Horror Movie Review: Sleepaway Camp (1983)


Considered a cult classic, by time the end credits roll it’s easy to see why. Utterly absurd but utterly brilliant, Sleepaway Camp is a glorious slice of 80’s invention & risk-taking. You know, the thing that is lacking in most modern horror movies now.

Sleepaway Camp opens showing two young children, a boy & a girl being sent off to camp by their very peculiar Aunt. Everything about the setting feels off, confirmed by her insistence that they don’t tell the camp counsellors how she performed their physicals.

I know. I know.

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Angela (Felissa Rose) has been living with her Aunt ever since her father & brother were killed in a freak boating accident. It’s Angela & her cousin, Ricky (Jonathon Tiersten) who are on their way to Camp Arawak. Angela’s introvert nature makes her an instant target for the camp bullies, a group of older girls who see her as some sort of freak because she doesn’t really talk or get involved much.

Ricky does everything he can to defend her but he can’t be around all the time.

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After almost being sexually abused by the head chef, Artie (Owen Hughes) it’s safe to say Angela isn’t having a good time at camp. This guy, Artie is played so well…utterly sadistic & such a slimeball. His scenes are dark & uncomfortable to watch as he makes extremely inappropriate references towards the children in front of his colleagues.

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“Look at all them young fresh chicken. Where I come from, we call ‘em baldies. Makes your mouth water, don’t it?”

Annoyingly rather then call him out on his bullshit, they just laugh & shake their heads. Oh that Artie, what a cad. In response to being told the kids are too young by an elderly cook, Artie says this:

“They’re ain’t no such thing as being too young. You’re just too old.”

Thankfully he’s the first to get attacked, having scalding water poured over his face & upper body. He doesn’t die but he isn’t going to have much of a life after this. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

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Camp leader, Mel (Mike Kellin) decides that it was just an accident, something he will continue to say as the body count rises. You see, anyone that is cruel or mean to Angela seems to wind up dead in some way. Often made to look like an unfortunate accident in the eyes of most. Drowning, stung to death by bees, stabbed with a knife etc. Well, ok that last one comes in the latter half of the movie as things begin to ramp up to the finale.

Sleepaway Camp keeps its killer in the shadows for the entirety of the movie, never making it clear just who it is or why. Hints are dropped at the feet of many different characters but as they are mostly kids it’s hard to really picture them as violent killers.

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Instead, the whodunit plays out up until the final scene. A scene that is incredibly shocking, very imaginative & just a whole lot of fun. The final shot of the killers wide-mouthed face is something you’ll remember for a long time.

Sleepaway Camp is an exceedingly good slasher flick, standing out during the heyday of the sub-genre of horror. It employs standard horror tropes but does them so well that it’s impossible to not be hooked.

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The vast cast means the scale of acting differs greatly. Felissa Rose’s performance as Angela is fantastic, as is the lead bullies Judy (Karen Fields) & Meg (Katherine Kamhi). The former of the two gets some incredible lines such as this hummer of an insult directed at Angela.

“She’s a real carpenter’s dream: flat as a board & needs a screw!”

Just fantastic.

Sleepaway Camp
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