Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sleepaway Camp: Where have you been all my life?

It's damned nigh impossible for me to fathom that I could have been a full-fledged horror fanatic in the 1980s, yet somehow managed to miss Sleepaway Camp. But I suppose it's for the best. Sleepaway Camp is a film best experienced in maturity. Had I watched it in my youth, my reaction would have been:

(Dismissively) "That was fucking stupid."

Whereas, when I watched it recently, my reaction was:

(With boundless enthusiasm) "That was fucking stupid!"

Sleepaway Camp is a film best enjoyed with a roomful of noisy, drunken friends, but is so over-the-top ridiculous that you can watch it solo and have a blast, provided you act as your own noisy, drunken friend.
In fact, you won't be able to help it. Even without access to alcohol, Sleepaway Camp is so intoxicatingly dumb that you'll feel like you've downed a sixer of PBR (the downside is that even if you're drinking good beer, you'll still feel like you've downed a sixer of PBR).

Sleepaway Camp is a bad horror film that is bad in all the right ways, so it becomes great. All the performances are amateurish and grotesquely over-acted, but you can tell everyone is completely giving it their all, which renders it charming.

Young actress totally going for it.
 The film begins with our heroes, cousins Angela and Ricky, enjoying a day on the lake with their loving father/uncle. But they haven't accounted for the deadly presence of teenagers driving speedboats. The minute the strapping young captain turns the wheel over to a girl, the vessel transforms into a deadly projectile headed straight for the happy family. The father/uncle is killed while the young water-skier pictured above gives the performance of her life.

Fast forward a few years and Angela and Ricky are teenagers headed to summer camp. Ricky's mother has become completely unhinged by her husband's death, as evidenced by her strange habit of commenting on her own statements and, more tellingly, her outfit.

Once at camp, we learn that Angela doesn't speak, due to acute quietness, which makes her an instant target for the mean girls clique, consisting of Ricky's busty last-summer-girlfriend and Meg (M-E-G) the bitchy camp counsellor. When Angela won't eat, a kindly counsellor takes her back to the kitchen to see if there is some food she likes better, and introduces her to the pedophile head chef, who promptly takes her into the pantry to molest her. Luckily, Ricky intervenes just in time. Mysteriously, some time later as pedochef is throwing corn into the world's biggest stockpot, someone pulls the chair out from under him, sending the pedophile and the stockpot tumbling to the floor and resulting in some nasty burns. Since, Ricky and Angela were the only two characters to have witnessed pedochef's transgressions, 20 minutes into the movie, the killer's identity is narrowed down to two suspects.

"I got something you'll like real good."

You play with chicken, you get fried.
 The surprising thing about Sleepaway Camp is that it crept up on me, and dumb as it is, before I knew it, I was emotionally invested in the characters. I pitied poor, silent Angela for the abuses piled on her, and found myself ridiculously happy when Ricky's friend, Paul gets her to finally speak.

Awww, ain't they cute?

The rest of the film follows a predictable pattern. Campers taunt and abuse Angela, Ricky freaks out and threatens to rip their heads off, then the killer catches them alone and takes them out. There are no scares whatsoever, and the kills are pretty tame, but somewhat imaginative. What's hilarious is the motivation behind each kill. While revenge for attempted rape makes a certain amount of sense, revenge for a water-ballooning is just plain awesome.

The aftermath of a vicious water-ballooning.
Cuidado - Spoilers anon.

Just when you think Sleepaway Camp is going to be utterly predictable, it flips the script and blows your mind. Don't get me wrong, it's fairly obvious that Angela is the killer, but it turns out to be for an entirely different reason than you'd been led to believe. In an atrociously asinine and offensive turn of events, it is revealed that is wasn't her uncle's death that warped young Angela's mind, but rather than her aunt was transgendered man who forced her young nephew to live as a girl. The final shot of the film, in which Angela's true sex (i.e. her wee-wee) is revealed is truly astonishing. Not only does she go from a seemingly normal, if painfully shy, teen girl to a raging psychotic cradling Paul's severed head, she also apparently turns into Sasquatch, if her unearthly growling sounds are any indication. The icing on the cake is the final line of the film when one of the counsellors says in disbelief, "How can it be? She's a boy!" Yeah, never mind Paul's severed head dropping into the sand and the fact that she's channelling Bigfoot while wielding a knife. For God's sake, she's got a penis!

Had the final scene not caused me to laugh convulsively for a solid half-hour, I might have been highly offended at the completely ignorant and hateful depiction of transgendered people. Were I a member of the LGBT community, the homophobic twist ending would have likely ruined the entire film for me. As it was, the offensiveness only added to Sleepaway Camp's schlocky charm. I definitely recommend this film to everyone with a highly-refined taste for terrible movies. 


  1. I love Sleepaway Camp. One of my all time favs. Speaking of awesome bad movies check out the podcast Tucker and I made at

    It's "fucking stupid!"

  2. Sleepaway Camp is one of the best movies ever. I love the baseball scene. Everyone's so angry.

  3. I've always been kind of on the fence on this one. It's so memorable and that ending is just kind of "OH MY GOSH WOW THEY WENT THERE" and Felissa Rose grew up to be a hot....but, as you pointed out, it's just so stupid. Still, I enjoy it once in a long while.

  4. Haha. Great movie! Great review!

  5. I LOVE this movie. I didn't manage to catch this one as an 80's horror fan either but it's everything 80's cheese should be all rolled into one package. (Haha! "Package" See what I did there? :D)

    Oh and speaking as a member of the LGBT community (bisexual S&M freaks count, right? Even if we're the black sheep), the offensive ending only made it better for me too. Can't speak for everyone since some of us have giant sticks up our asses, but I say either everything is sacred or nothing is and my vote is nothing sacred. :)

  6. Way to miss the point of the movie, snowflake.

    Also, factual errors. The aunt was not a transgendered man. It was her aunt (who happened to be batshit insane for whatever reason). And Ricky was not the other child in the beginning. That was "Angela"'s sister (who died in the crash along with their father).

    You say you enjoy this movie schlocky charm, yet you turn it into a soapbox of modern substitute offendism / professional victimhood. This movie made no fucking statement about anything LGBT. Even fucking Rocky Horror Picture SHow is more "offensive to transgendered", yet that shit is considered high culture. Because of lemmings like you.

    But you can't put it into the frame of the movie's story. Because you're just that kind of a modern day wet sock of a human being.

    1. Okay, so my apologies for mistaking Aunt Martha for a man in drag. I had to look it up on IMDB to confirm that she was actually a woman, which of course changes my reading of the film.

      Knowing this, I'll say that you are correct and there's actually nothing in the movie to offend transgendered people. Being forced by your guardian to live as another gender doesn't make you transgendered, but it will screw you up and apparently turn you into a psycho killer.

      That said, you're still an asshole.


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