Sleepaway Camp


Felissa Rose Kills It In the Original SLEEPAWAY CAMP

Main Cast: Felissa Rose

Director: Robert Hiltzik

The problem with seeing a movie like Sleepaway Camp so long after its release (1983) is that, as cheesy and goofy as this movie is, it’s achieved a certain cult status in the horror genre (almost entirely due to that shocking last scene reveal) that has put the movie on several “best of” lists, which means if, like me, you enjoy those kinds of lists, you’ve already read about that last scene and know what happens before the movie even starts. And for a movie like Sleepaway Camp, the success of which sort of depends heavily on that reveal, it kind of kills the momentum and suspense when you know from the beginning who the killer is.

But don’t let that deter you from enjoying this 80s cheesefest.

Sleepaway Camp is the story of cousins Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten, Return to Sleepaway Camp) and Angela (Felissa Rose, Satan’s Playground) who are sent away to summer camp by Ricky’s mother (Angela’s father was killed in a boating accident when she was young and Angela now lives with her aunt). Angela is the shy type, keeps to herself and doesn’t participate in many camp activities. She can usually be found sitting on a bench, watching the other campers. This gets under the skin of some of the other campers, especially super bitch Judy (Karen Fields) and camp councilor Meg (Katherine Kamhi, “Bones”), who spend the entire summer taunting her. Luckily for Angela, she’s got over protective cousin Ricky to back her up. And Ricky’s friend Paul who has a crush on Angela.

Unfortunately for EVERYONE, there’s a killer on the loose. First the killer trips the pedophile cook so he spills a huge pot of boiling water all over himself. Then one of the older boys gets drowned in the lake, while another gets stung to death by bees. The old creepy dude who runs the camp suspects Ricky because everyone who turns up dead had previously been harassing his cousin, and that’s a good guess, but way too obvious. However, when that final reveal comes at the end, back in 1983 I bet NO ONE saw that coming. And, honestly, I wish I hadn’t either. I have a feeling this movie would have been a little more enjoyable without prior knowledge of how it ended.

That being said, I did still enjoy it, bad as it was. Writer/director Robert Hiltzik has constructed a pretty well-plotted mystery and turned it into an entertaining movie that had the unfortunate bad luck of having been made in 1983 with a budget of, according to IMDb, under half a million dollars. Add to that the cast was so big there’s no way Hiltzik could have afforded seasoned professionals and most of the cast is obviously made up of struggling actors still trying to find their path. While a few would later go on to bigger things for a short while, no one from this movie was destined for cinematic greatness later in their careers. But it’s just Sleepaway Camp, so it’s cool.

There are obvious shades of trying to copy the success of the Frday the 13th movies, which had already made it to part 3 by the time this movie was released, to amazing success, so who can blame Hiltzik for trying? And if he’d had a little more money to work with, who knows, maybe he could have made a better quality movie, or hired some better talent, or something. I mean, more money wouldn’t have hid the fact it was the early 80s and the hair and wardrobe reflected that sad truth (this movie does NOT age well), but maybe he could have afforded a little more gore in the special effects, or a few more takes to get some of the reactions just right.

Because Sleepaway Camp isn’t a terrible movie, it was just hindered by certain factors from being the movie it could have been. It still would have been a cheap Friday knock-off, granted, but that happens all the time in Hollywood regardless.

For what it is, Sleepaway Camp is a fun movie that holds your attention pretty well throughout. It wasn’t going to win any major film awards, but so what. I mean almost 30 years later and it’s still being talked about, even has a rumored reboot in the works, so there was obviously something here that grabbed our attention, and I mean something more than just that final reveal shot. Sleepaway Camp walks that line between almost good enough and almost too bad, earning it a number of sequels, and a solid 3-stars out of 5 rating. That’s not bad for a movie that has been largely forgotten by the general public.

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