Sleepaway Camp (1983) *1/2
D: Robert Hiltzik
C: Felissa Rose, Johnathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Desiree Gould, Katherine Kamhi, Amy Baio, Paul DeAngelo
P: The campers and assorted facility at a summer camp, that cross paths with a painfully shy teen, who was traumatized by a boating accident that occurred back when she was a kid, are dispatched of. The camp's owner tries to cover it up, proclaiming everything it to be a series of accidents.
Review: Over the opening credits of Sleepaway Camp, the camera scrolls around to show the emptiness of a camp that's been abandoned. In the background, various voices are heard reliving things that you would do while at camp. This scene captures the nostalgia of going to camp against the harsh reality of a camp that's never going to be the same.
There's a thoughtful kind of quality to this scene. So for a bit, I thought Sleepaway Camp would deliver on the promise of being more then just your stereotypical slasher. Things start out well in the film's first act as we're introduced to the film's various characters.
Felissa Rose truly conveys the sense of a teen that's been so traumatized to the point that she hardly speaks. Johnathan Tiersten comes across as a swollen teen who is going through a period of angst & torment. Karen Fields is so mean and b*tchy to everyone around her, that in real life you could easily imagine her being a b*tch. People that know Karen Fields in real life, though, assure us that she's nothing like the the character of Judy that she plays.
Most of the performances are a bit too over exaggerated, but what's important is that each of these actors comes across as believable. They truly look like people you might have known at one point or another. After the various personalities that populate this camp are introduced, the killings begin. The question that looms is who & why?
At first, these killings look like tragic accidents. The sleazy camp owner tries to keep things hush hush. Mike Kellan who plays Mel, the camp owner, certainly projects that feeling of a sleazy camp owner who only cares about the bottom line and nothing more. However, his character is nothing more then a caricature. That's when things start to fall apart.
As the film progresses, the killings get more lurid. A group of young kids are hatched to death. Another camper has a curling iron shoved inside her privates while being suffocated to death, but we're not done yet. One person has an arrow shot through their neck while another person is decapitated. At this point, Sleepaway Camp is trying to give slasher fans plenty of bang for their buck in the gore department.
During the film's finale, a plot twist is revealed. This plot twist is shot as gratuitously as possible while the music score blares to an all time high, reminding us (the viewer) that they are presenting us with a big plot twist. The camera freezes in on this moment and the credits start to roll while a gratuitous choice of song plays out.
This so called twist ending has been proclaimed as one of the most shocking twist endings in horror film history, but you know what would have been more shocking? A film that actually had the nerve to declare itself. This is a film about characters that are in crossroads in their lives and how that erupts into violence. That's the heart of the film. Too bad Sleepaway Camp gives into exploitation, canned formulas and cliches. Either the film didn't know how to execute the subject matter at hand and / or they didn't trust in the particular strengths of the material. As a result, what's good about the film, gets lost in the confusion. [R] 88 mins.
AKA: Nightmare Vacation
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