ending rears its head. It's the kind of ending you never forget, one of the few things separating Sleepaway Camp from countless other slasher films.
Sleepaway Camp offers some minor distinctions from within the slasher genre for the modicum of creativity within how kills are executed and the shocking twist ending, but it ultimately falls into generic slasher territory most of the time with little to offer outside of a tonal inconsistency.
Coming up to the last five minutes of this film, everything was rushing by, making it feel very sloppy to me. Then all of sudden boom here comes the ending and I was like HOLY SHIT! It creep-ed the shit out of me and had me startled. I didn't see it coming at all and has been so long since a film's ending blew me away. I think the ending is done amazingly, but unfortunately it's really the only thing worthy of this film. Majority of this film feels like a cheap Friday the 13th knock off, this film would have been better with greater actors and a storyline. But keep the ending. Oh God The Ending!!!
All jolts aside, though, "Sleepaway Camp" is nothing more than a paltry slasher that gets more credit than it deserves simply because of its conclusion. Had it gone the "Halloween" or "Black Christmas" route, leaving the identity of the killer ambiguous one way or another, it would be a rote, boring even, foray into the genre, not necessarily because of its lack of blood but because of its lack of genuine suspense or interest as to what's coming next. Most who view the film as an important moment in the history of horror better think again - if it didn't have that final gut punch, would it be so infamous, so renowned? I don't think so.
It introduces itself with a laughable sequence set in 1975, with a family out boating for the day. It is a warm summer afternoon, perfect for familial bonding - laughs abound as father and his two kids, Peter and Angela, frolic around the starboard, pushing each other playfully into the water when need be. But such picturesque sun-soaked fun cannot last in a 1980s slasher movie, so it comes as no surprise when a couple of reckless teenagers with a motorboat fail to pay attention to what's in front of them for a good two minutes and crash into the family, instantly killing father and Peter.
Eight years later, Angela (Felissa Rose) is living with her quirky aunt, Martha (Desiree Gould), and spends every waking moment reliving the traumatic incident that destroyed her childhood. She hardly ever speaks, her overprotective cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) doing most of the talking. As the film opens, the kids are being shipped off to Camp Arawak, where they will spend the next month or so. Ricky is familiar with most of its goers, but Angela, shy and innocent, is mercilessly picked on, particularly by the melodramatically bitchy Judy (Karen Fields) and her sidekick, Meg (Katherine Kamhi). So you could say that the atmosphere reaches unfathomably tense heights when mysterious attacks and murders begin occurring left and right, the person responsible impossible to guess as a sleepaway camp holds hundreds of inhabitants.
Though it bears a concept worth a great deal of interest, writer/director Robert Hilztik does not have quite enough filmmaking skill to provide "Sleepaway Camp" with the self-referential tone it would so greatly benefit from. It feels like a parody in itself, with body builder counselors, sexually thirsty (and disgusting) camp head honchos, aggressively mean girls, and virginal youths as stereotypes that never seem to be in on the joke. What's more, the deaths, though a bit more inventive than its slasher peers (consider slaughters that involve a stickily situated beehive and a vomit inducing use of a curling iron), feel like a chore the film had to endure in order to stay in place as a dead teenager movie. They lack any sort of excitement, coming by hastily and without much payoff.
Perhaps I'm in the minority - its cult fanbase considers "Sleepaway Camp" to be even better than "Friday the 13th" - but the film is, in truth, a run-of-the-mill slasher that just so happens to be christened with a great ending. Take away its gimmick and what do you have? A snoozer.