Welcome to the third edition of The Eggducator – a new retrospective column where I look at bad movies and see whether they’re so bad, they’re good. Or maybe they’re so bad, they’re just really bad. I will look at the positives and negatives of these commercially or critically maligned films, and judge whether they deserve to be thrown in the incinerator or hatched to be enjoyed by everyone.
Hmmm… it looks like the cinematic goose has laid another egg. Let’s see what it is:
I’ve never done the summer camp thing. Being a city boy, I’ve never had the luxury of going into the woods with a large backpack and sleeping bag to enjoy what nature has to offer for three months. Sometimes I wonder if I missed something great. Camp always looks so fun in the movies – the kind of fun I would have loved to have had when I was younger. The sports, the hikes, learning how to tie knots and shoot arrows, fishing, hiding the corpses behind the shadowy trees – fun times to be had. Especially the hiding corpses part because the woods are such a great place to commit crimes and get away with them. Hell, Mrs. Voorhees and her son did it for almost 40 years! Yep…camp is a time to build friendships, make memories, and risk your life to live through the entire summer. At Sleepaway Camp, the risk is a lot higher than most.
After surviving a boating accident that murdered her father and sibling, Angela (Felissa Rose) lives with her crazy and bad actress of an aunt and her foul-mouthed cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tierston). Ricky is a popular and pretty cool kid, but Angela is quiet in a creepy sort of way. They both go to Camp Arawak for the summer, where Angela is instantly picked on by both the boys and girl campers over her anti-social behavior. Only Ricky’s best friend Paul (Christopher Collet) takes his time to talk to Angela, wooing her. Unfortunately at the same time, people at camp are getting attacked or murdered by an unknown assailant. Some people think it could be the rebellious Ricky. Maybe it’s the quiet Angela. Could it be someone else altogether?
WHY SLEEPAWAY CAMP IS WORTH HATCHING
Sleepaway Camp is a fun little 80s slasher that reminds me of the days when horror was inventive and actually entertaining for all the right reasons. It’s definitely your typical slasher but with an actual story that doesn’t totally rely on scares or gore. The film has a slow build, an aura of innocence in between the murders, and an extremely memorable ending that makes it stand out above many in the slasher sub-genre.
I think a big part of what makes Sleepaway Camp work is the main character. Felissa Rose is excellent as Angela. We don’t normally see really shy creepy girls in horror films, especially slashers. But Rose brings such a big layer of humanity that sets it apart from heartless slasher films that precede it and actually come after it. A horror film with a heart? A horror film with a character we can relate to and care about?
Nooooo. Really? That exists?
It sure does here.
Rose is such a presence in this film through her quietness and intense eyes that you actually think about her even when she’s NOT on screen. Obviously, we suspect her to be the killer since you can’t really trust those quiet ones, but you still have sympathy and empathy for her. It helps that Rose plays the role to perfection.
I think the other characters in the film are actually interesting to watch. Usually in films like these, you just want the paper-thin characters to get killed as viciously as possible. And while these characters aren’t exactly well-developed, they aren’t one-dimensional either. Characters with substance and a bit of depth…who knew? But they’re here. From the foul-mouthed (my mom would have slapped me multiple times if I spoke like this kid at 13), yet compassionate and loyal Ricky, to the ill judgmental Mel (Mike Kellin) to the bitch Meg (Katherine Kamhi) and to the even bitchier Judy (Karen Fields), there’s a character for everyone to love and to hate. They all act like normal people, which is refreshing. Even that disgusting pedophile Artie was welcomed because I’m sure there’s one at every teenage camp like this. I enjoyed the use of teenagers because it made the film more innocent, yet somewhat exploitative underneath the surface, in nature. No sex. No T & A. Minimal gore. It feels more like a teen drama than a horror film, but it works in its favor.
The direction by Robert Hiltzik (who also wrote and produced the film) is very well done. We get the usual cliches, like the killer’s POV and lots of dark and shadows, but there’s a bit of a style going on here. The flashbacks are surreal (especially the subject material involved – GUTSY!) and the murders are implied, which actually makes them more effective. I’ve never been so scared of a hot curling iron, but that scene made me cringe, especially since I couldn’t see it and my mind worked overtime. The direction’s fine.
And then we get that ending. Up until the end credits, the ending is one of the most brilliant scenes ever devised for any horror film, let alone any film. Those who have seen this film know what I’m talking about. And I’m sure those who haven’t have heard about it. But it really is a shocking and clever ending. I remember watching this film when I was like 8 and my jaw just dropped at the revelation. I wasn’t sure I was seeing correctly. I think it’s probably the only thing most people take away from this film and it deserves it. Kudos to Hiltzik for coming up with it. The sequels could be nothing but less memorable after that conclusion. This film has mucho balls. Get it? Balls? Hahahaha! I kill me sometimes…
WHY SLEEPAWAY CAMP IS WORTH INCINERATING
Some of the acting is bad. I mean REALLY bad. Especially that crazy aunt and Karen Fields as Judy. I really couldn’t stand them. I was hoping both would die the most horrible death possible. Now I’m sure Fields did her job because she wasn’t a likable character to begin with. But that actress who played the aunt was really getting on my nerves. It’s one thing to play crazy. But she took it to a whole new level. I like my crazies to be a bit subtle, which I’m sure this woman doesn’t know the definition of. Instead of caring about how she was connected to everything in the film, I was too busy imagining myself smacking her around until I slapped the madness out of her. ANNOYING. I also didn’t like the abrupt ending. I mean, it just ended and went to the credits. I would have liked to have known what happened to the people involved in the ending. Kind of left me cold and I wasn’t satisfied with the resolution.
Plus we have some uncomfortable subject matter that may turn viewers off. The themes of pedophilia are in-your-face, with cooks wanting to rape little girls and managers dating teenage girls to have sex with them. I would not be surprised this actually happened in real summer camps, but watching it play on screen is still very uncomfortable and very sleazy.
And while I like to think that we’ve progressed when it comes to homosexuality, some folk out there will probably balk at the idea of seeing two men together. It adds an interesting layer to Sleepaway Camp, but some viewers might find it unnecessary and criticize the film for it. For a slasher film involving younger characters, the adult themes may be a turn-off for many and make the film less entertaining.
The film also isn’t that suspenseful and the murders can be telegraphed from a mile away. Kind of takes the fun out of guessing who’s gonna die or not. And there was one death taken straight out of Friday the 13th (1980). It was still cool but unoriginal.
GOOD EGG OR BAD EGG?
Sleepaway Camp is a campy (pun intended) slasher film that’s still as entertaining today as it was years ago. Yeah, it’s not scary, suspenseful, that well-acted, or even gory. But it’s quick paced and never boring to watch. And that ending…you’ll never forget it after you see it. Definitely a cult classic. Just don’t meet weird girls at the waterfront after the social. You might be sleeping at this camp for a very, very long time. GOOD EGG.