Sleepaway Camp (1983) -There are a lot of things to like about this film, the horror geek loved film is a wonderful example of eighties slasher horror. Probably loved more now than when released Sleepaway Camp with it's shocking twist ending is something out of a time with practical effects, implied violence and inappropriate characterizations it stands up well as an example of how sanitized and yet how violence accepting films have become today. Striking in its simplicity the film is also a twisted little flick of the effects of abuse on the psyche.
Opening with scenes of Camp Arawak abandoned and closed, the autumn leaves changing the camera moves around the buildings while the audio echos of the events of the past are heard with the fine score by Edward Bilous building in and then winding down as we transition to the past. When we see the camp alive with campers in summer as writer /director Robert Hiltzik gives us the back story of the tragedy that forced Angela (Felissa Rose) to live with her aunt for the next eight years. Sad but necessary with just enough revealed to bring us into the present of the film timeline.
Aunt Martha played with an insane vigor by Desiree Gould is sending Angela to camp for the first time. He son Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) will be there to look out for her, a task he will take seriously. A bit off kilter the Martha may not be cruel but more oblivious to the trauma suffered by Angela. This is just another abuse sending her to the Camp where her Father and sibling were killed. The presentation of these scenes as almost an unreal dream like set dark all around the characters, the energy and slightly stilted and odd delivery of lines by Martha revealing her inability to empathize or be aware of the feeling of others. She is more looking for approval that will never come.
Camp Arawak is presented with its dark side in view with pushy or apathetic counselors, pedophile staff and unstable management allows the viewer to see the brochures of play and bonding will be hard to achieve in this place. Kids arrive bonding and seeing where the relationships they had the summer before now stand a year later. We see the settling in and the beginnings of the pecking order kids will create. In a healthy environment this is where the counselors step up to smooth the distances between campers but this is presented as a dysfunctional setting and some counselor seem to just aggravate the situations.
Angela a quiet girl who has to deal with her traumatic past is withdrawn and not wanting to participate in most activities. Older meaner kids use this as an opportunity to make fun and be mean to her. Ricky is there to keep an eye on her but her silent stare agitates the other girls as much as her failure to participate in camp activities. In particular Judy (Karen Fields), Ricky's ex from last summer and counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) seem to have it out for the girl, being cruel in there harsh manner with Angela. I loved how Angela with her silence completely makes the other girls flip out. Those big doe eyes just staring directly back at the frustrated girls as they try to provoke a response in her. This is a very smart move by Hiltzik is how power is exercised in a relationship.
Even when trying to help the camp fails in its duties, counselors bring Angela into the kitchen to see if they can find her food she will like. Concerned that she is not eating they have the right idea. Unfortunately the leave her in a back room with the perverted cook Artie (Owen Hughes). A man who commented while watching the kids arrive "Look at all that fresh young chicken. Where I come from we call them baldies, makes your mouth water doesn't it." So leaving Angela with him spurs the peddie to to say to Angela while undoing his belt, "You sure are a sweet little cupcake ain't ya. ... I got you gonna like real good." This is a pretty messed up setting and it makes sense that the bad guys start dying in this movie. This is not your typical character in a horror movie.
I think it is pretty obvious who the killer is, but also it is a story of how Angela begins to open up and the dangers of that opening up. Things escalate more and more both the personal risk she is in but the deaths around her. The film pulls punches around the kills not too graphic but instead the editing cutting to show the effects of the kills with some good practical effects. Still there are things in this film you will not see in many films. Like a man beating the shit out of a kid because he thinks the kid is the killer. When things start heating up and the killer is shown the giant reveal this film is known for is so wonderfully done it is worth all the time spent getting to it. This viewer still finds the final scenes exciting and just excellently revealed. So enjoyable that of course this movie gets a recommendation. If you have not seen this flick then you are in for a great surprise and there will be no spoilers here even after 30 years. So don't go read anything just enjoy the ride. If you have seen it you know and should just go back and revisit this wonderful slasher film.