|Review||Sleepaway Camp (1983)||Director||Robert Hiltzik|
|Cast||Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tierston, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Robert Earl Jones, Thomas E. van Dell, Owen Hughes and Desiree Gould|
“If she were any quieter, she’d be dead!” – Meg
Angela (Rose) is sent to Arawak summer camp along with her cousin Ricky (Tierston). She’s very shy and quiet and that irritates the other girls there, particularly counsellor Meg (Kamhi) and fellow camper Judy (Fields). A pattern emerges as everyone who’s nasty to Angela gets a grim comeuppance and Head Camp honcho Mel (Kellin) becomes convinced there is a killer on the grounds.
“Sleepaway Camp” is fairly un-original for the majority of it’s running time but it has gone down favorably in the annals of horror for it’s bizarre twist ending. It’s really something and caps the film off in great fashion although it doesn’t neatly explain a few things and actually creates a few holes as well if you really dive into it. But no matter; it’s one of the better shock endings in slasher history.
Otherwise it’s also an above average “Friday the 13th” clone. Summer camp slashers (or at least slashers set in a wooded area) were quite frequent in the early 80´s and varied considerably in quality. “Sleepaway Camp” has a certain weird vibe and a quirky atmosphere that’s very appealing and it’s always entertaining. Group scenes involving the campers are energetically staged and the sheer amount of foul language they get to spout out certainly gives them character. The irreverent humor certainly makes it clear the filmmakers weren’t burdened with any PC and some authority figures get to skate by with some questionable behavior. Times sure have changed since the early 80’s.
The set-pieces are quite good. There isn’t any bloodbath on display but some kills are very nasty and one downright brutal and squirm inducing. They’re well staged for the most part and the make-up department deserves praise for some good effects work. It’s never very suspenseful as such but it’s well paced and makes sure there isn’t a lot of a dead space. When there is filler material or false scares it’s at least entertaining to watch and performed with enthusiasm by a game cast.
On that note; the acting here is something else. Felissa Rose is quite good and likeable as Angela and she’s got a stare for the ages. Tierston is lively and fierce as Angela’s over-protective cousin (and he gets to swear a lot) and Collet is fine as a camper that falls for Angela. Kamhi and, particularly, Fields overact quite a bit and make exaggerated facial expressions when showing their mean sides but they come off well. Kellin is fairly zany in his part as the highest ranking staff member, Earl Jones looks like a helper in the kitchen most employers wouldn’t want and Hughes makes an impression in his short role as the despicable cook in the camp. But a scene stealer, of sorts, is Gould who looks and sounds absolutely nuts in her small role and certainly adds to the weird vibe in the film. It doesn’t look like the whole cast was in sync and some had other ideas on how to approach the material but it all works out surprisingly well.
“Sleepaway Camp” is a very uneven film but it’s disjointed nature ends up giving it a distinct and likable character that makes it stand out. The worst that can happen to a film of this kind is if it’s uneventful and indistinguishable from the rest. The ending definitely helps it stand out but also quite a few other things make sure “Sleepaway Camp” ranks in the upper tier of slashers set in a wooded area.