NOVEMBER 10 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SLEEPAWAY CAMP
In 1983 two big things happened. Sleepaway Camp was released to little to no fan fare. The second thing that happened was something that would change blogging forever! Sir Jorge (me) was born in Guanahuato, Mexico. That's right, Sleepaway Camp came out and it really shook up the slasher film genre and is a cult classic. While many called it a Friday the 13th rip off, others saw it as another good entry into the horror world. The shock ending is still something that many people talk about to this day! So join me in a look at the cult classic, Sleepaway Camp from 1983.
This movie is an interesting piece of work, but can seem long at times. The movie follows a group of campers at a "sleepaway camp". Camp Arawak is a random camp and it is a throwback to what was the customary thing to do in the summer for many suburban kids. They went to camp, and there was no internet, no real escapism, which created a lot of horror stories, but surprisingly they went untold. Unless you count some lesser known slasher films from the 70's or Meatballs, there really wasn't a whole lot of attraction to telling stories from camp. There's an interesting new take on camp recently and we have seen comedy thrive above anything camp related, and it's due in large part to the fact that no one really goes to a camp for the summer without technology being around.
Back to the point at hand, this movie has a simple premise. There is someone int he camp getting slaughtered. These killings are mysterious and brutal, and some expect that it is the work of someone that is being picked on. That being said, there are two factions of kids bullying other kids, creating a motive for the killings. This underlining threat carries through the second half of the film and comes to a full boil towards the end.
The movie is terribly shot. If you saw the original vhs transfer, you probably don't have fond memories of this film quality. For whatever reason the vhs tape at my store was terrible, and it had been rented a ton of times by horror movie hounds and fiends left and right. It's interesting to note that this new dvd transfer is a lot better than the original vhs of this film. Maybe the original theatrical reels have a better quality to them, but the film grain in this film is terrible. If this film was 10 years earlier in 1973 it would have been right at home with the exploitation cinema that was is getting a resurgence as of late.
The second cool thing about this movie isn't actually in the movie. The original box cover artwork for this film is one of the best. It is a knife going through a shoe with blood and rain dripping down. On the back of the box was a letter home from a camper and they talk about the synopsis of the film in a strange way. It is almost as if R.L Stine wrote the back cover, as it didn't show gore it didn't have screen grabs it was just a basic synopsis in letter format, written in cursive. This sort of advertising would not be used in the next three films in the series, but overall it made kids like me interested in horror movies. I rented it, and found out that it was a cool movie, although it had a stupid moment in the middle.
The beginning of the film is odd. A family is enjoying a vacation when their parents are killed in a boating accident. We fast forward to an odd part of the film with these kids being sent off to camp. There are also some gay love scenes thrown into the edit of the film that I saw, which made no sense. I am assuming that the film makers were trying to show that there was a sexual ambiguity to our lead character, and it would prove to be one of the most shocking things in movie history.
The middle of the film really bugs a lot of people. The middle of the film shows three or four innings of a camp baseball game. That's right, a full sequence, about ten to twenty minutes of a baseball scene is truncated into the middle of this film! This part is disheartening and really bugs me, but if you manage to stay in for the rest of the film, business picks up rapidly and we get to the good stuff.
Is Sleepaway Camp Scary? : Yes. There are several scary moments in this film and it should be noted that they are not gorey. There is not a great amount of gore in this film, where as the second films relied heavily on gore and sex, this film strayed from that sort of thing. This film showed you the cause of the kills rather the kills themselves, and then they showed you the after math of the kills with lots of makeup effects and good overall technology, without using CG! Yep, this was classic make up effects and it created a great sense of horror.
The scariest part of the film is the realities of false accusations. Much like a lot of other plot twists in horror film history, the camp counselors start to blame the hot head of the group. The kid that is defending his cousin from bullies is blamed for the murders and it's a common thread in our world full of mistaken identity. It's a scary thing to think that there are people that are convicted of things that they didn't do and then sit in prison for years. Most recently I saw on 60 minutes a story about a woman that identified her rapist in a line up, only to learn that it wasn't him. However, she and the justice system didn't find out until 20 years later! Meanwhile the wrongfully accused ended up in jail for a long time. Sure, this story isn't the existential equal to the plot in Sleepaway Camp, however, it is a scary thing in life to be accused of something serious especially murder and not be the person that is doing it. It is scary to note that I made such a comparison in regards to "Witch Hunts" recently and this movie also plays on those commonalities.
