Release Date: November 18, 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Writer: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Note: This review was originally posted in October 2018 on my previous blog “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review.”
This “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film Sleepaway Camp!
Sleepaway Camp is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?
Sleepaway Camp was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or Friday the 13th.
Right off the bat, Sleepaway Camp gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.
Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.
The gore is minimal in comparison to Friday the 13th. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.
Sleepaway Camp balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.
This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
- The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
- Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
- Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in National Lampoon’s Vacation was originally cast to play Judy.
- Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
- Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
- Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
- Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
- As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
- One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.