Sometimes you just run into a movie that surprises you...because even though it displays and has been labeled as one thing, it's got some surprising layers and ends up being so much more then we even imagined. Recently released on Blu-Ray, we go all the way back to 1983 to see that "Sleepaway Camp" while is not strictly speaking a good movie is something that actually has a shocking amount of genius to it, provided that you don't take it that seriously.
After a horrific boating accident killed her family, the shy and traumatised Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) went to live with her eccentric Aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky. Years later Martha decides to send them both to Camp Arawak for the summer so that they can enjoy the great outdoors. However, shortly after their arrival, a series of violent and increasingly bizarre accidents keep happening claiming the life of several unsuspecting campers. Has a dark and terrible secret returned from the camp's past, or is some unimaginable horror here to end the summer season once and for all?
I'll be the first to admit that I went into this film fairly blind with next to no expectations of what to expect, and while it isn't a traditionally good film there is something about "Sleepaway Camp" that holds up as a slasher flick that borders on satire and tackles some pretty daring issues and themes for an independent horror film made in 1983.
Serving as Writer/Director and Executive Producer on his very first feature film, Robert Hiltzik went full bore with it all as the gore, the campy dialogue are all turned up to max on this one as much of it plays as a tongue and cheek satire with a surprisingly sharp wit as it navigates through every single horror movie trope with absolute aplomb and ease. The visual effects are solid and it has a genuinely natural flow as it all comes across the screen. It could have easily fallen apart as yet another hokey horror movie, but it was the perfect storm as even this cast most of whom were fairly young knew exactly what they were making.
Star Felissa Rose who was only 12-13 years old at the time of shooting, came through with a surprisingly strong performance as the shy Angela with the terrible secret who sold it incredibly well and as a first time viewer I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen. The rest of the ensemble honestly didn't go on to much else, but that's OK as they all leaned into the experience as much as they could as that was part of what made it all so damn fun.
With a fresh 2K scan of the original film negative, "Sleepaway Camp" has quite frankly never looked better and the special features include a new feature length commentary track with stars Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tierston as well as the original commentary track with writer/director Robert Hiltzik, Rose and webmaster Jeff Hayes. There's also brand new interviews with the cast and crew in the Legacy of Sleepaway Camp making of, a "Sleepaway Camp" scrapbook, the short film "Judy" by Jeff Hayes, a demonstration of the 2K restorations process, the original theatrical trailer and more.
Ultimately, "Sleepaway Camp" goes down as one of those cinematic oddities as you know in your heart of hearts that it isn't a good movie, but you just can't look away either because you are having too much damn fun in the entire experience.
3 out of 5 stars.
"Sleepaway Camp" is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from all major retailers.