After Friday the 13th’s release in 1980, you could argue that summer camp slasher movies had peaked. This would be wrong. The best 80s slasher movie set in a summer camp is 1983’s Sleepaway Camp, which is ironic because it is also the worst.
Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp follows 14 year-old Angela and her cousin Ricky’s journey to Camp Arawak, a summer camp ran by the worst people on the planet, which is soon to become terrorised by a vicious serial killer. At the time of its release, the movie both terrified and confused audiences, infamous for an absolutely bizarre plot-twist that should definitely be avoided if you want to experience the movie in its full insanity.
Sleepaway Camp is at the apex of high camp and high drama, opening with an unfortunately hilarious dedication to Hiltzik’s mother in which he unceremoniously calls her ‘a doer’. What comes after this dedication is difficult to summarise. Manslaughter via speedboat, being boiled alive, killer bees, waist length side ponytails and two ten minute scenes that both explain the rules of camp activities and then show those activities being played in full from beginning to end. What more could you want from your 88 minute horror movie.
If you’re interested in anything at all Lynchian, Sleepaway Camp deserves a watch. Every scene with Desiree Gould’s Aunt Martha could be ripped straight from a Twin Peaks episode, glassy eyed in a Technicolor cardigan with a poor transatlantic accent. The same can be said for Karen Fields’ Judy, Sleepaway Camp’s mean girl with the most over the top line deliveries you’ll ever have the misfortune to hear. All of this is topped off by an amazing wardrobe department, going ‘full 80s’ across the board with practically every cast member in crop tops and tennis shorts for the full duration of the movie.
It’s difficult to tell whether Hiltzik is being intentionally absurd or not. Whenever it moves to the next scene, you wonder ‘…what am I even watching?’ because it’s just that bonkers. Horror movies all have elements of camp: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Child’s Play (1988), Gremlins (1984). This movie seems like somebody set out to make the campiest horror movie of all time, and yet it’s played off so seriously that you can’t really tell if it was intentional or not.
Nevertheless, Sleepaway Camp is a masterpiece of 80s horror. You could write volumes of essays on every directorial choice made for this movie and still struggle to find a real ‘point’ to it. It very much has to be seen to be believed, so add it to your Halloween viewing list!
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Last modified: 29th September 2020