Ugh. In one of Down and Out Reviews’ recent podcasts, my broadcast partner kept talking about a slasher film called Sleepaway Camp (1983). He has decided that our cosmic reason for being is to make this poor Catholic watch and react to films where people are brutally murdered. I am willing to go along with it, not because I want to see them necessarily, but because I am willing to trust in his expertise that such a strategy is a pathway to success for us. He knows how to do things that I do not. In the meantime, the movies we see will also appear here, and I can warn you all as to how deep this pit of despair goes.
At what point Sleepaway Camp falls in this pit is difficult to say. It certainly does not start out cheery. As the opening credits roll, you see a collection of deteriorating buildings along a forlorn lake. Next, we see a dad, Peter Baker (Dan Tursi), and his two children enjoying a day on that same body of water at some point in the past. Their day is ruined when a pair of irresponsible boaters runover their capsized dinghy, killing Peter. Fast forward eight years and apparent siblings Angela (Felissa Rose) and Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) leave for Camp Arawak for the summer. It is located on the same lake we saw earlier. Ricky is familiar with the camp, but it is Angela’s first time. At first, she says virtually nothing to anyone. For whatever reason, nobody seems to like her silence, particularly her bunkmates. Making matters worse, she also ends up in the cafeteria’s pantry alone with the sickly perverted, pedophiliac head cook Artie (Owen Hughes). He seems ready to sexually assault her before Ricky comes to save her. A little while later, while standing on a chair in order to reach into the tallest boiling pot ever, an unseen figure enters the kitchen and yanks the chair out from under Artie. The super-heated contents spill all over the cook as he falls, and he is forced to go to the hospital. The first death comes when one of the boys, Kenny (John Dunn), is out in a canoe. He rocks the boat, spilling the girl he was with and himself into the water. She swims away annoyed, but when another figure turns up inside the overturned vessel, this still faceless person drowns Kenny. So, I get that I am watching a slasher film. They usually are over-the-top in some way as to stretch believability. Regardless, I do not understand who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to cast Mike Kellin, cigar and all, as camp owner Mel Costic; or Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie, the strangely muscled, entirely too high up on the thigh shorts wearing head counselor. On the other hand, I suppose it makes sense given that when people start dying, these are the two men responsible for keeping the camp open and carrying on as if nothing strange was happening. I am not going to describe every murder because that would get boring. It also makes it even more obvious than it already is who is doing the killing. The one taking out Artie’s chair, drowning Kenny, slipping murderous bees into Billy’s (Loris Sallahian) bathroom stall, and stabbing Meg (Katherine Kamhi) in the shower is obviously Angela. These are all people who have wronged her in some way, and she is getting back at them in the worst possible way. The film laughably tries to make it seem like it might be Ricky because he is overly protective of Angela. However, through difficult to follow flashbacks, it is suggested that Angela has been disturbed for some time. It is Meg’s death that sends Mel over the edge because he was about to have a date with the young woman. This possibility is as gross as anything that happens in the film, but the worse is yet to come. With more bodies piling up, the police are finally called, and in pairs Mel, the police, and the counselors go around looking for the murderer. Holy crap do they find it, and I do mean “it.” You see, Ricky was not one of Peter’s children, but rather Angela was the sole survivor. She also apparently witnessed her dad have a homosexual encounter, and her adoptive parent, Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould), attempted to raise her as a girl. That last sentence does not make sense completely until the very last moment in the film where it is revealed in the most genitalia way possible that Angela is, in fact, a boy. He gets up from sitting with the corpse of her (or his, whatever) would-be lover Paul (Christopher Collet), revealing all. It is completely disturbing, but thankfully the end of the film.
As if I did not already expect trouble from a film like Sleepaway Camp, the film reminded me of its awfulness early and often. As soon as the kids arrive at the camp, their finding their way to their cabins is closely observed by Artie. I was physically ill while he ogles the young girls and says the lewdest things possible as to what he hopes to do to them. It is the second worst moment in the film, after the last, of course. As for the actual murders themselves, they are rather tame compared to more modern moviemaking. What I had the most trouble handling, actually, is watching the way the campers acted towards one another. Cursing each other out is one thing. Kids have been using foul language at an early age since time immemorial, particularly when they are out of their parents’ earshot. It was more difficult to watch the way they treated Angela. Not being a girl myself, I did not totally understand making fun of her for potentially not hitting puberty yet. If someone cares enough, enlighten me in the comments below if you are a woman who was bullied for possibly not yet having pubic hair, or breasts. The hardest for me was seeing Angela picked on for her silence. Is it weird and creepy to have someone blankly stare back at you instead of engaging in conversation when you are clearly talking to that person? Of course it is. But, why did that mean they had to ride Angela for being mostly mute? Forget the underaged nudity at the end, which cannot be forgotten, unfortunately. They were all pretty rotten to each other, making it difficult for me to root for anyone when it is said and done.
There is nothing in Sleepaway Camp for this Catholic to recommend, from a Faith perspective or any perspective. Perhaps as I see more of these kinds of movies, I will see it as more unique? As it stands right now, it does not seem too original to me, and thus it truly has nothing going for it. Yes, I say this as a Catholic, but I do not feel there is a reason for anyone to see it. It is also interesting to look up its International Movie Database (IMDb) page. Many of those appearing in it have an image of themselves from this film. I find that to be telling of its quality.