...you won't be coming home!
Year of Release: 1983
Running Time: 84 minutes (1:24)
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Felissa Rose ... Angela
Jonathan Tiersten ... Ricky
Christopher Collet ... Paul
Karen Fields ... Judy
Mike Kellin ... Mel
Katherine Kamhi ... Meg
Susan Glaze ... Susie
Paul DeAngelo ... Ronnie
Frank Trent Saladino ... Gene
Thomas E. van Dell ... Mike
Loris Diran ... Billy
John E. Dunn ... Kenny
Willy Kuskin ... Mozart
Desiree Gould ... Aunt Martha
After a terrible boating accident killed her family, shy Angela Baker went to live with her eccentric Aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky.
This summer, Martha decides to send them both to Camp Arawak, a place to enjoy the great outdoors. Shortly after their arrival, a series of bizarre and violent "accidents" begin to claim the lives of various campers. Has a dark secret returned from the camp's past... or will an unspeakable horror end the Summer season for all?
Sleepaway Camp, remindin' us that pot really is the gateway drug... provided it contains 50 gallons of boiling water that spills all over you an generates flesh melting pain requiring 10,000ccs of morphine just to keep your skull from explodin'.
Speakin' of things that get a bad rap though, I'd like to address the ugly rumors that've been circulatin' around town about my dog an his "propensity" (that's what Tork Farnsworth called it after he'd met with his attorney) for killin' chickens, cause I witnessed the alleged incident with my own two eyes, an I can state unequivocally that it was self defense. That chicken came into *my* yard, snuck up on Apollo while he was nappin' on his bench seat, an committed Class C Assault on his person by peckin' his... well, just nevermind exactly where he got pecked - the point is, he was completely defenseless at the time, an yeah, when he woke up with a beak stuck in his... stuff, he was understandably upset, as *any* of us would be.
Seriously, let's briefly examine just a few simple facts in the case an I think you'll come around to seein' my side of it:
1) Tork hasn't fenced his chickens since 1972 after supplies ran short an he sold his coop wire for profit durin' Chickawalka's trade war with Mulepiddle County.
2) So many of the man's chickens've been donated to the local food bank after bein' hit by cars that the homeless population gets into fistfights over cans of Spam just to avoid eatin' his free-range fowl.
3) His property makes the entire south side of town smell like it's stuck in traffic next to a Tyson truck.
Now, in spite of all this, I tried tyin' the dead chicken to Apollo's collar as one does when they're tryin' to break a dog of this "habit," only it didn't work cause Shankles just followed 'im around eatin' all the good parts anytime he'd lay down until there was nothin' left to keep it attached. So inevitably I get a call from my personal attorney, Cletus Rubenstein, tellin' me that Tork's lawyer was threatenin' to sue for "emotional distress" claimin' it was an emotional support chicken, but Cletus managed to convince 'im that the important thing was the "prevention of future unpleasantries," an that if the bird were still with us its concern would lie with the safety of its grandchickens, or somethin' like that. Cletus is pretty dang slick with that law talkin' he does, lemme tell ya. Unfortunately, as part of my agreement with Tork, now Apollo hasta see a doggie psychiatrist once a week for two months to work through his "anger issues" (ya know, the ones stemmin' from bein' BEAKED IN THE JUNK) to keep this nonsense outta the court system. That's not really important though - what *is* important is the fact that Apollo is the real victim in all this, not some P.O.'d poultry that pecks first an asks questions later. So I'd appreciate it if everybody'd quit treatin' 'im like a criminal when he comes up to 'em on the street to say hello - you're givin' 'im a complex, an his shrink's already got his hands full with the stupid chicken thing as it is.
I tell ya, if it ain't one thing, it's havin' your dog accused of sociopathic behavior towards ill-tempered farm animals. Needless to say, after bringin' Apollo home from his first therapy session I didn't exactly have the patience for another stinkburger, so I figured I'd be one heck of a swell guy an get back to the basics this week with Sleepaway Camp - which for those of you who've suffered from bad taste up to this point, is the story of a quiet, introverted girl with just a hint outroversion in the last place you'd expect. I don't wanna give away the plot just yet, but I've plucked out three bits of unconventional wisdom that some of you (particularly the younger generation) are gonna need for the full enjoyment of this flick, so pay attention a minute while I dazzle you with brilliance *and* baffle you with bullstuff. First, anybody who's old enough to grow a chest rug an still attends summer camp prolly ain't there for the sporting events. Second, a fully loaded fly strip in the kitchen only portends a four star dining experience if you're a lizard. An third, losing your first crush is always painful, but sometimes your differences are simply irreconcilable.