The second scariest part of this film is the way it ends. This movie ends with a shocker, but moreover it ends with psychotic ending. The ending involves a decapitated head with a naked girl petting it. This is a shock ending on two major points. First thing first, the character isn't who we think it is and we see a full naked person and a scary head looking at the camera in still frame for the ending, creating huge gasps in the living room that you're watching this in. I won't completely tell you what happens at the end, but if you look hard enough, you'll get the spoiler.
Out of the series of films that this movie spawned this one is the most homoerotic at times, it's the most gruesome, and it is the most tame. This movie really tries to push the envelope and it succeeds without completely shocking you with gore and violence. There are some gruesome scenes, but you feel that the characters who die are directly involved in the decisions to what happens to them. Much like the Saw films, these people are not meant to just get killed they make bad choices and are not innocent, like many other slasher films try to portray the victims. Sleepaway Camp is available on dvd and is not half bad. It is a boring film at times, but I've seen it so many times that it's worth while to me. You have to put away your technology to enjoy this film, because you are set in a different time frame, this is not a new kind of story but it's cool enough to watch, maybe even own. I recommend Sleepaway Camp and it is one of my top 3 favorite camp horror movies.
NOVEMBER 10 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SLEEPAWAY CAMP
Shy cutie Angela (Rose) is sent to camp along with her cousin Ricky (Tiersten). Once there, the camp tramps and camp jerk-offs pick on her because she’s introverted (damn kids). Lucky for Angie, someone on the premises is on a killing spree, disposing of the teen a-holes. This gives our little angel the room to fall in puppy love for the first time. Aaaaahh, those camp days…
"Sleepaway Camp" is a fun piece of 80’s slash with more padding than the average stab-stab film. Yes, we get what we’d expect from this type of picture: the hilarious dated fashions (some guys wear cut off t-shirts…lol), the unseen killer POV shots, the bloody kills, the woods setting, the one-dimensional evil kids and the token mega slut; but we also get a little more for our money.
This slasher reaches a higher level of class than the norm mostly due to its novel lead character of Angela. You don’t usually see shy little girls in big bad slasher flicks and the inclusion of this particular character brought an added layer of humanity to what is usually a more heartless and exploitive type of sub genre. It also helped that our pintsize protagonist is portrayed by the lovely Felissa Rose. She has a presence that kept me glued to the screen and she never failed to sway my heart with those puppy dog eyes of hers.
Amidst the body count, the movie also takes the time to develop two gripping relationships. The cute little love story between Angie and Paul (Collet) had me smiling and feeling all Cupid and shite. It’s sweet, portrayed in a realistic light and I for one relished the "innocence" of it all. The bond between Angie and her cousin Ricky (Tiersten) is also rock solid and is played up with mucho credibility. The fact that I cared about the lead characters and that most of the film felt very "down to earth" gave it all a more realistic feel and had me invested in its storyline on a deeper level than the average slasher opus.
On the downside, I didn’t particularly care for the over the top way Angie’s aunt was portrayed. I know she’s a little wacko but subtlety would have been more effective and would've given her involvement in all of this madness more impact. I also loathed the presence of the camp pedophile. He disgusted the shit out of me, but at least he wasn’t there long enough to ruin my ride. My last complaint is that the movie ends way too abruptly. It delivers a shocking ending and then leaves you hanging. I would have loved to have known at least a hint of what happened afterwards. My thirst wasn't fully quenched once the end credits rolled.
But overall, this baby is a fast paced, well-acted slasher flick with a wonderful central character in Angela. The director (who also wrote the flick) was aiming a little higher than just a meaningless slaughter and in my book of blood...he succeeded. Let's pull this one’s pants down.
A bit of a let down here. The murders are mostly implied. We do get an arrow through the neck (thanks!), a severed head, a bloody stabbing and death by hair curler (did the killer put that where I think he put it?). The last scene gives us an effect that will stay with you for a while and make you skip on dinner.
