31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #8: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Posted: October 8, 2015 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kahmi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tierston, Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet, Karen Fields

By 1983, the slasher genre was in full swing, and most if not all horror movies which fit this title were deliberate clones of “Friday the 13th” (amusing when you consider that “Friday the 13th” itself was little more than “Halloween” set at a summer camp). One of these clones was 1983’s “Sleepaway Camp.” By then, the film it sought to copy had already spawned two sequels, and was working on a third (out of an eventual nine!) But “Sleepaway Camp” was and is not satisfied with simply being just another slasher. Before arriving at one of the most jaw-dropping, unforgettable conclusions to any movie of its kind, “Sleepaway Camp” offers up an unique set of murder sequences and an absolutely nutty backstory.

Rather than opening with a hack/slice/stab murder like its role model, “Sleepaway Camp” instead opens with tragedy. A father and his son and daughter are enjoying a nice boat ride. One of the children plays a prank, rocking the boat until it capsizes, sending all three passengers into the lake. Nearby, a couple of carefree teenagers are piloting a boat, though not paying near enough attention to their surroundings as they should. Alas, even though they do realize their mistake, they are unable to swerve in time, and the father and one of his children are killed. Flash forward a few years where Angela (Felissa Rose), from the opening scene, is being prepared by her Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) to attend summer camp at Camp Arawak, along with her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Angela is painfully shy. She barely speaks, in sharp contrast to her Aunt who, from the things this woman says, leads one to believe she’s not in her right mind. Hmm…. Oh well! Off to Summer Camp!

Camp Arawak is full of quite a few… well, characters. There’s the princess bitch, Judy (played effectively by Karen Fields), who from the sound of things has a past with Ricky. I say she’s the “princess bitch” because the queen bitch is the camp counselor Meg (played alternatively sexy and cruel by Katherine Kamhi). Also there’s fellow camper Paul (Christopher Collet), the pervert pedophile cook Artie (Owen Hughes), head chef Ben (Robert Earl Jones, father of James), and Mel (Mike Kellin), the man in charge of Camp Arawak (and a rather paranoid individual, I must say).

It isn’t long before Angela’s shyness (and occasional evil eye) gets on the nerves of both Judy and Meg, who on more than one occasion conspire against her. Angela doesn’t get much better treatment from the boys, who at one point commence to throwing water balloons at her. Ricky is quick to come to his cousin’s defense, attracting Mel’s attention with his foul mouth. Mel wants things to run as smoothly as possible at Camp Arawak. Guess he should’ve been in a different movie, eh? Indeed, almost simultaneous with Angela’s torment, people start getting hurt…. or worse. The first casualty is Artie, who makes some pretty disgusting sexual advances towards Angela. Once again, Ricky steps in just in time and the two kids run for the hills. Shortly afterwards, Artie meets with an “accident.” As he stands on a chair working over a giant vat of boiling hot water, preparing to toss in some corn cobs, someone comes up from behind to pull Artie’s chair out from under him. Probably the entire special effects budget is used up in this one scene, as Artie’s burns indeed look horrific.

The bodies start to pile up, with Mel still trying in vain to keep it all under wraps. But he’s formed his own suspicions, and he’s just sure that Ricky is the one responsible for all of this. When Meg is killed “Psycho”-style in the shower, Mel sets out to stop Ricky once and for all. Satisfied after beating Ricky into unconsciousness, Mel trots off…. and is met with the REAL killer! Meanwhile, Angela is meeting up with the only boy she’s opened up to all summer, Paul, whom she has seemingly forgiven for swapping spit with Judy (thus having revealed himself to be a typical horny male teenager). After the horrifying discovery of body after body, the remaining counselors track down the surviving teens, and the last ones they find are Angela and Paul.

We had our suspicions early on, and it’s pretty much narrowed down after Mel’s murder as to whodunnit. It is at this point that the movie delivers its twist ending. That one of the kids is the killer isn’t the only secret they’ve been carrying. The big reveal at the end might seem like it comes out of nowhere, but if you’ve been paying attention for more than just nudity and gore, you may have noticed hints being dropped here and there with what were seemingly nonsensical flashbacks/interludes. It’s a brilliant twist, both because it leaves the audience speechless (and perhaps even motionless), and also because it raises “Sleepaway Camp” above the average, amateurishly acted slasher flick. (The acting in this movie IS mostly horrible!) I would elaborate further but I’d prefer that anyone reading this review who isn’t familiar with the film or its ending, in order to get the full effect, should remain as oblivious to it as I was. Be sure to stick around and listen to the song playing over the end credits. Though cheesy in an early 80’s sort of way, it adds a little something extra to the already creepy atmosphere created by the final moments of the film.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Okay, I could watch this with you and may have to since you are wisely holding back on the twist ending that makes this film a “cut” and a “slash” above the norm for the genre!

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