Sleepaway Camp is one of those movies that it’s hard to make heads or tails of. Are the production values those of an actual made-at-summer-camp movie? Indubitably. Yet, it’s hard not to admire the infamous twist. And as bottom-of-the-barrel as the acting is, Felissa Rose delivers a performance that truly is solid as the heroine. Sleepaway Camp is as fascinating as it is ridiculous.
After a convoluted setup involving a boating accident, we learn the surviving child, Angela, has moved in with her aunt Martha, who…
Actually, let’s just take a moment to linger at Martha, portrayed by Desiree Gold in a performance I couldn’t even start to explain. To wit…
… sometimes a picture really does speak more than a thousand words.
But I digress.
Years after the accident, Martha sends her son and Angela to Camp Arawak, in a decision that only can be described as tone-deaf. With her vacant, expressionless stare, Angela barely speaks and would have benefited more from a couple of months in professional care to deal with her trauma.
But, to camp they go, and soon bodies start dropping.
Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre movie. The first camp scene reveals the camp cook is an outwardly raging child molester, which his co-worker – portrayed by James Earl Jones’s dad, no less – merely considers an amusing quirk. This is a film where the sixteen-year-old counselor giddily can’t wait to have dinner with the sixty year old cigar-chomping camp owner. What writer/director Robert Hiltzik’s state of mind was during development of this piece of cinema is vexing.
The cast of characters is one so over-the-top that the token jock served as Ken Marino’s main source of inspiration in Wet Hot American Summer. I’d even posit that Marino comparatively downplayed the character. That is the pedigree we are dealing with.
It’s all bad, and it’s all wrong, yet I can’t help but love Sleepaway Camp. Not in an ironic or detached manner, but in the same way Hiltzik believes a teenager loves a burgeoning retiree.
Flawed as the script is, it still manages to hide the identity of the murderer until the end, and deep down, there is a good whodunit story in Sleepaway Camp. It keeps you guessing, and while the film doesn’t measure up to the first two Friday the 13th movies, it isn’t any worse than the majority of the rest of them. Sleepaway Camp at least does not feel stale.
And Felissa Rose does stand out, doing a great job as Angela, reminding me somewhat of Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things. Being able to work with a bonkers script like this takes some talent.
Sleepaway Camp is many things, most of them bad while being impossible to take your eyes off.
There are three sets of sequels that, to varying degrees, are related to the original. You’ll be excited to learn they will all be covered here!