The Friday The 13th movies had already released their third iteration (Leading up to their fourth) by the time tonight’s film had been released. The slasher boom was in full effect (Some would say peaked) but it was still able to turn out off-kilter gems like this one.
So, lets get some plot underway. A girl and boy are with their Father at the lake. There’s an accident and death occurs. We cut to 8 years later the girl lives with her cousin and this is where things seem…odd. Not odd as in things are a little sinister, odd as in I think I’ve ended up watching a John Waters movie. I’m sorry to the actress in this scene, but she looks like a man in drag. Anyway, she lives with her cousin and her aunt, the aunt who constantly talks in asides to herself. As in her internal monologue is all external, clearly this is nothing new to these kids – but she proclaims herself to be a Doctor so right away I’ll be doubting her medical degree is legit.
We eventually reach the camp of the title. Angela is quiet, silent really, but her cousin Ricky more than makes up for it. We meet our array of camp counselors and campers, including the brief comic-relief stylings of the peodophile chef. Ah 1983 – when child sex was funny! It’s not that we’re meant to laugh along (I hope) but the other characters find his random musings about “baldies” funny and not at all worrying. Oh Chef, always the joker.
From there things take a predictable turn. Someone is mean or threatens Angela, then we count down the minutes until they die. While there’s aspects to this we’ve all seen before, Sleepaway Camp is notable for a couple of reasons. One is we get to eschew the idea that sex leads to death, surprisingly the closest we get is some brief, but heavy, kissing. Secondly, which makes the first point more understandable, the majority of the cast/victims are strictly in the teen range. I don’t mean ‘teens’ either. Sure they’re minor touches, but as the slasher craze was reaching a peak around the time this film was released these little touches help distinguish it from what was already an overly recycled genre.
All of this is shrouded in mystery (Though they were doing a good job of avoiding it – someone does manage to say “Oh, it’s you.” before being offed) and it has a denouement I GUARANTEE you won’t see coming, so long as the internet hasn’t spoiled it for you. Suffice to say I won’t spoil anything here, but the final moments of the film manage to be so out there that it genuinely disturbs, and shows what a film can get away with so long as it has a killer ending (That even makes a weird sort of sense). The ending isn’t the only thing that disturbs. While most slasher films were happy with kills of the stalk and uh…slash…variety, Sleepaway Camp likes to mix it up with death by bee stings, death by boiling water, or in a move that’s guaranteed to get everyone wincing, death by being smothered with a pillow and having a curling iron inserted into…well you know.
Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t perfect, nor does it fit into any real definition of ‘great’. It suffers from having some awful acting, some odd pacing and some bizarre gender politics at play but it still just works. I’m sure at one point I was subjected to a whole baseball game. Why? I don’t know. A montage would’ve done the trick. But it all adds to the askew feeling the film has. It looks like it’s set during the coldest summer on record, it has characters that vanish from the film completely and it also has the worst mustache committed to film.
It also has an ending song that I’m convinced was recorded in a bedroom.
See. Is that better or worse than the jaunty disco theme to the Jamie-Lee Curtis slasher Prom Night?