Friday, March 27, 2009
Sleepaway Camp Review
In 1983 two big things happened. Sleepaway Camp was released to little to no fan fare. The second thing that happened was something that would change blogging forever! Sir Jorge (me) was born in Guanahuato, Mexico. That's right, Sleepaway Camp came out and it really shook up the slasher film genre and is a cult classic. While many called it a Friday the 13th rip off, others saw it as another good entry into the horror world. The shock ending is still something that many people talk about to this day! So join me in a look at the cult classic, Sleepaway Camp from 1983.
This movie is an interesting piece of work, but can seem long at times. The movie follows a group of campers at a "sleepaway camp". Camp Arawak is a random camp and it is a throwback to what was the customary thing to do in the summer for many suburban kids. They went to camp, and there was no internet, no real escapism, which created a lot of horror stories, but surprisingly they went untold. Unless you count some lesser known slasher films from the 70's or Meatballs, there really wasn't a whole lot of attraction to telling stories from camp. There's an interesting new take on camp recently and we have seen comedy thrive above anything camp related, and it's due in large part to the fact that no one really goes to a camp for the summer without technology being around.
Back to the point at hand, this movie has a simple premise. There is someone int he camp getting slaughtered. These killings are mysterious and brutal, and some expect that it is the work of someone that is being picked on. That being said, there are two factions of kids bullying other kids, creating a motive for the killings. This underlining threat carries through the second half of the film and comes to a full boil towards the end.
Here is a trailer for the 1983 film Sleepaway camp:
The movie is terribly shot. If you saw the original vhs transfer, you probably don't have fond memories of this film quality. For whatever reason the vhs tape at my store was terrible, and it had been rented a ton of times by horror movie hounds and fiends left and right. It's interesting to note that this new dvd transfer is a lot better than the original vhs of this film. Maybe the original theatrical reels have a better quality to them, but the film grain in this film is terrible. If this film was 10 years earlier in 1973 it would have been right at home with the exploitation cinema that was is getting a resurgence as of late.
The second cool thing about this movie isn't actually in the movie. The original box cover artwork for this film is one of the best. It is a knife going through a shoe with blood and rain dripping down. On the back of the box was a letter home from a camper and they talk about the synopsis of the film in a strange way. It is almost as if R.L Stine wrote the back cover, as it didn't show gore it didn't have screen grabs it was just a basic synopsis in letter format, written in cursive. This sort of advertising would not be used in the next three films in the series, but overall it made kids like me interested in horror movies. I rented it, and found out that it was a cool movie, although it had a stupid moment in the middle.
The beginning of the film is odd. A family is enjoying a vacation when their parents are killed in a boating accident. We fast forward to an odd part of the film with these kids being sent off to camp. There are also some gay love scenes thrown into the edit of the film that I saw, which made no sense. I am assuming that the film makers were trying to show that there was a sexual ambiguity to our lead character, and it would prove to be one of the most shocking things in movie history.
The middle of the film really bugs a lot of people. The middle of the film shows three or four innings of a camp baseball game. That's right, a full sequence, about ten to twenty minutes of a baseball scene is truncated into the middle of this film! This part is disheartening and really bugs me, but if you manage to stay in for the rest of the film, business picks up rapidly and we get to the good stuff.
Is Sleepaway Camp Scary? : Yes. There are several scary moments in this film and it should be noted that they are not gorey. There is not a great amount of gore in this film, where as the second films relied heavily on gore and sex, this film strayed from that sort of thing. This film showed you the cause of the kills rather the kills themselves, and then they showed you the after math of the kills with lots of makeup effects and good overall technology, without using CG! Yep, this was classic make up effects and it created a great sense of horror.
The scariest part of the film is the realities of false accusations. Much like a lot of other plot twists in horror film history, the camp counselors start to blame the hot head of the group. The kid that is defending his cousin from bullies is blamed for the murders and it's a common thread in our world full of mistaken identity. It's a scary thing to think that there are people that are convicted of things that they didn't do and then sit in prison for years. Most recently I saw on 60 minutes a story about a woman that identified her rapist in a line up, only to learn that it wasn't him. However, she and the justice system didn't find out until 20 years later! Meanwhile the wrongfully accused ended up in jail for a long time. Sure, this story isn't the existential equal to the plot in Sleepaway Camp, however, it is a scary thing in life to be accused of something serious especially murder and not be the person that is doing it. It is scary to note that I made such a comparison in regards to "Witch Hunts" recently and this movie also plays on those commonalities.
The second scariest part of this film is the way it ends. This movie ends with a shocker, but moreover it ends with psychotic ending. The ending involves a decapitated head with a naked girl petting it. This is a shock ending on two major points. First thing first, the character isn't who we think it is and we see a full naked person and a scary head looking at the camera in still frame for the ending, creating huge gasps in the living room that you're watching this in. I won't completely tell you what happens at the end, but if you look hard enough, you'll get the spoiler.
Out of the series of films that this movie spawned this one is the most homoerotic at times, it's the most gruesome, and it is the most tame. This movie really tries to push the envelope and it succeeds without completely shocking you with gore and violence. There are some gruesome scenes, but you feel that the characters who die are directly involved in the decisions to what happens to them. Much like the Saw films, these people are not meant to just get killed they make bad choices and are not innocent, like many other slasher films try to portray the victims. Sleepaway Camp is available on dvd and is not half bad. It is a boring film at times, but I've seen it so many times that it's worth while to me. You have to put away your technology to enjoy this film, because you are set in a different time frame, this is not a new kind of story but it's cool enough to watch, maybe even own. I recommend Sleepaway Camp and it is one of my top 3 favorite camp horror movies.
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