8/22/09

Right Back Where I Started At Sleepaway Camp

Last year the first film I tackled for the Lair was the classic slasher film Sleepaway Camp, and since then every time I go back and check out that review, it makes me cringe. Sure, it was a first effort, but so was Sleepaway Camp for director Robert Hiltzik and he managed to make a classic. I want to take this day to revisit Camp Awawak and do the film some justice. I’ve wanted to do several Review Re-dos, and there’s nowhere better to start than the beginning.

Sleepaway Camp all started when writer/director Robert Hiltzik started reminiscing on the camp he used to attend when he was a child. He was fresh out of film school and decided to make his first feature a sellable product. On the Sleepaway Camp fansite, he’s quoted as saying he “wanted to do a genre film with a little bit of money that would have the best chance of distribution. Comedies are very subjective, Dramas are dramas, I figured with a horror movie we could do something interesting and would have a good chance of being picked up.” With that in mind and $350,000 from investors in his pocket (including some dough from Miller Beer and 7-UP), he set out to make a horror film, but one that was different from the pack. One of the stars of the film Jonathan Tiersten described the flick this way, “Sleepaway Camp is Friday the 13th meets Meatballs, except it’s scarier than Friday the 13th and funnier than Meatballs.”

The film concerns itself chiefly with Angela (Felicia Rose) who is orphaned as a child when her dad is killed in a boating accident. She is sent to live with her peculiar Aunt and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), and now she is to accompany Ricky to Camp Arawak for the summer. Angela is a shy girl who barely talks to anyone, and her rough and tumble cousin is always looking out for her. When people start picking on Angela, the bodies start piling up. It all leads up to one of the most dramatic and shocking end scenes in horror history. (But unlike my original post on the subject, I will refrain from spoiling it.)

When it comes to the slasher genre, there are the big names, Freddy, Jason, and Michael, but Angela sure deserves to be up there. Yeah, that’s a spoiler. Angela did it, but there are two sequels with her as the killer so I don’t feel like I’m giving a whole lot away here. Felicia Rose did a remarkable job as Angela making her a troubled little girl, but not emphasizing any kind of spooky or vicious tendencies. In fact, the film tries (weakly) to make you think that her cousin Ricky is the murderous one, but it’s pretty clear by the halfway mark who the culprit is. Even knowing who the killer is, I think that 99.9% of folks couldn’t have seen the conclusion the film has in store for Angela.

There’s some other really good performances here Jonathan Tiersten curses a mean blue streak as cousin Ricky and Owen Hughes is memorably creepy in a small role as Artie, the camp’s cook and would be pedophile. One real scene-stealer is Karen Fields as Judy. Field’s character relentlessly makes Angela’s life hell, and she is gloriously bitchy in the way only a middle schooler could be. Yet my favorite performance has to be veteran actor Mike Kellin as the camp leader, Mel. Here’s a guy willing to cover up the murders of children, set up a dinner date with a girl who looks all of sixteen, and smack a kid around if the need arises. The thing about it is, while he’s doing all these despicable things, he has such a dopey air about him that it actually comes off as funny. Most of the humor of the film stems from his performance, and it was a great way for Kellin to wrap up his career that went all the way back to his debut in 1950.

There is one real flaw in Sleepaway Camp. It’s a minor quibble, but the continuity of the film has some problems. While the first two acts of the film seem plausible, the third act makes Angela seem like the fastest thirteen-year-old girl on the planet. I’ve tried to rationalize how she could have been in so many places so quickly, and the more I dwell on it the more preposterous it becomes. Slasher movies are built on the foundation of the preposterous though and I try my best not to over think it. Then again, who cares how much sense it makes when the final act of the film contains so much great gore? I’m still puzzling out how the arrow to the neck scene was done, and I have watched that scene frame by frame, backwards and forward several times without coming any closer to figuring it out.

Last year when I reviewed this film, I gave it a four, and this year, well, I’m going to give it a four. In a year, the review has gotten better, but the film stayed just the same. Sleepaway Camp is undeniably one of the “must see” films in the slasher genre. The two sequels that follow it are fun, campy good times, but they lack two things, director Robert Hiltzik and the genuine creepiness mixed with humor. The sequels went down the same road as Mr. Kruger, becoming pale imitations of the original. While they are not bad movies and in fact, I enjoy them for what they are, they just don’t stack up to the real thing. If Sleepaway Camp is one you’ve passed on, I ask you to reconsider it. After all, if it sucked, why would I bother with reviewing it twice?

Bugg Rating

7 comments:

  1. I wrote a paper on this in school because it fascinated me so much. It's flawed, yes, but I still love it. Thanks for re-reviewing!

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  2. Did you see the newest one in the series? Hiltzik definitely re-captured the look and feel of the original, and it was nice to see some of the original cast members back.
    -Billy

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  3. I can't remember where I had read this, but someone was reviewing Sleepaway Camp and suggested that Ricky AND Angela are both the killers. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense, especially when you point out the 3rd act being so impossible for Angela to pull off by herself. Ricky's temper and need to protect Angela would definitely suggest his willing involvement in the murders. Just a thought...

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  4. It's not a great film by any means but that ending is what makes it stand out over time. The undertones are fascinating.

    I agree that I think they both could have been in on it the more and more I thought about it over time. But I guess "Return" disproves that theory.

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  5. I absolutely love Sleepaway Camp, and I have to disagree with Geof and say it may be one of the best Slashers to come out of the 80s.

    I was formatting older posts this weekend too and I got kinda barfy when I got closer to the first posts. Bring on the revisions LB!

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  6. Glad everyone enjoyed the trip back to camp!

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  7. hey sleepaway camp fans!
    T.L.Bugg you have a great web sight and i thank you for saying that i was gloriously bitchy! i really had a lot of fun being "JUDY".
    i'm very new to this web world but i've just started a blog and i'd love to hear from all of you!
    horror fans are the best!
    visit me at karenfieldsactress.com

    ReplyDelete

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