The movie begins with this gay guy scarrin' his two adopted children for life by havin' impeccable decorating sense and a questionable penchant for Barbra Streisand movies out on Lake Arawak, only to have some careless bimboater take 'er eyes off the current an drive 'er Aroliner right square into Dad's grill, givin' both him an the male child a deep blue c-section with the ole outboard. Next thing you know eight years've passed an the surviving female child (Angela) is livin' with 'er cousin Ricky an 'er creepy aunt who looks like Death from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey an decides to send 'em off to summer camp so she can head over to the department store an turn back into a mannequin. Unfortunately things go south in a hurry, cause in addition to Ricky's former summertime fling (Judy) sproutin' boobs an goin' snot-nose on 'im, Angela's so freaked out by 'er exposure to kids who weren't raised by a schizophrenic June Cleaver that she ends up goin' on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions in North Korean labor camps. Then this chunkhead counselor (Ron) who looks like he hadda take a summer job to make ends meet until the next season of American Gladiators starts filmin' takes 'er into the kitchen to find somethin' that wasn't donated to the camp after bein' killed crossin' the highway, only the sleazebag chef offers 'er some chicken statutory instead an Ricky walks in just in time to scare peenocchio back into Joe Pedo's pants. So a coupla hours go by until it's time for Chester the Molester to start dinner, but unbeknownst to him he's got some concealed company, an when he gets up on a chair to pitch corn cobs into a pot of boilin' water, somebody yanks the chair out from under 'im - sendin' 'im tumblin' to the floor where he's melted into one giant pedophilic pustule beneath the molten hot downpour of Niagara Scalds. Course, it'd be a teensy bit traumatizin' for all the campers to find out about this, so the owner (Mel) offers James Earl Jones' Dad (the assistant cook) a field promotion an a few extra bucks a week to keep his trap shut about the whole Moltenoma Falls incident.
Then Ricky tricks this dork named Mozart into doin' the Impossible Situp an the kids play baseball an cuss at each other until they've uncorked enough profanity to piece together a respectable Ice Cube album, at which point everybody heads for the rec-room where some punk (Kenny) starts mackin' on Angela an Ricky ends up costin' the director his PG-13 rating several times over while Angela stares at the opposite wall like a caribou caught in Sarah Palin's headlights. Eventually the place clears out an Ricky's friend (Paul) sits babblin' at Angela for several minutes with the kinda stuff that always sounds witty an charming in your head until the blood returns an you realize how stupid it all was, but somehow this manages to bring Angela out of 'er shell an earns Paul a sugary sweet salutation as he leaves for the night. Meanwhile, Kenny's down by the lake suckerin' this gal into goin' out in a canoe with 'im so he can tip it over like a porta-potty at a GWAR concert an watch 'er t-shirt cling to 'er suction cups, but once everybody's gone back to their cabins somebody pops up on the underside of the canoe an drowns 'im like a series of unspecified sorrows in a Country song. Course, by the time mornin' rolls around the body's washed up on shore an bloated up like the occupants of the buffet line at Cici's Pizza, so Mel hasta try steerin' Officer Feltstache towards "accident" status an generally act like Murray Hamilton in Jaws so the guy'll go back to hasslin' teenagers at the arcade. Then Paul takes Angela to the movie in the rec-hall an gives 'er a little smooch til she gets so weirded out that she hasta walk like she's got a 5lb load in 'er pants, an pretty quick Judy starts givin' 'er the business for refusin' to shower with the other girls an makin' 'er self conscious about applyin' 'er crab shampoo or somethin'. I dunno - I don't understand women an I don't understand kids, so this's like the worst of both worlds. Anyhow, the result is that Angela decides to go be weepy someplace else, but en route to Ricky's cabin she comes under fire by rooftop water balloon snipers an Ricky hasta challenge Mr. Barkley's entire 6th period Auto Shop class to a no-holds-barred bare-knuckle fist fight to preserve 'er honor, until Mel sees what's goin' on an bans everyone from attendin' that night's screenin' of Lady and the Tramp while Angela tries willin' the bullies to death with 'er cute little munchkin glare.
