Happy Horrific Summer, Campers! (A Film Series): #5

We are finally at the end of our camp season here on Cardigans and Cravats. It has been a traumatic experience, but we have survived piranhas, cheerleaders, counseling at "Camp Blood" and even, dare we say.... musical theater! You are resilient and I have no doubt that you will be successful in our last stop in camp horror, which is the cult classic Sleepaway Camp (1983).


Sleepaway Camp

Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) has had a very traumatic childhood. Her father, John, and brother, Peter, are killed by a reckless motorboat driver in 1975. Instead of being raised by her father's boyfriend Lenny, Angela is raised along side her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), by her overly eccentric aunt, Dr. Martha Thomas (Desiree Gould). In 1983, Angela and Ricky are sent to away to a sleepaway camp called Camp Arawak, but not before an awkward interaction with Aunt Martha, who seems very detached from reality as she hands them their physicals with instructions not to tell them where they got them. 

Ricky is an outgoing kid, but Angela is introverted and quiet, which leads to teasing and bullying by other campers, including her own counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) and cabin mate Judy (Karen Fields). Not to mention a member of staff who thinks he can molest children. Not everyone is out to be cruel to Angela. Ricky's camp friend Paul (Christopher Collet) gets a bit of crush on her and even asks her to be his date to movie night. He even tries to make amends when he does hurt her feelings.  

Of course, amongst the games, swimming, and socials, there appear to be some issues plaguing the camp, even fatal ones. The camp's owner Mel (Mike Kellin) tries to attribute them to accidents, until the body count goes up and the accidents are clearly murders. 

The movie is known for the twist at the end, the driving force behind the killings. The twist's shock factor is as strong today as it was in 1983. It is said to be the aspect that sets this film apart from all the others in camp horror genre, but also horror in general.

As an adult, I have issues with it. It is not my favorite ending. Despite that, I like everything about the film leading up to the ending. This is due to two important aspects sometimes overshadowed by the ending: how the film truly captures camp life of the late 1970s / early 1980s and the filmmaking process as a whole.

You can see how a film, now series, like Wet Hot American Summer, was not exaggerating the fashion of the times. The short denim shorts men used to wear, the knee high socks, the teased sideways ponytail, and ironed on name applications on tees. These were important and common fashion statements that connected and transitioned a generation from the bell bottoms of the '70s to the crimped hair of the '80s.  It was before John Hughes truly spelling out who were the jocks, the loners, the princesses. Yet, you can clearly see the divisions, the cliques, and how being "different" is a catalyst for a lot of tension. 

Then you have the filmmaking side. After reviewing Sleepaway Camp for this series, I stumbled across Good Bad Flicks' piece Exploring Sleepaway Camp. If you have not seen the movie and want to avoid spoilers, then I suggest you skip the video below. For those who have seen the film, I highly recommend watching, because it not only breaks down how they did the special effects, but how they had to paint the leaves green because they were filming in fall, and how they cast Angela, Ricky, and Judy. It also gives us a look into the writer, director, producer, and driving force of this film, Robert Hiltzik, and his filmmaking process. I love how the town pitched in to lend a hand. They even catch all the continuity errors and how they went with them. Above all, I liked learning the popular fan theory that adds to the number of actual killers in this film. That theory to me makes complete sense and I prefer it. 

And there you have it campers: five horror-filled camp movies for your viewing pleasure. For those interested in a glimpse of Sleepaway Camp, you can check out the trailer below.  I hope you have enjoyed this series and will check out the films in this series) in addition to Sleepaway Camp): Piranha, Cheerleader Camp, Friday the 13th, Stage Fright. The camp horror is a niche but popular theme and I imagine we have not seen the last of its kind. Here's to what the future holds.