Sleepaway Camp (1983)

This movie has a big shock ending. It was probably a lot more shocking 34 years ago than it is today. But if you don’t want to know how it ends, you should probably skip this article.

For the rest of you, let’s take a trip back to 1975, when John Baker and his boyfriend Lenny took John’s kids on a boating trip. Those kids are madcap scamps that capsize their dad’s boat for fun. But on the swim back to shore, a waterskier kills John and his son Peter, leaving Angela traumatized.

Eight years later, Angela is living with her weird aunt Dr. Martha Thomas (who would be able to unite Superman and Batman, based on her first name), along with her cousin Ricky. They go to Camp Arawak for the summer. As someone who has never been to summer camp, nor ever wanted to go, I fail to see the fun that places like this promise.

Angela gets bullied at every turn, even when the counselors try to help her. And to top it off, the head cook even tries to rape her. Sure, he’s soon scalded by hot water. But it seems odd how many people have it in for this little girl. I guess the good news is that everyone that screws with her dies horribly — if that can be good news. Like Kenny, a kid that mocks her. She also finally gets a friend, Paul, who has the hots for her.

As Paul and Angela attend a movie at the camp, two of the boys throw water balloons at them. Billy, one of the throwers, is soon killed by bees. At this point, Mel, the owner, starts to realize that maybe there’s a killer in the camp.

Paul tries to kiss Angela, but she has a flashback to catching her father in bed with Lenny. Oh no! And it gets worse, as Judy — one of the worst behaved girls — kisses Paul and then throws Angela into the water. Ricky saves her, only for a bunch of kids to throw sand in her face! Will the torment ever end?

The film then descends into slasher film madness. Meg, a counselor who is sleeping with the owner of the camp, a man nearly fifty years or more her senior, is killed in the shower. The kids who threw sand at Angela? Nearly all of them are dispensed of with a hatchet. And the evil Judy? She’s raped with a hot curling iron (!) and smothered with a pillow, which feels like the roughest and softest kill ever. And finally, the owner of the camp blames Ricky and attacks him, only for the real killer to shoot him with an arrow.

The police come to investigate the murders while Paul and Angela decide to go skinny dipping. Two of the counselors find them and we learn that she has decapitated Paul and jumps up, fully nude and fully a dude, making a hissing sound and looking like a complete maniac. The truth? Angela is really Peter, the boy we thought died in the opening. Dr. Martha had raised him as the daughter she never got to have.

Director Robert Hiltzik had only directed this one film before graduating from the Hofstra University Law School and eventually becoming a partner in a New York City law firm. He had no idea how popular the film was until being contacted to do a commentary track for the DVD. While there have been numerous sequels made, Hiltzik returned to write and direct Return to Sleepaway Camp as well as promising to reboot the series.

It’s funny. In the early 80’s, so many people bemoaned how many slashers were playing in theaters and drive-ins. But today, we’re lucky to get a horror film into theaters. And truly odd films, like Sleepaway Camp, go direct to streaming or DVD. Let’s face it — none of today’s films are as goofy as this either. And by goofy, I don’t mean the SyFy or Troma movies that are made to be dumb. No, this is a film that appears to be an attempt at a legitimate, serious film that ends up being something wonderful batshit. It’s filled with ridiculous dialogue, over the top murders and that ending!

Want to see it for yourself? Shudder has and even has Joe Bob Briggs commentary for it! Or you can grab the blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

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