I’ll make a quick confession right at the start; out of all the eighties horror flicks to follow in the wake of the Slasher boom, Sleepaway Camp is my favorite. It gets thrown in with the subgenre although it has never really felt like one to me. The setting may be what breeds familiarity but the weirdo nasty vibes it sends out are completely its own. I’ve loved a lot of eighties horror but I’ve never loved any of them as much as I have Sleepaway Camp.
A tragic speedboat accident ends a lovely summer day on the water for a father and his son and daughter. We skip ahead a few years to Angela (survivor of the boating accident) and Ricky (her admirably protective cousin) being sent off to Camp Arawak by one of film’s greatest characters Aunt Melissa. Now, Aunt Melissa is fucking insane. I don’t know if she is an amazing actress but I have a feeling her theatrical capabilities have nothing to do with what she’s bringing to the screen. You can play crazy (there are plenty of actors who have excelled at it) but sometimes you just recognize a human being’s offness. Aunt Melissa ain’t playing and this early into the film you can already tell you’re about to view something different.
At camp we a introduced to an insane amount of awful humans. Pedotastic head chef? You better believe it! Creepy ass camp head whose sleeping with one of his counselors? Make sure he puts out that cigar before he goes in for a smooch! A couple young girls who seem to run off the fumes of tormented youngsters? That bitch radar is pinging! And you can’t throw a captured flag without hitting some testosterone fueled shitheel dude. Needless to say, super shy Angela is getting hit from all ends.
On top of the all to real awfulness that sexual confusion and the basic shitiness that is humanity breeds, there is someone going around killing off the various creeps populating Camp Arawak. Boiling water, bees and a curling iron all come in as tools of death but it’s not as nasty as it could be because everybody on the receiving end is the worst kind of human imaginable. That’s one of the small pieces of beauty about Sleepaway Camp, as opposed to many of the slasher films before and after, almost everyone has it coming.
There’s a few points I want to hit before I finish. First off, let’s talk about Angela. Felissa Rose is amazing in the role. She plays fragile spot on and is never unbelievable in how her character develops. You find yourself pleased as a peach when she begins to unwind and just hope that maybe she can find some kind of happiness. I have no shame in admitting that my preteen self had a huge crush on her when I first experienced Sleepaway Camp…even after the credits rolled. And for anyone who has had the pleasure of watching it knows, that may be why I’m so accepting of everyone.
Next up, I would like to discuss the world that Sleepaway Camp exists in. It’s awful. The most sympathetic adult character with any build is a psychopath who pretty much forced a child into a position completely unnecessary and was only done on some sort of off the cuff convenience. Sure there are some sympathetic counselors but they either rock shorts that barely conceal their thunder or turn a blind eye to the abuse running rampant at the camp. It’s a shitty world and Sleepaway Camp isn’t afraid to let you know.
Finally, I’m going to hit on the final shot. If you haven’t seen it, please stop reading. It is such an excellent reveal, which upon first viewing may feel like it comes out of nowhere but is completely justified. The effect may be easy to catch but when it first hits it is so unsettling that the weak mask just adds to the disturbing quality. I’ve never forgotten it and I highly doubt anyone else has. It’s a true moment of beauty from an amazing decade of horror.
There’s a lot to love about eighties horror. The blood was flowing and a lovely enthusiasm was spreading like wildfire all over the world. Slashers ran rampant and sharp objects tore through horny teens at every turn. I’ve hung with the Voorhees, I’ve dreamed with Freddy, I avoided rafting thanks to Cropsy and I sang along with Marz and Warden but if I have a choice, I’d choose to spend a summer at Camp Arawak with Angela every damn time. 10/10