Felissa Rose (Angela) gives a strong show. All expressions are conveyed through her pretty eyes and she charmed the hell out of me. Jonathan Tiertsen (Ricky) is very natural as the tough but good-hearted Ricky. I liked him a lot. I guess Karen Fields does her job well because I hated her super beeyatch character of Judy….hated her a lot. Christopher Collet (Paul) is credible as the nice guy who lets his hormones get in the way of a not so good thing. Mike Kellin (Mel) plays it down as the owner of the camp. His moments of emotional acting did bring a light smile to my face though. Katherine Kambi (Meg) is effective as mega beeyatch number 2. She also has a great tush. Paul De Angelo’s decent acting is shadowed by his bulging biceps. Brother must hit the gym hard!!!
A let down unless you want to see five naked guys running around showing their white asses. In this camp, the tramps never offer any tit shots. What kind of loose girls are they??? Not my kind!
Hiltzick loves wide shots, fades, does great things with shadows and delivers one surreal flash. It’s obvious that the man is trying to deliver more than a standard slasher flick and Arrow appreciated his occasional artistic touches. On a bummer vibe, all of the murders were telegraphed and you knew exactly when the were going to happen. The suspense is also weak and the scares are nowhere to be found.
The score by Edward Bilous fits the bill. Although nothing standout, it gets the job done.
Distributor: Anchor Bay
IMAGE: The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image is clean and mostly sharp. We do get some occasional grain (especially during day sequences) and a few scratches here and there. But the flaws are far from overwhelming and the print is very decent overall.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital Mono sound is crisp, clear and at all the right levels. The score in particular benefits from the quality sound.
Audio Commentary: This commentary with Robert Hiltzick and Felissa Rose is moderated by Jeff Hayes (who doesn't say much) the webmaster of www.sleepawaycampmovie.com. It's a fun listen, but for all the wrong reasons. Robert and the always charismatic Felissa comment often with high wit on the scenes unraveling before our eyes, but I would've liked more information about the "shoot" itself and more insight on specific scenes from a filmmaking standpoint. Still a fun listen though. We also get the Theatrical Trailer.
"Sleepaway Camp" isn’t scary or suspenseful and unlike most slasher flicks...its kills aren't its highlights. When you think of this honey-bunny, think more of a drama but with a body count. The flick moves fast, entertains on many levels and Felissa Rose is a just a delight. It's a shame that the sequels took the easy way and embraced comedy, gore and tits because this little ditty is more than that. I for one would love a darker return to Sleepaway Camp with Felissa Rose back as Angela. Till then I’ll have to keep on returning to this one for my "serious" Sleepaway fix…
Pamela Springsteen took over the part of Angela in the two following sequels.
NOVEMBER 10 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SLEEPAWAY CAMP
Though no amount of warning can prepare you for the many pleasures of Sleepaway Camp, it's probably best to enjoy this pinnacle of '80s horror trash with the virgin mindset of its lead character. (That said, come back to this review after you've seen the film.) Nothing here makes a lick of sense (how many people must die at summer camp before parents show up and whisk their kids away?), but there's something to be said about the way director Robert Hiltzik parallels (possibly intentionally) the confusion of its lead character in the story's many provocations, even in the tired trends familiar to so many other '80s horror flicks, from overage actors playing teens and pre-teens to the last-act, no-child-left-behind contextualizations for the string of killings scattered throughout the film.
Sleepaway Camp begins with two moppets (a boy and a girl, both with similar dos—for a reason, of course, though you're not meant to know that quite yet) and their unusually hot dad swimming in a lake. Offshore, a second inexplicably hot man yells to the group to get out of the water before a trio of crazy teens runs over the dad and one of the moppets with their runaway speedboat. Eight years later, Desiree Gould's preposterous Aunt Martha ushers her son Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and her niece Angela (Felissa Rose) away to camp, where someone starts killing campers and counselors alike, all of whom seem to have it "out" (tee hee!) for the inexplicably silent Angela, presumably the moppet that survived the opening set piece and who has yet to get over the shock.
