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Wayback Wednesday: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

I’ve seen gay porn that is less homoerotic than this movie.

I’ll be honest with you guys. Sometimes I watch a movie that leaves me so perplexed, and so overloaded with thoughts and feelings, that I have no idea how to formulate all that’s going on inside my head into one coherent review. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I’m left reeling for days, stumped as to how I can possibly relay all the whack-a-dack bizarreness of what I just watched into a simple post. If you’re looking for a movie that is guaranteed to leave you with so many more questions than answers, you absolutely have to watch Sleepaway Camp (1983). I only watched the movie two days ago and I already feel like I need to watch it again because my brain simply can’t fathom everything that I watched and I feel like I need to confirm that what I saw actually happened and wasn’t just a fever dream. Oh, and I’m not just talking about the infamous ending. Trust and believe that I was bewildered and confused from the minute the movie started playing to the very end. 

Credit: / United Film Distribution Company

Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, Sleepaway Camp tells the story of Ricky and Angela, two cousins who attend Camp Arawak for the summer. Shy and reserved, Angela soon becomes the subject of bullying and ridicule because of her reluctance to speak up and join camp activities. Soon enough a string of violent murders shake the camp and have campers and counsellors alike fearing for their lives.

Sleepaway Camp is one of those notoriously “so bad they’re good” movies that I’ve heard mentioned again and again but never had the pleasure of seeing for myself. Going in I had no idea what lay in store but I can honestly say that I was probably way more excited than I should have been. And you know what? This movie did not disappoint. AT ALL. I mean, it starts with the sweet yet surprising dedication, “to Mom. A doer.” Like, what the fuck? Immediately following that is B-roll footage of an average camp with overly dramatic music playing and I swear to God, I’m smiling and laughing my ass off already. And nothing has happened! From the very beginning Sleepaway Camp establishes its tone as a cheesy horror movie and in every sense imaginable it freaking delivers. The opening death scene is so damn over the top and overexaggerated that as awful as it would be to experience in real life, I guarantee it will have you howling with laughter. Not only the ridiculous camerawork and flummoxing dialogue, but the delivery. Oh God, the truly horrible delivery in this movie…I was pretty sure that there wasn’t anyone even remotely famous in this movie. After some quick research, I discovered that I was indeed correct. As it turns out, there are also inexplicably no actual actors either. When it comes to delivery the actors possess all the depth and range as the actors on any given episode of Barney & Friends (1992 – 2010). Or an elementary school play. Devoid of subtlety and absolutely bonkers, comedic directors WISH they could make movies that induce such hilarious laughter as Sleepaway Camp does.

As amateur and bewildering as Sleepaway Camp is, and believe me, those are the two words that  best describe this cult classic, I can honestly say that I’ve seen much worse movies. It’s certainly no masterpiece nor is it particularly terrifying, but it’s also not AS straight up ridiculous as I thought it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty damn silly movie but in between fits of laughter I found myself genuinely engaged in the mystery at the centre of Sleepaway Camp. I was anxious to discover who the murderer was, why Angela is so reserved, and just earnestly invested in the horror of these increasingly grisly deaths. My mind kept switching from character to character, convincing myself that I was closer to deducing who the true killer was. I couldn’t believe I was actually enjoying Sleepaway Camp. Like, I would gladly add it to my annual Halloween viewing schedule. The horror and the death scenes are awesome even if the rest of the movie is just kind of “meh.” The non-horror elements of Sleepaway Camp are awful but I defy you to try and avert your eyes from the brilliant train wreck that is this movie. I swear, it will leave you baffled as to whether or not this is a good movie. It’s jarring! I went back and forth so often questioning whether this movie was secretly brilliant or just campy nonsense. Honestly? Results TBD. An entertaining B horror movie from start to finish, I genuinely didn’t want to turn it off or look away. If you can find a way to watch Sleepaway Camp, I highly recommend that you do. Especially if you love camp and horror as much as I do. The 84 minute runtime will fly by. Hmmm, do I need to see the four sequels? Yeah, I think I do. 

There is so much cheesy ridiculousness and so many inexplicably homoerotic outfit choices in Sleepaway Camp that I can’t tell if those are intentional choices or just the 1980s being the 1980s. Regardless, I am an instant fan of every single nonsensical, confusing, and instantly memorable choice made in this movie. Particularly the teeny tiny short shorts and crop tops on all the hulking male counsellors. Oh! And the special effects makeup. For 1983, there is some surprisingly well done and effective makeup work done on each of the murder victims. Inventive as well. There are some truly haunting and terrifying visuals that will stick with you long after watching Sleepaway Camp. Like that final image. That blood-soaked, snarling, eyes wide open image of the killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but just know that although it’s shocking as all get out, it’s pretty problematic and cringey. Just keep that in mind. Just when I was ready to dismiss this movie as harmless and silly, the ending happens. Back-pedalling a little bit and going back to speaking of visuals, I have to give it up for the character of Judy in this movie. It’s hard to be malicious and catty with a side ponytail but somehow she pulls it off.

I strongly encourage you to see Sleepaway Camp for yourself. This was honestly a slightly difficult review for me to write only because there is so much happening in this movie both on and under the surface that part of me still cannot believe that this movie exists. Who greenlit this? Who let this movie happen? Most importantly, who let this fake moustache be used on this actor? I implore you, please check out Sleepaway Camp for yourself. You won’t believe your eyes. 

Credit: / United Film Distribution Company

Have you seen Sleepaway Camp

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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