Then the head dickhead goes into the crapper to see what the Glade plug-in is really made of, only some lunatic sneaks in an bars the door with a broom handle an dumps a hornet's nest in with 'im until he gets bung stung so many times that he succumbs to the effects of literally bein' the world's biggest asshole. After that mosta the kids' parents finally decide to collect their offspring even though it'll mean the end of their swingin' summer key parties, but among the holdouts are Paul an Angela who go down to the beach to fool around one night until Angela develops LGBPTSD syndrome from flashin' back to an episode of My Two Dads that you're not likely to see in syndication anytime soon, before freakin' out an runnin' off to seek help from Dear Abby. Things only get worse from there, cause the next day Judy goes an schmoozes Paul into puttin' another notch on 'er neckpost within visual range of Angela, an even though she still just looks like a constipated zombie, I'm pretty sure that one got 'er right in the feels. Then this bitchy counselor who hangs around with Judy (Meg) pitches Angela into the lake while Mel comes unglued on Ricky claimin' he's the one responsible for all the camper casserole that's been turnin' up until Ron hasta pull 'im off so Ricky can fish Angela outta the lake. Of course, since no bad deed goes unrewarded, Meg ends up gettin' the evenin' off an takes the opportunity to invite 'erself back to Sideshow Mel's cabin to play with his wrinkly old slide whistle an save 'er job, cept she never quite gets that far cause once she hops into the shower she receives the Psycho treatment an ends up Hitchcock blocked. After that it's off to Judy's cabin where our resident maniac clobbers 'er with a left, grabs 'er curlin' iron, an... look, I don't wanna get graphic or anything, so let's just say that when it's all said an done a more appropriate name'd be the short and curling iron. Think that's about as far as I wanna go, particularly since that last scene's one that makes your whole gut bucket turn upside down - kinda like the female equivalent of the bathtub scene from I Spit on Your Grave, yeesh. Besides, this flick's got one of the top ten best twist endings in Horror history, so I ain't about to go spoilin' it.
Oh goodness, betcha didn't see that comin' did ya? Excellent twist ending to cap off one of the best entries in the '80s Slasher cycle, and possibly *the* best of the camp-themed subgenre. Explaining the greatness of Sleepaway Camp can be difficult without spoiling the very things that make it so enjoyable, but I think the thing that really separates it from the other summer camp slashers is that it focuses primarily on the kids attending the camp, rather than the counselors attending them, and portrays them far more realistically than a lot of other titles that tend to write kids' dialog the way adults would prefer it be written. Sleepaway Camp really cuts through the bullstuff and effectively captures not just the spirit of the '80s and summer camp, but also the fact that a lot of kids are jackasses with a tendency towards bullying and profanity. Admittedly, by focusing on the kids you have to sacrifice some of the mainstays of the genre like gratuitous nudity, but it's a small price to pay to get something as genuinely different as this. There's no question that it was *way* ahead of its time, and that classification is one that almost always guarantees a flick cult status, even if the movie itself wasn't all that great. Movies like this one affect people and remain memorable even 35 years after the fact, because from that point on you'll always remember where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing the first time you saw it, and just hearing the name can bring you back to that period and produce a nostalgia overload. I kinda liken it to Basket Case - not because the two movies have anything in common as far as their storylines, but because they're both perfect examples of an excellent premise and fantastic shooting locations overcoming other technical deficiencies and budgetary restraints - although to be fair, at $335,000, Sleepaway Camp had between 6 to 10 times the budget Basket Case had. Still, they're both gritty, sleazy, and unforgettable, and I think the latter designation is just about the highest compliment you can pay a filmmaker. The sequels took a more mainstream approach and became carbon copies of the Friday the 13th series, and while they're not nearly as good, I dunno that you can really fault their logic, because by that point the cat's outta the bag and everybody knows the big secret. Felissa Rose did actually audition to return as Angela, but the new director wanted Pamela Springsteen (Bruce's sister) so that didn't pan out. It's probably just as well since the tone of the sequels are such a strong departure from the original, and I'm not sure Rose would have really fit in. Either way, the original is an all-time classic of the genre, and at the end of the day, there's little question as to whose autograph line at the Horror conventions is going to be the longest.
