Sleepaway Camp reminds me of the times I was forced to go to summer camp myself, sometime I hated. Yes, HATE. It’s a strong word, but it’s the perfect word for child prisons like this. As some of you know I was raised in a very christian environment, and that also mean the camps I visited was slightly...no, VERY religious. The combination of pre-teen angst and Jesus-wackiness really sucks, if you didn’t know that.
Sleepaway Camp came in 1983, when slashers was on the way out - but somehow this film managed to do it all right and add a lot edginess to a genre dying faster than fast. It’s something special with a film that uses real children and mixes them with some wonderfully foul language, adult themes and a a weird sexual tension (among the older teens of course). Add a really freaky pedophile chef and nudity and you’ll get something truly unique - even if it almost scientifically impossible to make something special with a story set on a summer camp where people are getting killed one by one.
After an almost abstract, and sometimes very absurd beginning, it all begins when two siblings arrives at the summer camp. We’re soon introduced to the wacky cast of characters - both grown-ups and kids, and it don’t take long until the first one is...not killed actually...but wounded after getting ten liters of boiling water in the face. Then absolutely NO ONE is safe, and Sleepaway Camp very effectively breaks a lot of the slasher rules before the shocking twist ending - which both manages to be very offensive AND brilliant. It’s a fine line between good idea and bad idea here, but here I think they somehow did something good of it - mostly because the whole film is so camp (no pun intended!) without actually being deliberately funny.
Most of the adult cast is quite bad, with some serious overacting - and not the good one. The kids are actually handling it better, taking the story and characters more seriously. The girl playing Angela, Felissa Rose, is actually excellent - handling a part more complex than most parts for kids that age during this time. I also enjoy - with an uncomfortable feeling - the social game between the kids, from the first love to bullying - which feels way more honest than you seen in most horror films, especially in the slasher sub-genre. They’re very different, but a perfect double feature together with Sleepaway Camp would be 1982’s masterpiece Death Valley, who also taps into an original take on the slasher during a time when people completely stopped thinking and just made these films to make a very quick buck.
It’s a bit hard to discuss this film without spoiling it, so I won’t write so much more. I’m a person who cares about how people are portrayed in films, and there’s a special detail in this one that can be seen as very controversial. And it is. But remember that the rest of the film is very intelligent, very edgy in a way that shows respect to different kinds of people - and it never says those getting killed doesn’t deserve it. I find the sequels, especially part 2 and 3 far more offensive and completely lacking intelligence - and this makes the first film even more impressive.
Sleepaway Camp still holds up very, very, very well and it’s a must for us who dig eighties horror, slashers and tasteless fashion!