Slow, campy horror with an ending that ultimately pays off

Movie reviews


Sleepaway Camp, Amercian Eagle Films, 1983. Blu-ray:  Shout! Factory, 2014.

Sleepaway Camp (also known as Nightmare Vacation on VHS) is somewhat of a well-kept secret in the realm of horror. Reading reviews online on Amazon and other websites would have you believe you stumbled upon a five star classic that requires instant viewing.

On the surface however, it’s essentially your average slasher (an exploitation slasher at that), complete with cheese and bad-dare I say horrible-acting. Not that it’s all that surprising when it comes to ’80s horror.It also gathered enough of a following that it spawned three sequels, which, again, is not surprising.

The kills are neither scary or gory at all. In fact, some death scenes are downright laughable. It adopts a 3rd person “Who is the killer” approach that’s very similar to another slasher film, the original Friday The 13th (the murders although toned down, are also very reminiscent of Friday).

So what gives it this small but ever so present cult status? Why does it have so many fans? And why didn’t I give it one star if l seem to be bashing on it?

The one factor Sleepaway Camp does have going for itself is the main character Angela. Complex, quiet, fascinating all the while disturbing. A psychologist’s wet dream really. Her backstory unfolds unto itself (worthy of a review itself) and is the focus point of the story. The actress who portrays her is believable and convincing. She doesn’t do a whole lot of acting per se (or even talking for that matter), and she doesn’t need to. Her strong gaze and facial expressions tell the story her words don’t. Her few words and expressive eyes say a lot about the character when little else does.

Angela’s aunt is another character that leaves a lasting impression for entirely different reasons. She says a lot and is very vocal and it doesn’t help that she acts in an eerie manner although as a whole it made for an intriguing character.

The backstory is nothing short of fantastic for a horror film. The movie doesn’t have the strongest story, but offers a high pay-off. It’s creepy, disturbing, revealing and is the type of “reveal” most horror movies only dream off. in that sense, Sleepaway Camp succeeds.

Another big reason why Sleepaway Camp is worth watching is the ending. All too often in horror cinema, a film manages to keep the viewer interested until the end and when said ending comes, it ultimately disappoints. What we have here is just the opposite. I kept watching for a payoff and boy, did it ever.

I was laughing through most of the death sequences and the bad acting. Then the ending came out of nowhere and scared the heck out of me. Back when I first watched it I was terrified. It gave me nightmares. That ending and image are still very vivid and etched into my mind.

The film is divisive among some horror enthusiasts. It’s also the type of movie where it’s very hard to talk about and not give anything away. There are strong sexual, transexual and homosexual themes to be found throughout Sleepaway Camp that are at the very core of the story and essential to it’s being. I think that those ideas will get viewers talking more than anything else as I have a feeling the concepts would be remembered more so than any of it’s death sequences would. Those themes are not made it out to be the butt of a joke but rather as a case of profile study.

What starts off as a rather bland and average Slasher film soon becomes deeply complex and increasingly psychological. Is it the all-time classic some make it out to be? Objectively, it is not. It is, however, worthy of a look. It’s very slow to build up and it has it’s flaws, but ultimately Sleepaway Camp has a twisted story that rewards it’s viewer. 3/5 stars.


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