Always on the search for those ever-elusive “so bad it’s great” films.
1983’s Sleepaway Camp is the definition of a low-budget campy slasher trying to capitalize on the success of the Friday the 13th franchise, which had released a trilogy of films by the time Sleepaway Camp hit theaters.
The campy camp movie may be a rip-off, but it manages to put its own spin and voice into the “camper killer” tropes.
It’s not as incredibly outrageous like other movies we feature, but it did have too many lofty goals, and incorporated more taboo elements into the script than a typical low-budget slasher.
Like any good horror film, we begin with a prologue. Children Angela and Peter frolic in a lake with their semi-closeted father next to an empty Camp Arawak.
A motorboat dragging a water skier doesn’t see the family swimming in the water and hits them. Peter and his father are killed.
Angela (Felissa Rose) survives and is sent to live with her aunt Martha and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Aunt Martha might be the , weirdest, creepiest character in this entire thing. She’s directly responsible for the actions of the film as well, which I’ll get to later with spoilers.
Cut to eight years later, Weird Aunt Martha talks to herself like she’s in a one-woman community theater show she wrote and directed. It’s truly the most bizarre performance of the entire film. I know she’s supposed to portray an insane woman, but I feel like they went and cast an actual insane woman and filmed her without telling her.
Martha tells the children not to tell anybody how they got their physical exams, because physicals are such a popular topic of discussion. Ricky went to Camp Arawak last year, but this is the first time for the shy, extremely quiet and introverted Angela. Ricky tells her how great camp is, and how much fun they’ll have.
All the children arrive to Camp Arawak in yellow school buses as the staff greets them. We immediately meet Artie, camp cook and an open-pedophile bragging about his lust for prepubescent vaginas to anyone who will listen:
Look at all that fine chicken, where I come from we call ’em “baldies.”
Letting all his co-workers know just how much of a pedophile he is
Angela experiences Artie’s creepiness first-hand when muscular but supportive head counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) takes Angela to the kitchen to see if there’s anything she would like to eat. Ronnie leaves Angela alone with the creepy greasy Artie, who immediately tries to molest her.
Luckily Ricky swoops in to save the day after walking in on the perverted scenario. Artie dials it up to 100 and slams Ricky against the wall and tells him “you ain’t seen nothing,” presumably so Ricky doesn’t blow up his spot. Thus begins one of the ongoing bits: Ricky stepping in to save Angela from some shitty situation.
Angela’s shy and introverted nature makes her a prime target of bullying by other campers and even her camp counselor Meg. Although she does find a kindred spirit in Paul, Ricky’s best friend from last summer. Angela pretty much just stares at Paul the whole time, though. All Angela seems to do in this film is stare.
We’re treated to a classic horror POV-shot back in the kitchen as Artie tends to a five-foot pot of boiling water. The pot’s so big, that to stir it Artie needs to stand on a chair. Two hands reach out and yank the chair Artie stands on, and Artie brings the entire pot of boiling water down on top of himself.
Immediately the scalding water raises burns and pulsing, throbbing blisters and Artie screams non-stop. He’s literally still screaming when the paramedics roll him out of camp on a stretcher.
One of my favorite things about this film is nearly every victim actually sees their attacker, and they all react in that same cliched manner: “Oh… it’s you. What are YOU doing here?” Artie is, I believe, the only person to be attacked and survive. And he saw his attacker. If he stopped screaming for literally five seconds, he could have revealed his attacker and prevented the rest of the events of the movie. But he doesn’t.
Enter cheapskate camp owner Mel (Mike Kellin) who turns out one of the best performances in the film. Mel rules the horrible incident with Artie as an “accident” and write the whole thing off after paying off everyone in the kitchen to keep quiet and tell anyone who asks that Artie quit for a better job.
There’s a dance later that night where Angela is bullied some more by other campers who mock her for not talking. She’s rescued, again, by her cousin Ricky and his best friend Paul who get into a fight with those bullying Angela. Paul successfully befriends Angela by talking at her for a while, and when he gets up to leave Angela speaks her first words of the film: “Good night” she tells him.
The first real murder occurs that night when one of the boys who bullied Angela, Kenny, topples over during a night swim on the lake and subsequently drowned by the killer. Right before he’s murdered, our killer pops out of the water with their back to the camera. Kenny lets out a classic “What the hell are you doing here?” juuust vague enough to not tell us anything about the killer’s identity.
The counselors discover Kenny’s decomposing body the next morning, and Mel writes it off as another accident, but the policeman rocking a sweet Cop Stache (Allen Breton) is, like, super duper suspicious for no reason at all.
Angela meekly talks with Paul while all the girls play volleyball, only to have Camp Bitch Judy and Mean Meg mock Angela for not participating and just talking to boys.
