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Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Nightmare Vacation

...you wont be coming home!

Directed by:

Robert Hiltzik

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 84 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

After a father and one of his young children are killed in a freak boating accident, the surviving child is sent to live with kooky Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould). Cut to eight years later, and Angela (Felissa Rose) is growing into a problem teenager, uncomfortable in her own skin and almost mute with shyness. Shipped off for the summer to Camp Arawak with her protective cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), Angela has to endure the unwanted attentions of sleazy chef Artie (Owen Hughes), the bullying of counsellor Meg (Katherine Kemhi) and vicious teasing from bitchy Judy (Karen Fields) and the other children. As Angela begins to come out of her shell, and has her first awkward experiences of love with Ricky’s friend Paul (Christopher Collet), children and staff at the camp start dying one by one at the hands of a mysterious and inventive killer.

If you were to create a map of movie massacres, its most popular sites would inevitably be Crystal Lake and Elm Street – but even if Camp Arawak, also from a horror franchise launched in the eighties, has been visited less often than these locations, sometimes, as any camper can tell you, it is necessary to venture a little off the beaten track in order to find the best spot. The point-of-view killings in ‘Sleepaway Camp’ might recall the earlier Halloween, and its creative slice-and-dice (murder weapons include a cooking vat, a curling iron, and even a swarm of bees) might be pure ‘Friday the Thirteenth’, but where those movies were all about co-ed carnage and the punishment of rampant sexuality, Robert Hiltzik’s film explores the more virgin territory of early teens caught up in that difficult time of transition when sexuality has still not properly defined itself. There may be gory corpses aplenty in ‘Sleepaway Camp’, but its real horror derives from the bodies of those still living, as burgeoning hormones and developing desires bring to the surface all manner of anxieties about that most confusing and often unpleasant of phases, adolescence, when the innocence of childhood starts irrevocably to recede.

The identity of the killer in ‘Sleepaway Camp’ is pretty obvious from early on – so obvious, in fact, that you might even convince yourself for some time that the person in question can only be a red herring – but this is not ultimately a whodunnit so much as a whydunnit, and the Argento-esque twist in its tail is truly satisfying, offering a solution which is difficult to see coming but still makes perfect sense, and will leave you wanting to watch the film all over again.

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It's Got: Desiree Goulds wonderfully weird aunt, a portentous score by Edward Bilous, a mode of murder that earns the film a true bee-grade, Owen Hughes brilliantly sleazy performance as a paedophile cook ("Look at all that young fresh chicken"), guys in crop tops and tight pants, and of course baseball, volleyball and canoeing.

It Needs: The best psychiatric therapy that money can buy.

DVD Extras Animated menus; scene select (useful for revisiting key scenes once you have seen the twist); choice of Dolby 2.0/5.1/dts; original theatrical trailer; film notes (9 pages on the Sleepaway Camp franchise and its context); bios on stars Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten (who have both reunited for 2004s Return to Sleepaway Camp); a hidden thumbprint on the main menu which leads to an edited selection of clues and red herrings sprinkled through the film that allude, however cryptically, to the solution; full audio commentary (not particularly informative but quite entertaining) by writer/director Robert Hiltzik (who is amiably dry) and star Felissa Rose (who talks almost exclusively about the different guys she kissed or fancied on set, and who steadfastly fails to appreciate Hiltziks irony), and moderated by Jeff Hayes (who runs Sleepaway Camp - the website and contributes virtually nothing to the conversation). Note that this is now also available from Anchor Bay as a box set, together with Sleepaway Camp 2 and Sleepaway Camp 3. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

Friday the Thirteenth, Halloween, Halloween, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, Tenebrae, The Burning

Summary

Camp eighties slasher classic with a well disguised twist.

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