Film, Go To

EARLY WARNING: Sleepaway Camp @ the Somerville Theatre

Saturday, 11/18 - hosted by the Hassle's Oscar Goff!


In the Slasher Movie era– that 1980s gold rush in which every low-budget auteur and mercenary exploiteer sought to capitalize on the runaway success of Halloween and Friday the 13th– Robert Hitzlik’s Sleepaway Camp stands alone. Nestled in the video store shelves with its nondescript title and appropriately striking cover, Sleepaway Camp quickly became a word-of-mouth sensation among the gorehound set. Where your Freddies and Jasons offered a familiar bag of tricks, Sleepaway Camp was something more subversive: a black comedy (intentional or otherwise– it was occasionally hard to tell the difference) in which every single aspect is just a hair off-kilter, all leading up to one of the most infamous endings in the genre’s history. I have seen hundreds of slasher films in my lifetime, and I feel comfortable in pronouncing Sleepaway Camp the absolute weirdest example of the genre.

Described in purely abstract terms, Sleepaway Camp sounds like a fairly by-the-numbers slasher. Shy Angela (Felissa Rose), whose parents died in a freak accident when she was young, embarks with her cousin Ricky to the wooded Camp Arawak. Angela, who seldom speaks and declines most group activities, is instantly picked on by the camp’s prerequisite mean girls, but Ricky staunchly defends her (while also trying to rekindle a summertime romance with ice-queen Judy). The trouble is– and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this– there’s a mysterious killer prowling the campground, knocking off kids and counselors in increasingly gruesome ways. As the bodies pile up, Angela and Ricky attempt to unmask the killer before it’s too late.

So far, so normal. But trust me: if you haven’t seen Sleepaway Camp, you are not prepared for its extraordinary strangeness. The characters, for example, are all heightened caricatures: consider head counselor Meg, who bitchily spells out her name upon introduction, or Angela’s Aunt Martha, who appears to be working from a different script in which every line is followed by several exclamation points. The dialog is filled with immensely quotable profanity (“Eat shit and live!” and “Hey, Angela, why ya so fucked up?” are quoted in my house regularly), made all the more striking by the fact that the kids are played by actual teenagers– a slasher film rarity. The kills are grotesquely inventive, making use of everything from a hornet’s nest to a vat of boiling corncobs to, notoriously, a curling iron. If you’re watching Sleepaway Camp for the first time, chances are your jaw will drop at least once every ten minutes.

Then, of course, there’s the film’s cockeyed take on sexuality. Even for a genre whose hangups are baked into the formula (how many slasher victims have met their ends immediately following premarital sex?), Sleepaway Camp’s use of sex and gender would take a dissertation to fully parse. The camp chef is a leering pedophile who flaunts his attraction to the young campers (don’t worry, he gets his early on); the cigar-chomping camp head casually engages in an affair with a teenage counselor; the male counselors, upon failing to convince their female counterparts to go skinnydipping with them, proceed to strip off their clothes and carry on anyway. Then there’s the film’s ending, which I will not spoil here, but which ranks among the most infamous in ‘80s horror, and which has only gotten more unsettling in the years since the film’s release. Sleepaway Camp is that rare beast: a wild-and-wooly party of a dumb slasher film which also invites– even demands– some serious unpacking.

That’s where this weekend’s screening comes in. This Saturday, our friends at the Boston SciFi Film Festival are presenting a 40th anniversary screening of Sleepaway Camp, with hosting duties handled by yours truly! Following the film, I will be moderating a panel discussion entitled “The Big Reveal: Slashers, Sex, and Gender,” featuring Broke Horror Fan founder Alex DiVincenzo and Queer Film Institute director James A. Nadeau. Join us for a celebration of one of the most jaw-dropping (so to speak) films in horror history!

Sleepaway Camp
dir. Robert Hitzlik
84 min.

Screens Saturday, 11/18 @ Somerville Theatre
40th Anniversary screening – presented by the Boston SciFi Film Festival
Hosted by the Hassle’s own Oscar Goff!
Discussion to follow: “The Big Reveal – Slashers, Sex, and Gender” with Broke Horror Fan‘s Alex DiVincenzo and the Queer Film Institute‘s James A. Nadeau

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License(unless otherwise indicated) © 2019