Cousins Angela (Felissa Rose) and Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) pack up and head out for a summer of fun at Camp Arawak. Their idyllic retreat by the lake begins as a routine summer of fun and debauchery. But when campers and counselors begin to make problems for Angela, they start meeting with unfortunate accidents. Is Angela’s cousin Ricky being overprotective and taking out anyone that crosses her? Or perhaps, Angela’s summer romance with one of the other campers has caused her paramour to go to murderous extremes in an effort to protect her from the cruelty of their peers? Proceed with caution – some spoilers ahead.
Sleepaway Camp is one in a long line of summer camp slashers but there is one thing that sets it apart and puts the film in a league of its own: It was the first slasher film ever to feature a transgendered killer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the film progressive, though. I think that the concept was done for shock value more than anything else. And the film certainly succeeded at shocking its target demographic. If it weren’t for the shocking finale, there wouldn’t have been four sequels and people wouldn’t still be talking about the original today. As it stands, this film has had a major impact on viewers and most slasher fans love it. Sleepaway Camp’s release on VHS saw the film really finding its audience and that audience has only grown since. There are legions of dedicated fans brought together by the Internet and the band CKY even took inspiration from the film for its namesake (CKY stands for Camp Kill Yourself, which is in tribute to Sleepaway Camp).
Felissa Rose has said that the ending scene, where we learn that her character is actually a boy, was accomplished by bringing in a male actor for whom the production team had fitted a mold of Rose’s face that he could wear as a mask. Apparently, it wasn’t until Rose saw the film in the theater that she fully understood the ending and what the part she played in the grand scheme.
Apart from the ending, Sleepaway Camp is mostly forgettable. The characters are loathsome, the acting is awful, and the script is half cocked. However, the elements combine to give the audience a so bad it’s good kind of appreciation for the film. People appreciate how over the top Sleepaway Camp is and they enjoy the absolutely ridiculous dialogue contained within. The scene where Judy (the first camper to grow boobs) calls Angela “A real carpenter’s dream: Flat as a board and needs a screw” is unintentionally hilarious, as are a lot of different aspects of the film.
The makeup effects are very strange: The budget for creating onscreen effects was obviously nothing. But interestingly enough, the post accident shots of the characters are pretty good. In the scene were a character gets hot water poured all over his body, the action transpires off camera, but the shots of the aftermath are not bad. The prosthetics that are used to create the blistering of the character’s skin are fairly well designed. It would have been nice to see more graphic kill scenes but for the film’s budget, what we get isn’t so bad.
As far as how it holds up after over 30 years, I am a little bit surprised at some of the dialogue. There are plenty of things that would never have been allowed in to the script if Sleepaway Camp were made in today’s politically correct world. There are scenes that are somewhat racially insensitive and there are portions of the picture that could potentially be offensive to a variety of minority groups. But one gets the impression that the film is a product of its time. However, if you are easily offended, be forewarned that this film is anything but politically correct.
If you have been living under a rock and somehow haven’t had the chance to check out Sleepaway Camp, give it a look. It’s a raucous and campy good time. The DVD is out of print but Scream Factory has recently released a collector’s edition Blu-ray with a ton of new special features. The Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit – featuring all three movies in the original trilogy – is still available to purchase via resellers but is currently on manufacturing moratorium.
Director(s): Robert Hiltzik
Stars: Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet, Jonathan Tiersten
Studio/ Production Co: American Eagle Films
Budget: $350,000 (Estimated)
Length: 87 Minutes