31 Days of Slashers: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

The fourteenth entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp (1983). Following the death of her father, Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) lives with her eccentric Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Martha decides to send her niece and Ricky to Camp Arawak for the summer. The target of multiple bullies and unpleasant adults, Angela remains rather introverted. Soon, violent murders start occurring. Who could be killing the campers and the counselors of Camp Arawak? Are Angela and Ricky next?

Most well known for its incredibly shocking twist ending (no spoilers here!), Sleepaway Camp also provides a rather fresh and darkly comic take on the campground slasher concept. Instead of adult camp counselors being the sole target of the killer, as is the case in several of the Friday the 13th films, children are being killed here, as well, greatly escalating the stakes and intensity of the narrative. Hiltzik manages to weave together the comic aspects of the film quite well with the gory death sequences. The film balances out quite nicely.

The campy aesthetic and performances are one of my favorite elements of Sleepaway Camp. From the very beginning of the film where Angela’s father and his gay lover are accidentally killed in a boating accident, Hiltzik sets the over-the-top tone of the film. It is greatly accentuated with the absolutely wild performance of Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha. Her costuming, incredibly dramatic mannerisms, and way of speaking add an absurdly comic touch to the film. Additionally, Karen Fields as Judy, the meanest of Angela’s bullies at camp, steals every scene she is in with her highly-pronounced side-ponytail. The film is also chock full of over-the-top costuming choices, with nearly non-existent crop tops and minuscule short-shorts worn by several of the male camp counselors. While many would argue that the film has a queer subtext, I would say that there is nothing subtextual about the queerness of Sleepaway Camp. Its queer themes are directly visible from the beginning to the end.

While children performing in horror films can often be rather grating or even incredibly annoying, Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, and Christopher Collet (Paul, a boy who has a crush on Angela) turn in fantastic performances that really fit the vibe of the film. Rose’s turn as Angela is particularly iconic and I continue to mourn the fact that she was not asked to return for the second and third film in the franchise, which turned into full-on comedies instead of the more enjoyable horror/comedy hybrid that Hiltzik establishes in this film.

Through its campy aesthetic and tone, its iconic performances, and its twist ending, Sleepaway Camp is an absolute essential for every Halloween viewing list this month!

Sleepaway Camp is currently streaming for free on the Tubi and Peacock apps and with a membership on the AMC+ and Shudder apps. The Shout Factory! blu-ray, which features an excellent restoration and special features, can be purchased HERE.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another exciting entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!

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