All that said, 50% of its score is still accounted for based upon technical proficiency, so let's have a looksee at where all that big indie money went and whether it paid dividends. The plot, again, without spoiling the conclusion 99% of you are already familiar with, is fantastic. Between that final revelation, the children being the protagonists, and the whodunit aspect that makes you think you've got it all figured out when you really haven't got a clue, is marvelous. At the end of the day it's just kids at summer camp doing kid things for much of the running time, and while that may cause some people to question the pacing, I think it's necessary for establishing the aesthetic they were going for. The acting, despite my praise for the decision to put the kids center stage, does tend to result in some uneven performances. Honestly, *all* the kids have moments of awkward delivery, and if one were to grade them I'd probably say that Karen Fields is the best simply because she has the easiest character to portray. Of course, the kids don't deserve all the blame because all the counselors have their own moments of ineptitude, and Allen Breton is flat-out bad as the cop on the scene who, when asked to return for reshoots, had shaved his mustache for another role and had to wear a *really* bad replacement. The best actor in the cast, depending upon what you think of Desiree Gould (she's either the best or the worst, but again, you sure's hell won't forget her performance), is without question the veteran character actor Mike Kellin who plays the stressed out camp manager, Mel. Sadly, Kellin was terminally ill at the time and essentially hid that fact from the production before ultimately passing away three months before it was released into theaters.
Here's who matters and why (cept Felissa Rose, who's done about a zillion low budget Horror flicks since returning to acting 17 years after Sleepaway camp came out): Jonathan Tiersten (Return to Sleepaway camp, Terror Tales 2016, Blood Reservoir, The Perfect House, Lake of Shadows), Christopher Collet (Langoliers), Mike Kellin (Just Before Dawn), Katherine Kamhi (The Occupants, Silent Madness), Paul DeAngelo (Return to Sleepaway Camp, Silent Madness), Desiree Gould (Tales of Poe), Robert Earl Jones (Maniac Cop 2), Michael C. Mahon (High School Possession, Oblivion 2, Dark Angel: The Ascent), James Paradise (Congo, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Dee Dee Friedman (Return to Sleepaway Camp), Maximo Gianfranco Sorrentino (Blood Reservoir, Caesar and Otto's Paranormal Halloween), Mike Tatosian (Return to Sleepaway Camp). Christopher Collet apparently went into voice acting and built up a pretty respectable resume of kiddie crapola, having voiced Steven Stone on the Pokemon TV series, Conklin on Yu-Gi-Oh! GX and a lotta other stuff that your kids've probably driven you nuts with at one point or another.
The special effects are hit and miss, with the best of the bunch being the pulsating melted flesh on the pedophile cook. The job Ed French did on that guy holds up 35 years after the fact and still results in a squirm every time I see it - with Owen Hughes' agonized screams making it all the more effective. You've also got an arrow through the neck of Mike Kellin, which comes across well if you're not watching in slow-motion, the drowned corpse of Kenny (this is probably the worst of the bunch and isn't particularly realistic), Meg's two-foot long back slashing (the fake torso is pretty good, but it doesn't really come together with her head very cleanly), the body covered in bees (not great, but decent, with the bees covering most of what makes it clear that they're using a dummy), and of course, the iconic end sequence which I won't spoil other than to say that the mask they used is phenomenal. So they're good, but not flawless. The shooting locations, however, are flawless. The summer camp was a real camp (Camp Algonquin in Argyle, New York), so right outta the chute you've got invaluable authenticity that rarely comes across in quite the same way with sets, and which establishes the perfect tone and feel for the movie almost instantly. The one extremely minor gripe is that the crew had to wait until the Summer season was over to use the camp, and being September/October, there are a few scenes where you'll briefly see someone's breath when they're delivering lines. Towards the end of filming the crew was actually spray painting grass and leaves to maintain the illusion, but what the heck, I say it was worth it. The soundtrack seems a bit dated for 1983, and features some sections that sound like they'd be better suited to Thriller flicks from the '70s. In general, it still matches the somber tone of the movie and does a good job of helping to convey Angela's emotions in the first half of the movie where she isn't doing much talking, but it's a little dated. On the other hand, the track most people remember from the movie is Frank Vinci's "You're Just What I've Been Looking For," and it's a fairly catchy song with lyrics that're appropriate to the story. It's still got a little late '70s flavor in it, but it's undoubtedly New Wave, and helps bring the soundtrack more in line with the year of its production. Overall, other than some of the acting, Sleepaway Camp fares very well on the technical end, and better still from an entertainment perspective, so if you somehow haven't gotten around to this one yet, be sure to grab a copy immediately and correct that oversight.