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Summer Camp Slasher Series: Sleepaway Camp

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Kids just aren’t as scared of summer camp as they used to be. Maybe it’s because they aren’t even going away to summer camp unless forced to by the state.

Still, the nostalgia of summer camp is enough to help us begin our Summer Camp Slasher Series, a tribute to horror movies featuring campers, camp counselors, and the maniacs who murder them.

We continue this summer horror series with Sleepaway Camp.


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Movie: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Plot: The hijinks at a summer sleepaway camp go beyond everyday pranks as campers and counselors start turning up dead.

Killer: I’d rather not play spoiler for the uninitiated. Let’s just say, it is someone at a summer sleepaway camp.

Scene of Awesomeness: The boiling of Hal the head cook. The special effects literally had his face bubbling as he screamed for what felt like 5 minutes. The producers must have spent all their funding on this one scene alone. It was that good.

Scene of Ridiculousness: The entire movie is rife with ridiculous men’s cut-off that would look better on women. I guess the early 80’s were like that.

Body Count: 11

2 accidentally run over by a boat

1 boiled alive cook that probably wished he were dead (Awesomely Overkill Award). I know it’s not a technical death, but it was a long, excruciating burn that was painful to watch.

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1 drowning

1 stung to death

1 shower backstabbing

3 axe slaughterings

1 stabbing, or worse, with a curling iron while being suffocated with a pillow

1 arrow through the neck

1 beheading

No breasts. These are kids, you sicko!

Actors/Actresses of Note: Robert Earl Jones had a long, storied career in film before being relegated to a cook’s assistant in Sleepaway Camp. Oh, and he’s the father of James Earl Jones, too. Best lineage in a film full of unknowns.

Quote: “Eat sh*t and live, Bill.” – Ricky

Grade: B

Analyzing Sleepaway Camp is kind of like explaining that water is wet. You know it’s obvious, but you want to give the explanation some detail to show everyone how deeply you’ve examined your hypothesis. In the end, you’ll look like Mozart catching a fly ball at best, or Meg at worst.

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So it’s easy to state that Sleepaway Camp isn’t a great movie. It’s an 80’s budget horror movie, stereotypical in both plot and production. The cast is filled with unknown actors and actresses, both then and now, with a few has-beens tossed in. The filming must have been a nightmare, considering our police officer on the scene begins with what seems to be a real mustache, and ends the film with the sort of fake mustache you get at a cheesy joke shop. Character interactions are over the top, whether it be the nice counselor smacking a camper across the face, the fact that the baseball game looks like it’s between 7th graders and college kids, the idea of a counselor leaving kids alone in the woods far enough away that he needs a car, or the stereotypes of the greedy camp director and the pedophile cook. Even the deaths are a bit sub-par, with the bulk of the budget being reserved to torture the cook (and get the audience on the side of the killer, oddly enough.)

With all of these problems, it’s hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is one. and I’m not talking about the twist ending with some full frontal nudity (prosthetic or not. I’m not too sure.) It’s the atmosphere of Sleepaway Camp that sets it apart from other summer camp slasher movies of its time like Friday the 13th and The Burning. Unlike those films, Sleepaway Camp is at its best for setting up the horror by focusing on the camp activities and the goofing off that comes with a bunch of teenagers with New York accents engaging in them. You might think the baseball game goes on too long, or not care that the kids are playing capture the flag or volleyball, but these scenes help build up a comedic element like Bill Murray’s Meatballs, if only to pull the rug out from under you. Sleepaway Camp is at its best when it gives you the feeling of nostalgia before killing that nostalgia off, literally.

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Patrick began collecting a library of VHS tapes, DVDs, and CDs when he was young, and continues to build a library that could easily double as a video store and/or a revitalized Tower Records.

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