The supposed “demise” of the Slasher genre occurred in 1986, according to Going to Pieces author Adam Rockoff. But if your film is being re-watched 31 years after its initial release, then something must have been done right for it to live on in popularity. Released three years after the classics like Friday the 13th (1980) and two years after The Burning (1981), Sleepaway Camp (1983) came on the scene as one of the clichéd youth-camp-in-the-woods types of films. It was a blip on the Slasher radar, doomed from the get-go as yet another run-of-the-mill imitation of an imitation. But what is it about Sleepaway Camp that makes it such a cult hit? Well, for one thing, it’s a Slasher film that has a real pair of balls. Literally. (SPOILERS AHEAD).
After a terrible boating accident killed off her father and brother Peter, Angela Baker is sent to live with her eccentric, David Lynchian Aunt Martha and her overprotective cousin Ricky. Eight years have passed since the accident, and Martha decides to send Angela off to sleepaway camp alongside her cousin. There, Angela is subject to multiple accounts of bullying and trauma from counsellors, other campers and even a pedophiliac chef. She also begins her first summer romance with Ricky’s friend Paul. But when campers and counsellors start getting dead, usually those who have tormented or mocked Angela, the question becomes, “Is Angela the killer herself?”
In the prime of Slasher films, Sleepaway Camp wouldn’t have made much of an impression on fans to the genre had it not been for its now classic mindfuck of an ending. As it turns out, Angela is responsible for all the murders at Camp Arawak, but she isn’t a she at all. She is actually her brother Peter, having survived the boating accident, but grew up as a girl, since her kooky Aunt Martha always wanted a daughter! WTF, right?!?
The film has been viewed and discussed many times as a savvy commentary on gender and sexuality in the Slasher genre, completely ridding the common Final Girl trope we’ve all become familiar with. In his interview with Rue Morgue magazine, director Robert Hiltzik said that the issue of gender “was simply one of the storyline vehicles in the film, and a means to the end.” Well, Mr. Hiltzik, thanks for giving the Slasher genre something new that had never been seen before!
What’s awesome about the kills is not the gore factor, but the ludicrous and inventive ways Hiltzik offs his characters: boiling water, a swarm of bees, and, most famously, a curling iron. Each murder sticks out in the viewers’ minds because they’ve never been seen before, or they’re done in a new inventive fashion, like a knife in a shower scene or an arrow through the neck.
Now, thanks to Shout! Factory’s sub-brand Scream Factory, responsible for bringing back such hits as Terror Train (1980), Halloween II (1981) and The Burning, Sleepaway Camp has been graced upon us with the ultimate blu-ray treatment. Sporting a new 2K scan of the original camera negative, the movie now looks and sounds like it never has, which is mind-blowing after having watched it on VHS and a crappy DVD transfer for years. The blu-ray collector’s edition is worth it alone for this transfer. In addition, blu-ray has two commentaries, a 45-minute behind-the-scenes making-of Sleepaway Camp, a short film, and a scrapbook of rare and never-before-seen production photos.
So is Sleepaway Camp a good movie? God, no! But will it satisfy even the staunchest of Slasher fans? Fuck yes! So it’s defiantly worth a watch. So, come on . . .
“Meet me at the waterfront, after the social.” – Angela