Updated: Apr 21, 2021
*TLDR* - A RESOLUTION YOU WILL NEVER SEE COMING PROFOUNDLY ELEVATES THIS OTHERWISE GENERIC CAMPY EIGHTIES SLASHER. DISTURBING AND UNCEREMONIOUS, THE REVEAL BENEFITS FROM AN EARNEST WATCH. DO NOT SKIP TO THE END.
You may be asking yourself why I would recommend this movie if I call it "generic" in the title of this article. Isn't that kind of contradictory?
If I'd never seen a movie like this, I'd agree with that sentiment, but sometimes a movie with many general flaws can surprise you with even just one profoundly effective element that holds your interest far beyond the scope most movies would. Sleepaway Camp offers an experience that no other movie has dared to compete with since its inception in 1983. Sleepaway Camp is the story of two cousins; Ricky and Angela, living with Ricky's mother in their suburban home. Angela had experienced a traumatic boating accident early in her life that cost the lives of her family. Angela and her eccentric aunt are clearly still profoundly impacted by the damage of the event, but life goes on, and a summertime adventure awaits the demure Angela and her overbearing cousin at the titular camp. During their visit, a slue of miserable kids and counselors alike take the stage who belittle and demean our protagonist, setting up for the "who done it" scenarios presented soon after, when camp staff and patrons start getting picked off one by one.
The movie is bogged down with a safe and cliche slasher/mystery premise, and cheesy deaths admittedly befitting the genre. The child actors are exactly what you'd imagine leaving a lot of undesirable and stilted performances and dialogue in a rather gray and dull setting. The Sleepaway Camp slasher employs a lot of childish, weird, yet murderous tactics (one involving bees; another, soup) that call into question whether the killer is even trying with all these haphazard attempts.
I'm not here to debate the overall quality, but all the cliche, campy, muted PG horror scenes and spotty execution thereof are worth experiencing for the few profoundly effective and subversive moments that have left me stunned for years after my initial viewing. The opening is genuinely concerning and effective with the boating incident and the introduction of one of the strangest mother characters ever presented in a visual medium, but that is nothing compared to the resolution of the events. All of the evidence piles up to a shocking revelation that will absolutely turn the entire movie on its head, and warrant the run time.
Sleepaway Camp may even be a familiar title even if it is almost forty years old now. After all, it has received the well-earned status as a cult classic. I'm just here to remind you of it in case you may have been sleeping on it. *wink* Since seeing it the first time almost a decade ago, I found myself regularly thinking about this movie and I basically made this as my first post just to share my thoughts that I've been dying to get off my chest. When I first watched this, I rewinded and replayed the final scene of this movie over and over and over again, and I have complete faith that I can't possibly set you up with poorly managed expectations, no matter how much I hype the core scene of this film... Yes... One scene defines this movie, and it is shocking, strange, and worth the many years of intense speculation.
Seriously... Google "best twists in movies" and this comes up for good reason. That's how I discovered it, as embarrassing as that sounds. And even knowing that in advance couldn't have prepared me for the conclusion that was to come. The movie is basically a palette cleanser for the resolution. It puts you in a state of bored anticipation for the end, and I think that's how it's intended to be watched, and the best possible outcome to have when watching it.
However, it will never be as good as the first time you see it, so please do me the favor of staying awake through it, as I don't recommend just skipping to the end. Although, if you go against my good intent to warn you otherwise, you will have spoiled what I've been hyping up and may forever regret losing the essential build up for the optimal viewing experience.
If you have friends that really like shocking content, candid in the moment theorizing, and a good after-film discussion in good company, invite them for a mutual initial viewing. I can safely promise if you haven't heard of or seen this movie before, you will be blown away by it.
This is The Shelf signing off with our first week's recommendation, and I hope you stick with us for the rest of what's to come.
See you next week.