When Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston) go off to the dilapidated Camp Arawak for a summer vacation, a series of murders coincidentally occurs: a boy drowns in an overturned rowboat, a sex pervert is scalded to death in a vat of boiling water, another boy dies of a killer-bee attack, and yet another is stabbed to death in a shower.
For about a year or so now, I have heard so many rumblings and so many discussions being brought up revolving around a teen slasher called Sleepaway Camp. A long time went by before I even searched the film up on Google to get the gist of what it was about. When I did, I had a look at the poster and thought it looked like a relatively generic teen slasher with no real surprises up its sleeves.
But considering how it is considered to be a cult classic among the horror community, today, I finally decided to give Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp a watch. To me, this is the definition of a decent movie. It has some moments of fun and entertainment, but unfortunately, so much of the film does come across as strangely familiar and predictable, which came as a shock to me considering how highly praised the film is.
The film is only eighty-four minutes in length, and so therefore there are some instances in which the film can suffer from poor pacing. For the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film, all we see is scene after scene of teenagers goofing around, partying, and making out with each other with nothing else really happening. It takes such a long time for there to be something of interest and the first kill to happen that it became a chore to sit through the first act.
Gratefully though, once the second act comes into place, Sleepaway Camp gets considerably better from that point onward. There is one scene in the film involving boiling hot water that was extremely impressive from a makeup and prosthetics perspective. It was one of the greatest scenes in the film.
Unfortunately, the film sets up this whole mystery as to who the killer is and it’s so painfully obvious right from the start. When the killer is ultimately revealed, it didn’t have any sort of effect on me because it was just so predictable. However, the execution of the ending was utterly terrific and genuinely chilling. The final frame of the film is sure to stick in your head for a little while after the credits roll.
Sadly though, the film does have one major problem that sticks out like a sore thumb – the acting. Except for the lead actress Felissa Rose, who delivers a creepy and quietly powerful performance as main character Angela, everybody else feels so wooden the entire time. There were some scenes in which it looked as though the actors were reading their lines off of cue cards behind the camera.
There are some truly great aspects to Sleepaway Camp. As I just said, the ending is amazing for one thing, but for another, the tension that builds throughout feels real and palpable. You get the sense that some sick and twisted killer is out there murdering these people and the film has a looming sense of danger the entire time.
The film also feels shockingly real and grounded. When The Blair Witch Project was released back in 1999, so many people were convinced that the movie was not a work of fiction, but rather, actual footage from real teenagers’ video cameras. Millions of people honestly thought that these kids actually went missing while filming a documentary in the woods, and it is one of the many reasons why that film is considered to be one of the most influential movies ever made. The Blair Witch Project just felt too real for comfort. Something similar can be said about Sleepaway Camp.
Yes, this film doesn’t have the same style of filmmaking as Blair Witch Project in the sense that Blair Witch was filmed in the style of a documentary whereas Sleepaway Camp is filmed in the style of traditional film. But even still, Sleepaway Camp has such a low-budget feel to it that you can’t help but think in the back of your head at times if some of these things really happened. They didn’t, but the thought still creeps into your head all the same. Just take my advice – don’t watch Sleepaway Camp while you’re camping or before you’re about to go camping. It’ll unsettle you greatly.
Sleepaway Camp may not boast the best acting you’ll ever see, but its looming sense of dread, moments of genuine tension, and its disturbing ending are enough to make this slasher worth checking out.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
Distributed by: United Film Distribution Company
Release Date: November 18, 1983
Running Time: 84 minutes