Joe’s Blog

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

February 6, 2009 6:18 am

 Wayhay! There’s just a week to go until the most pointless horror remake since… er… the last one, so in honour of Friday the 13th‘s place in horror movie lore, it’s time to assess one of the many films which appeared in its blood-soaked wake.

Sleepaway Camp was not the first film to attempt to cash in Friday the 13th‘s success. That particular award, most probably, goes to the Weinstein’s The Burning. A great film for gore fans thanks to Tom Savini, but also overall utterly dreadful, despite early appearances by Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander (and, no, he didn’t have much hair then either).

And Sleepaway Camp appeared in 1983, around the same time that Friday the 13th was entering it’s 3rd film in the series. Yet, somehow, it managed to not only be successful, but also retain a rabid cult support that lasts to this day, including TWO competing ‘offical’ fan clubs.

In fairness, whilst Sleepaway Camp incorporates many familiar slasher film conventions, it also rejects just as many. We may get POV stalking shots, but we don’t get blood splattered all over the place. Only one murder is particularly gory. The others are very cleverly designed and directed to leave the worst excesses to your imagination, which is, of course, much worse.

Following a tragic boating accident in which her brother and father are killed, Angela is sent to live with her eccetric Aunt Martha. In the first of many bizarre scenes the introduction to Martha not only makes us think she’s a washed up soap actress, due to her exaggeratted acting style (she’s actually a doctor, suppossedly), but we also see she has the largest hands in the world.

Anyhoo, Angela and her cousin Ricky are packed off to summer camp for skinny dipping, volleyball and peadophile cooks. (I’m not making this up, I swear… they actually make a joke about the fact one of the cooks is a nonce! Ah, happy days.)

Angela is a tad shy, and upsets a lot of people by refusing to speak, or eat, until she takes a shine to Ricky’s friend Paul, a dead ringer for Doogie Howser.

Slowly eveyone who upsets Angela is put to the sword, or rather the boiling pan of water, the sea snakes and, of course, that hunting knife confiscated by the camp counselors, before we get to the end (I won’t give away the ending but will get back to it in a bit).

This is all played out against the now very familiar backdrop of hormonal teenagers, but everything here seems slightly off, compared to Friday the 13th or The Burning.

On top of the lack of obvious gore, the other classic element of the slasher film, gratuitous nudity, is also missing. In the one scene where nudity, gratuitous or otherwise, would normally have been included (the inevitable shower scene), the camera stays resolutely just above the nipples. Even the skinny dipping scene only results in some spotty looking men’s bums.

This may be a result of the fact that unlike its predecessors, Sleepaway Camp, focusses on the KIDS, rather than the camp’s almost-adult staff. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which is which, such as the dickhead jock who hits Angela with a waterbomb. he was a guest apparently, but looks at least 20 years old.

What it does have is some of the finest kids swearing ever committed to film. In the waterbomb scene alone, Ricky manages at least two each of ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker’ as well as various ‘pricks’ and ‘fucks’ throughout the duration. And he’s suppossed to be about 13. Good work, fella!

But does a lack of gore and T&A make for a bad movie? Not when the fashions on display are probably the most terrifying thing in the movie. Now, I may have only been a kid in 1983, but I certainly don’t remember wearing shorts as tight as the ones on display here. These things look like they could cause serious damage to the male anatomy. Not to mention the camp chief’s golf trousers, or his knee-high black socks with shorts and sandals combo.

So, seemingly, lacking in all the ingredients neccessary for a hit, how has Sleepaway Camp retained such affection? Two words… The Ending.

Watching it for the first time, and knowing how it ends, I could easily spot the hints dropped throughout. But if you are a Sleepaway virgin, it may genuinely shock you. And that’s all I’m saying.

Sleepaway Camp is great fun. As with just about every slasher from the era, you know pretty much what you’re going to get from frame one, but it does have the ability to surprise you once or twice. It’s murders are positioned like clockwork throughout the running time and it’s certainly never dull.

If I had one complaint it would be the decision to shoot the last half an hour in almost total darkness (though this could be due to me still trying to find the right settings on my TV).

If you like your horror cheesy, with a pair of tight shorts, you could do far worse. Like watching the F13 remake, probably.


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