Friday, August 7, 2009

Sleepaway Camp: Yes, It Is As Insane As You Have Heard

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Sleepaway Camp was released in 1983 and is now considered a cult classic slasher film. It's pretty easy to see why. What I can't see, however, is how this movie makes any sense at all, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. First of all, it has one of the craziest, most out-of-left-field twists I've ever seen (although I've heard enough about this movie to know what it was, it was still pretty crazy). Second, the main actors haven't been in much else, and pretty much started and stopped their acting careers on this movie. Finally, James Earl Jones's father is in the movie for a few minutes, and it's kind of bizarre, really.


Set in 1983, Sleepaway Camp tells the cautionary tale of Ricky and his cousin Angela. In the initial scene of the film, Angela is on a small sailboat in a lake nearby Camp Arawak. The kids and their dad capsize the boat in jest, and then are run over by a bunch of idiots in a boat (as well as the biggest overactor I've ever seen in the form of a teenage girl water skier). Eight years later, Angela is going to Camp Arawak with her cousin Ricky, after a very bizarre and unsettling exchange with their wide-eyed seemingly insane mother/aunt. Once they arrive, Angela is nearly comatose until Ricky's friend Paul brings her out of her shell a little. She gets picked on a lot, though, but Ricky always defends her (sometimes violently). Eventually, her tormentors end up dead, and Ricky is suspected. After several brutal and sometimes inventive murders, nothing is ever actually resolved at all, and the movie ends. Super serious, guys.


Sleepaway camp,horror movie


In my opinion, this film is an extraordinary example of the slasher film. While the dialogue is extremely cheesy (a lot of the dialogue/bander seems awkward and stilted, as though it was written by someone who has only heard second-hand descriptions of common conversations), and we hardly ever see any murders actually being committed (though we see the grisly aftermath), the actual acts themselves are pretty crazy, and unlike slashers like Halloween or Friday the 13th, the killer isn't some crazy nearly-supernatural monster-man (or mother, in the case of the first Friday the 13th), the killer's just some camper. Well, they're more than just a camper, but that's for later. There are also a large volume of creepy and beefy counselors, that can barely act and have no idea what's going on most of the time. Most of the girls (aside from Angela) are kind of bitchy, too. There's one vaguely nice girl counselor that we see, named Susie, but she doesn't really do too much.


Ok, so here's the scoop on the twist ending. It turns out, Ricky was innocent, and Angela committed all the heinous murders (including killing a guy with a beehive in the bathroom, stabbing a girl in the naughty parts with a hot hair curler, shooting a guy through the neck with an arrow, and stabbing a woman through the wall of the shower). Not only that, but guess what, cats and kittens? Angela's not actually a girl at all! What a shock, what an amazing incredible twist! Turns out, Angela is really Peter, who we thought died in the beginning. When she went to live with her aunt, in her own crazy logical way, she decided that having two boys just wouldn't do at all. So she decides to raise Peter as Angela. Additionally, Angela/Peter is completely screwed up anyway, because when they were kids, assuming not too long before the boat accident, they saw their dad and his "friend" in a romantic (and vaguely awkward on-screen) embrace, which was a big shock to them, as evidenced by them giggling.


So at the end, she cuts off this kid named Paul's head (he had expressed a romantic interest throughout the film) and hums with it in his/her lap. When Ronnie (Beefy Counselor #1) and Susie (Only Nice Girl Counselor) stumble upon them, they're understandably dumbfounded by not only Angela's evident wang, but also this crazy face:


sleepaway camp,horror movie


She's also making a strange animalistic hissing noise, too. I don't really understand that part, at all. And that's where it ends... We see this crazy face through the credits. Nobody really does anything, and we never get the idea that anything's ever really done about it (we never see her/him/it get arrested or have any real effort made to restrain, question, or frankly do anything at all about it).


The way that this film treats violence and women is particularly interesting. The girls and women are almost exclusively harsh, vindictive, or just plain crazy. The main character, which we think of as a traumatized and misunderstood girl actually turns out to be a boy, and kills a large number of girls (and a group of young kids in sleeping bags) and a few guys. Additionally, her only remaining parent figure (her Aunt) is shown as being absolutely and irrefutably insane, not only in making Peter dress like a girl and calling him by his dead sister's name, but seemingly distant, flighty, and probably hears voices.


The twist is insane, of course. The first third of the movie seems more like a wacky teen camp-comedy, but quickly turns around and becomes a murder-fest, full of lines like "*Gasp!* I didn't expect to see you here!" They also do a pretty good job of trying to conceal the identity of the person (considering all the hands and body parts of the killer that are seen are clearly male, and while the character of Angela is supposed to be a teenage boy forced in drag, the actor playing "her" is clearly a real female, which makes it especially mind-boggling.


Overall, I think I'd give it three awkward, screeching teenage transvestites out of five, or three beefy and vaguely creepy camp counselors out of five.

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