From Rose's literally wide-eyed interpretation of her character's constant state of petrification (try and count how many times she blinks during any given shot) to Gould's narcissistic solo act, which envisions what it might have been like had Andrea Feldman's character from Paul Morrissey's Heat done Shakespeare, one of Sleepaway Camp's pleasures is its consistently high-pitched performances. Just as bizarre is the story's psychosexual mean streak: From the girls Angela shares a cabin with to the boys who throw water balloons at her (notice where the water balloon game takes place and how close in proximity the participants are to each other), Sleepaway Camp evokes a period in time before Ritalin and common sense. Seriously, watching Angela (and to a lesser extent Ricky) being targeted throughout the film is like watching a group of shrill brats shooting rocks at a baby bird—if it wasn't so obvious that everyone's non-stop cruelty was in service of some big-reveal, or if the performances weren't so damn preening, the film would be completely intolerable.
Sleepaway Camp may be the only horror film from the '80s where the boys show more flesh than the girls. Not a single tit can be seen in the film—even Meg (Katherine Kamhi), who's entirely too happy to be going out on a date with the head camp counselor twice her age, and who's murdered in the shower when the killer gruesomely runs a knife down her back, is seen only from the upper part of her chest to her head—but there isn't a minute that goes by where a prepubescent boy isn't showing off his barely-there chest or some guy isn't wrapping his sculpted legs around someone or grabbing onto his dick in a show of intimidation. What's going on here? It's tempting to think that Hiltzik is some queen and that he's getting his jollies by putting one over the Hollywood machine, except the film's preposterous conclusion suggests Hiltzik would rather beat the shit out of a queen than stick his tongue down one of their throats.
In many ways, '80s horror films with cautionary slants can be seen as reactions to frank and open expressions of sexual behavior throughout the '70s. If sex was "free" a decade earlier, now it came with a price. Just before it's revealed that Angela is really Peter and that Aunt Martha inexplicably decided to raise him as a girl after the accident that killed his sister and hunky dad, a series of flashbacks sheds light on the identity crisis of the film's killer: two men (yes, the hunky guys in the film's opening scene) caress each other in bed, and after witnessing this '50s-PSA spectacle of queer petting, two siblings reach for each using an E.T.-phone-home-pull-my-finger gesture that seems to imply that they're going to fuck each other (in the butt perhaps?). (The scene is eerily similar to what happened in a recent South Park episode in which Butters, dressed in a bear suit, repeatedly pokes Paris Hilton's squishy vagina.)
Everything suddenly makes sense (everyone's obsession with Angela's "hot bod"; why Angela gets upset when she/he is hit by a water balloon; why she won't shower with the other girls) and it's all very "complicated" (not that the film is really concerned with the character's sexual confusion and if she/he prefers boys over girls), but how does one explain the lascivious nature of the film's murders? This isn't just some person being driven over the edge by rampant bullying—it's a mathematical equation being solved after eight long years (or 90 minutes). Gay Dad + Incest + Foster Mom (a.k.a. Refugee from Andy Warhol's Factory) = I'm Going To Put A Curling Iron In Your Vagina. If the film wasn't so hilarious, and if the final money shot wasn't so damn creepy (look everyone, she has a pee-pee!)—what with the film looking as if it was paused so as to ensure you get a real long (or short) look at the weiner—you might actually have time to be offended.
NOVEMBER 10 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SLEEPAWAY CAMP
Sleepaway Camp belongs on a very short list of the best 80's horror films; the list that would be topped, of course, by Nightmare on Elm Street. Though modestly budgeted, it's quite entertaining, featuring some better-than-average acting for this kind of movie. It also boasts one of the best surprise endings ever, and if you don't know what it is, I envy you getting to see it for the first time!
The B-grade horror flick is a genre in it's own right, and while it has produced innumerable atrociously bad films over the years, there are a few that seem to transcend the money issue and become influential classics in their own right. Think Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, or Evil Dead, and you get the idea. Unfortunately, Sleepaway Camp seems to have fallen through the cracks of time…so much so, that Leonard Maltin doesn't even mention it in his popular movie guide (nor the two sequels)! Which is too bad, because, like I said, that ending is a classic. Hopefully, the film will find a new generation of fans with this quality DVD (more on that further down).
The movie opens with a grisly boating accident, leaving a father and one child dead. Jump forward eight years, and we see the other child, Angela (Rose) getting ready to leave for summer camp with her cousin Ricky (Tierston). The orphaned Angela has since grown up with her cousin's family and raised by her rather bizarre Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould's memorable, freaky performance). Since the accident, Angela has been quiet and withdrawn, rarely speaking, rarely making any kind of contact. Ricky, it seems, has taken over the role of protector of his cousin, a behavior that continues right on into camp.
