Sleepaway Camp is a bit of a contradiction. It’s a third-tier Slasher from the sub-genre’s Golden Era, however, it’s a flick that every Slasher fanatic absolutely must see, and its ending is a bonafide Slasher classic.
Following the Slasher template, we pick up the plot after a tragic incident some time earlier as withdrawn and recently turned-teen Angela (Felissa Rose) and her protective cousin Ricky (Jonthan Tiersten) are sent to summer camp. There, Angela is taunted by the incredibly bitchy Meg (Katherine Kamhi) and experiences the beginnings of puppy love while a killer stalks the campers and staff of Camp Arawak. Obviously the killings are related to Angela and the trauma from her past, but part of the flick’s entertainment value comes from waiting to find out both what the connection is and who’s doing all that backwoods slashing.
Directed by Robert Hiltzik whose only other feature directing credit is 2008’s Return to Sleepaway Camp, the original is briskly-paced, entertaining, sometimes mean-spirited, and like a scorpion, packs a wallop at its end. Felissa Rose is particularly strong as Angela, managing to convey a deep sense of hurt and isolation with her big brown eyes alone, and it’s impossible to not hate Meg, Angela’s camp nemesis who is like a prancing, spoiled rotten My Pretty Pony.
What keeps Sleepaway Camp from standing shoulder to shoulder with Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine, however, is a lack of prolonged suspense, weak performances from some of the supporting cast (the flashback scenes with Ricky’s mother/Angela’s aunt are ghastly in their attempts at “impressionism”), and a disappointing lack of onscreen carnage; almost all of the effects work reveals the aftermath of an attack rather than providing an actual “money shot”, which is like going on a roller coaster that eliminates all the drops.
Since its initial release in 1983, Sleepaway Camp has developed a cult reputation, in part due to the film’s final reel twist, and in part due to its lead, Felissa Rose. Rose has appeared in a number of horror films since her first trip to Camp Arawak, including Dante Tomaselli’s Horror and Satan’s Playground, and she appeared again as Angela in Return to Sleepaway Camp. The film itself has led to four sequels, among which is Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, which was the recent initial release from the Retro Slashers DVD label (RS001).
If you’re a regular on this website, I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen Sleepaway Camp yet. If you haven’t, it’s a prerequisite, so get to it – That ending is waiting. Whether you laugh or gasp, it’s guaranteed to make an impact.