At the lake, Angel tells Paul that she can’t go into the water, but won’t say why. Meg comes up and casually bullies Angela some more. She screams in Angela’s face and shakes her like a paint can before Meg is chastised by Ronnie. The bullying only continues as Judy confronts Angela about why she’ll never shower or go swimming in the lake or even change clothes in front of the other girls.
Angela leaves the situation, only to be bombarded with water balloons by the boy bullies led by Billy. The gang of boys stand on the roof a cabin but don’t single out Angela in particular, but instead are throwing water balloons really at anybody passing by. Ricky has clear anger management issues, or maybe he’s just sensitive and overprotective of Angela because he screams “I’m gonna kill him!” at Billy.
Later Billy has to take a “wicked dump”. A pair of hands stick a rod over the bathroom door handle to lock Billy in, and then drops a beehive into the stall. Billy screams and shouts but cant get out of the stall, even though the rod is more like a long pencil, or maybe a piece of bamboo. The bees stab poor, water-balloon throwing Billy to death.
Camp owner Mel finally suspects foul play, but decides against doing the right thing. He refuses to get Officer Copstache involved because he doesn’t want Camp Arawak to shut down. So Mel does nothing, but suspects Ricky. But can you blame the guy? Ricky screamed “I’m gonna kill you” and then someone killed Billy.
Paul tries to kiss Angela which causes a traumatic flashback to her father having gay sex with another man. Which really should have been the first red flag to signal the film’s twist ending. Paul turns into the classic “Naw, bby c’mon let’s just do it” nice guy but Angela blows him off. Later Judy spitefully seduces Paul in front of Angela.
From here on out, things are really kinda… lather, rinse, repeat. People bully Angela further. Judy and Meg drag her, kicking and screaming, and throw her in the lake because Angela refuses to go swimming with the rest of the campers.
Ricky has another breakdown, and screams how he’s gonna just kill all of them. Everyone will rue the day that they crossed Ricky and his helpless meek cousin Angela.
I forgot to mention that during this whole time, there’s a side plot with Mel hitting on the clearly underage Meg, but somehow Meg is totally into it. This bizarre fleeting and budding “romance” happens between Mel and Meg, where they flirt back and forth, and culminates with Mel asking Meg out on a date. At “the social” later that night. Meg not only agrees, but she’s excited.
Unfortunately for Meg, she hums super fucking loud in the shower and there’s a goddamn killer on the loose. That’s right, everyone in camp is aware of all the deaths, and everyone knows there’s a killer among them, but nobody really seems to care. Especially Meg, who seriously hums way too loud.
Meg, like every other normal person, showers with her entire back pressed up against the wall. The wall is also made of Papier-mâché? So she’s totally stabbed to death in the back while showering.
So, Meg’s dead and nobody notices because nobody cares about Meg. Four other children camping out in the woodland wilderness are mutilated and hacked up with an ax that drips with blood. The body count slowly raises higher at Sleepaway Camp.
Mel is the only person who looks for Meg because he’s desperate to get that old dick wet. He searches the girls bunk like a horny creep only to have Meg’s dead naked body fall out of the shower when he walks by. Though naked, she falls face down so Mel still doesn’t get to see Meg’s goods.
Mel thinks Ricky killed Meg to get back at him. The murderer kills two more people, including Judy who has one of the most brutal off-screen deaths in the entire film. The camp devolves into mania after all of these murders in rapid succession.
Mel spots Ricky and straight up pulls Ricky aside and beats the ever loving shit out of the poor boy. Camp Director Mel beats Ricky so fiercely that it actually seems at first that Ricky might be dead.
Mel, bloodlust abated and staring and the half-dead child in front of him, mutters how he “has to get outta here” and stumbles onto the camp archery range before locking eyes with an unseen person. What does he say? “You? It can’t be you.” Famous last words, Mel…
Officer Copstache returns, literally the only policeman on the force. After scouring the camp for the killer, they discover Angela, naked, sitting on the bank of the lake. She hums and strokes Paul’s hair, as his head rests in her lap. We approach closer. Angela leaps to her feet and brandishes a giant knife. Paul’s decapitated head rolls off her lap.
She turns to face everyone and hisses, or screams, or gives some sort of weird battle cry. Angela, fully naked, is actually a boy, as the camera focuses on Angela’s tween peen.
Since the audience has no idea what the hell is happening, we’re treated to an expository flashback. Cut to just after the accident that killed Angela’s father and her brother Peter. Aunt Martha has just taken in the grieving child. Martha explains via evil monologue that Angela is actually the surviving Peter.
The “real” Angela died in the in the boat accident at the beginning of the film. Martha describes how she already has a boy (Ricky) and that she always wanted a girl, so she will instead raise Peter as a girl, and as his dead sister Angela.
Sleepaway Camp ends on a campy freeze frame of Angela screaming while everyone stares at her junk.
She’s a real carpenter’s dream: flat as a board and needs a screw!
Because she knows so much about carpentry
Eat shit and live, Bill.
With the greatest clap-back a 12 yr old would ever come up with