The teens at camp naturally A) form into cliques, and B) start dying. Most noticeably, every kid who picks on or harasses the pitiful Angela seems to end up dead. Is it Ricky doing the grisly deeds? Could the sweet, harmless Angela have a murderous streak? The film keeps you guessing as the body count grows more and more rapidly, and more gruesome, as the film streaks toward its climax. But, unless you know going in, you truly won't guess what's coming.
As mentioned, the acting is better than you might expect, though most of the characters exist as one type of caricature or another. My favorite is the camp owner, Mel (Kellin), who grumbles, “That's it. We're finished. No parents are ever gonna send their kids here again.” This guy seriously needs to sit down with the mayor of Amity from Jaws and have a beer. The rest of the kids are your usual assortment of hormone crazed teens, jocks, nerds, or what have you. But hey…they're just fodder for the killer in these types of movies, right? And they are, for the most part, brought to life by competent young actors. The real standout, however, is Felissa Rose, who brings a genuine appeal to Angela through her sorrow and silence.
Writer/director Robert Hiltzik brings his own sense of style to the killings, and it's a good one: most of the time, you don't actually see the deeds occurring on screen, but you get to see the stomach churning results afterward…usually at the same time another character in the film is discovering it, and screaming “Oh my GOD!!!” And though mostly straightforward in his filmmaking, he shows a flash or two of expertise with his camerawork and editing to create memorable sequences, like one particular reveal shot that circumvents a bed with two kids, edited carefully so the movement is smooth, but so the kids are always shown from the same side. I have a theory that most B grade filmmakers have seen and loved Citizen Kane, and hope deep down inside that they're making horror's answer to that. It rarely works, but it's always nice to see them try.
I realize this isn't the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, so consider: if turning out all the lights, having a few friends over, and yelling advice at the characters on your screen while watching a cheesy slasher flick sounds like your idea of fun, you've hit the jackpot. If not, lower my rating by a star and a half. It's not overly gory, but there are more than a handful of moments that will make you squirm in your seat.
One bit of warning: if this is your first time seeing this movie, do not, repeat, do NOT turn on the commentary track before watching. Not even for a few seconds. If you do, the surprise will be spoiled, and THAT would truly be horrifying.
This anamorphic transfer from Anchor Bay is amazingly good! I say amazingly, because I've been disappointed with the way a lot of 80's films have looked on DVD. This one is bright, crisp, clear, and sharp all the way through, with excellent, natural coloring and no bleeding, and no evidence of compression. The print is also remarkably free from any spots, scratches, scars, or other artifacts of aging. Even the dark scenes are well rendered, with true, deep blacks and well contained coloring. Save for one brief scene in the woods at night, which exhibited some softness and grain, there are no complaints. Isn't it something that we can get a quality, new anamorphic transfer for Sleepaway Camp, but not for The Princess Bride? Oh, well. Nice job, Anchor Bay!
This disc features the original mono soundtrack presented in split channel Dolby Digital. It's fine, but unremarkable. Dialogue is always clear, and there's no distracting noise, but I would have liked a little bit more dynamic range. The score by Edward Bilous is quite good, though, and adds to the overall atmosphere and listening experience.
For starters, you get some cool animated menus that feature a slashing knife when you move from one screen to another. Then there's a good trailer, and a commentary track by director Hiltzik, star Rose, and Camp historian and webmaster Jeff Hayes, who's created one of the best movie fan sites I've seen at www.sleepawaycampmovies.com. This is a funny, entertaining, and informative track. Some of the best commentary tracks have been for low budget horror films: Re-Animator, Night of the Living Dead, the Evil Dead films…and this one continues the tradition.
I'm thankful that Anchor Bay is willing to cater to the serious horror fan, and has delivered a quality DVD with a good extras package here for a title that any number of studios might have just slapped on a disc and shipped it out. Sleepaway Camp may indeed be a horror sleeper, but now, everybody from the die hard fan to the mildly curious can check out this low budget, overlooked classic on this terrific DVD. Sleep tight.