Directed by Robert Hiltzik, 1983
I love the kids-stalked-at-summer-camp plot. Maybe it’s because I spent several weeks of summer when I was younger at Camp Lakewood, a camp not too different from any of these cinematic cliches. Or maybe I just like cabins. Either way, my affinity for all that jazz wasn’t enough to save Sleepaway Camp from constant laughter.
You know the drill. Counselors and kids at a summer camp start getting picked off, but who could possibly be the killer? Dun, dun, dun!
So what card does Sleepaway Camp have up its sleeve? Well, going into the film Robert Hiltzik may have thought he had one helluva an ace up his sleeve, but somewhere along the way it got replaced with a goofy Uno card. An Uno card wearing an awesomely small muscle tee and shorts that barely qualify as real clothing.
All of the mixed sexual signals and over-the-top gender roles in the film, which could easily be cited as the film’s defining trait, are clearly intentional and may otherwise have made for a very cutting edge piece of pubescent commentary, but Hiltzik simply couldn’t hack it and instead the entire film constantly straddles embarrassing absurdity.
The direction is reminiscent of a bad high school play. This theatrical approach to things may have been intentional, but it doesn’t work as well as it was clearly intended to. The acting is stale thanks to how obvious it is that everyone was either waiting to deliver their stiff line of dialogue or for Hiltzik to yell cut. Hell, one of the characters, the slutty girl of the camp, consistently must have been made to wait just barely out of frame, always to slide in with her snobby ways out of nowhere.
The gore is actually more morbid than one may expect, but the killings themselves were clearly held back by a lack of ability to actually show anything – or a lack of imagination, for that matter. The end result is a lot of shots of people screaming followed by inserts of their mutilated corpses.
Instead of a subversive and clever send up of sexual identity and gender roles in the ’80s, Sleepaway Camp is just a send up of itself. The film’s twist ending may be a shocker, but that’s only because it’s so forced and silly that you can’t help but be somewhat surprised. It succeeds at not being a Friday the 13th clone, but it doesn’t succeed at much else. It’s not worthless, because it’s still entertaining to absorb just how dopey the movie is, but it’s not worth watching unless you really need to.
Or unless you want to invent another drinking game, similar to the Friday the 13th Part III drunk-fest. Take even the tiniest sip every time a guy walks across the screen in short-shorts and you’ll have alcohol poisoning by the end of the night. At least then you’ll have a good story to tell as to why you went out of your way to watch Sleepaway Camp. Or take a shot anytime Judy, the snobby hoe, appears out of nowhere. Or anytime you can see the shock on an actor’s face courtesy of the realization as to how bad this all is.
And yet you can bet your ass you’ll see a review of Return to Sleepaway Camp later this year, once Robert Hiltzik unleashes that beast on the world.