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Sleepaway Camp (1983)

October 29th, 2006 · No Comments

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A man, his young son and daughter are introduced relaxing on a small sailboat when some idiot teenagers come along in a motorboat and plow over them, killing the dad and one of the kids. Eight years later, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and his shy cousin Angela (Felissa Rose) are sent off to Camp Arawak by Ricky’s dingbat mother, who appears to be a few enchiladas short of a combination platter.

Fellow campers include Ricky’s bitchy ex-girlfriend Judy, and camp counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi), who quickly becomes irritated by Angela when she refuses to eat or talk to anyone. Ricky’s friend Paul loosens Angela up by taking an interest in her, while the adults at the camp begin to dwindle in number when a psycho killer appears on the scene.

Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, Sleepaway Camp was shot around Summit Lake in Argyle, New York. A camp known formerly as Camp Algonquin stood in for the fictional Camp Arawak. The movie was budgeted at $350,000, but looks far cheaper.

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Anyone thinking this would simply be another in a long line of Friday the 13th knock-offs would be absolutely right. Regardless of what anyone tells you about this cult classic, without Jason Voorhees, it would not exist.

For 80-some-odd minutes, we get what could be described as Saved By The Bell with a psycho killer. But unlike slasher flicks, where teens engage in drug use and premarital sex before getting gruesomely dispatched, most of the kids in this movie haven’t hit puberty yet. The violence is carried out mostly off-screen, and much of the movie feels like a bunch of 14-year-old kids shot this at camp in between food fights.

Actually, the kid produced version would at least have been funny. Sleepaway Camp is too cheap and goofy to be scary, and too creepy to be really funny. Which ever direction you look in this movie, about all you can say is that at least they kept the camera in focus. The story? Derivative. Casting? Worthless. Dialogue? What dialogue? Music? Terrible.

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But Hiltzik, who twenty years later was working as a lawyer, unaware of his film’s cult status, adheres to the proverb that even a broken watch is on time twice a day. Inexplicably, the last 60 seconds of this film ranks among the most memorable thriller endings of all time. Contradicting all the worthlessness that has come before it, the ending is bizarre, gruesome and stays with you longer than most of the big horror films of the period.

Fans might say that Hiltzik masterfully engineered the tedium of the first 85 minutes just to shock you with his balls-out ending. I’m not giving him that much credit, and won’t give away his ending, but if you enjoy horror films and can catch this one on cable, tune in for the final five minutes and you’ll be in for a treat.

Two back-to-back sequels – Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland – were shot in Georgia over a six-week period in 1988, which the cast and crew of this one had nothing to do with.

Tags: Black comedy

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