Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp (1983) is a bona fide classic of the slasher subgenre. Made for a clapboard $350,000 during the peak of the bloody-teenage-dream-crush gold rush, then 25-year-old writer/director Hiltzik seemed acutely tuned in to the potential of the camp hacker. The film is soaked in grotty, perverse subtext that runs deeper than even such stalwarts as Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Taboos are smashed into headlong as the narrative motors along with enough inventive kills to keep the most casual horror fan watching. Although with revisits, Sleepaway Camp only grows stronger, as little (sometimes goofball) touches reveal themselves that make this perhaps the scuzziest “shower afterward” slasher ever made without a single boob, sex scene, or gush of crimson. In hindsight, Hiltzik’s brainchild deserved more attention upon release and a line of sequels akin to its well known brethren.
Why 13? No idea, but here’s thirteen reasons to love Sleepaway Camp as the little sadistic joy it has grown to be today. (spoilers ahoy!)
13. Buffed-out counselor and Bon Scott look-a-like Ronnie apparently having no qualms about smuggling a baseball around children…
12. The Shoe Polish ‘Stache
11. Camp Arawak looking condemned with everything unkempt, unsafe, unpainted and freshly vandalized…even upon its reopening with kids and liability running rampant.
10. The older set of supposedly “punch your face in if you call me homo” guys being perfectly fine with skinny dipping together to merely spite the girls who don’t want to.
09. Angela’s totally cracked, oddly Wizard of Oz-reminiscent matriarchal Auntie.
08. The totally cracked (is there an echo here?) camp owner who seems completely hands-off in managing his operation before diving headlong into madness with who he believes to be the murderer.
07. That bullet-driven stare.
06. Über-bitch Judy and The Curling Iron Pap Smear of Doom. If one wanted to get all smartypants, it could be inferred that Angela’s method of killcrazy here is meant to deface what makes a female female as a way of vengeance for what’s also been done to her.
05. The boldness of having a scene in which “Angela” and her brother watch their father have homosexual relations…in a “mainstream” horror film in 1983.
04. Real children in the crosshairs instead of being segregated into safety leaving only 20-something teens to dance with the knifed one’s murderous ways like other slashers.
03. The squirm of parents that let their kids join the cast as extras when they discover that it’s not merely a cheap slasher, but a cheap slasher packed with foul-mouthed pedophiles, sexual predators, and old man lovers headed up by a deranged transgendered maniac.
02. How the film both unexpectedly subverts and strengthens the feminist tinge that cut through the early ’80s slasher craze. Despite most not realizing that at the time of this film’s release; let alone realizing the subgenre’s reflections on women as beckons of immense power. Simply a misogynistic reflex by men who want to see women “get theirs”? Yeah…sure…
01. Felissa Rose’s Angela. Robert Hiltzik not only makes her the sympathetic lead, but also the most mentally disturbed killer in slasherdom history. It’s one thing to be gender curious as a child. It’s one thing to have a gay parent. It’s something entirely different to lose that parent and sister in a horrifying accident, be forced to live an enormous lie for years under the care of an insane foster parent, be forced to go back to the location of the accident, and then face the horrors of puberty doubled by your lie. The trail of grisly murders and bloody boy penis was a foregone conclusion. Freddy, Jason, and Michael had it easy…
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