By Anthony Crabtree
“Sleepaway Camp” written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, 84 minutes, rated R
I am a fan of the slasher subgenre, but I’m not a rabid fan by any means. It’s funny to mention that while writing my Slasher Summer Camp guest blog, but it’s true. Now, what I mean by not a rabid fan is that I enjoy the films, but have never gone a great distance out of my way to see slasher films. The original film “Sleepaway Camp,” from 1984, is one that I’d heard about on the Internet for years and had always meant to see. It was the first in a series of films, but they never aired on Cinemax or Showtime, which is generally where I watched my slasher films as a kid. I remember in 2002 when the “Sleepaway Camp” Survival Kit DVD set came out, I went back and forth several times about whether to buy it or not. As I wasn’t the biggest fan of the subgenre, I decided not to buy the set. I hadn’t seen the films and at that point in my life I found slasher films somewhat off-putting. Was this a mistake? Yes.
Just this month a fellow horror fan (and superior writer) recommended that I watch the first “Sleepaway Camp” film. Nearly 10 years after the DVD set came out, I simply could not say no. Copies were available online for as little as $4, and the only thing I had to lose were 84 minutes of my life. The $4 and the 84 minutes were well spent.
Camp Arawak is a summer camp in upstate New York and kids of all ages seem to attend. Murders begin to happen around the camp, but the owner of the camp suggests that these are just accidents. The audience knows otherwise, though, because we have witnessed these occurrences from the point of view of the killer. That’s the plot and it certainly is not any sort of revelation. “Sleepaway Camp” has a lot of what I like about slasher films, though. It takes place at a camp, a great deal of time is spent on activities that have nothing to do with the killings, and there are classic ’80s kids who are cruel to nerds, which is the only true way an ’80s kid should be! As enjoyable as these moments are, this is not much different from other films of the genre.
The plot and the goings-on at camp are not what separates this film from other slashers. The bizarre cast of characters as well as the shocking twist ending are really what sets it apart.
The twist, which I will not talk about (and sadly knew beforehand) is great, but the characters are something I can talk about and definitely deserve to be noted. First we have Aunt Martha, who sends her son Ricky and niece Angela off to camp, and on paper should be a fairly straightforward character. However, her tone and the way she overemphasizes everything while speaking and talks cryptically about simple matters, turns her into something different. Then we have the owner of the camp, Mel, who somehow gets a date with one of the younger staff members at the camp. This character is about 60 years old. How does this happen? Why does the staff member agree to go on a date with this man? We never find out. And of course, there’s Angela, a teenage camper who witnessed her father die in a horrible boating accident and now talks (and eats) very little. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think you get the point. These characters are eccentric and mesh well with the world that “Sleepaway Camp” builds as they act as foils to the traditional cast of characters that we see in this slasher film.
Aside from that, Robert Hiltzik does a fantastic job setting the scene for the murders at Camp Arawak. One thing that struck me for some reason was the opening credits. We are introduced to the camp, empty and dead in the fall, with the voices of summer campers playing and having fun in the background. It’s a haunting part, and while it doesn’t quite match the strange tone that the rest of the film has, it is effective.
If you are a slasher fan, I implore you to see this film if you haven’t already. It is fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it definitely has an ending that you’ll want to talk about. Directly after viewing this film, I ordered the other films in the series just to find out where it will go.
Power Link of the Week:
A simple one considering today we focused on the first Sleepaway Camp film. www.sleepawaycampmovies.com is your resource for all things Sleepaway Camp.