Sleepaway Camp – USA, 1983

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Sleepaway Camp – aka Nightmare Vacation– is a 1983 American slasher horror feature film written and directed by Robert Hiltzik. The film came at a time when slasher films were in their heyday, and is largely known for its twist ending which is considered by some to be one of the most shocking endings among horror films.

The film was released theatrically on a limited basis by United Film Distribution Company on November 18, 1983. On its opening weekend it had grossed a total of $430,000 in the US. It was the top grossing film in New York, beating out its horror competition by taking in almost double the gross of Amityville 3-D. With a budget of $350,00, it went on to take $11 million at the US box office. 

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In the late 1980s, Michael A. Simpson directed two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989). The killer gleefully tortures and kills anyone who misbehaves or is deemed to be annoying. However, these films had more of a comic tone than the original.

Another rogue sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, directed by Jim Markovic, was partially filmed but never completed. In 2002 the unfinished footage was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc in Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment’s Sleepaway Camp DVD boxed set. In 2012 the film was completed and released.

Return to Sleepaway Camp, was completed in 2003. It was directed by Robert Hiltzik, the director of the original 1983 film. He decided that this chapter will ignore the story lines of the previous sequels, stating that he wanted to pick up from where the original film ended. According to Fangoria.com the digital effects were reworked from 2006 to 2008. The film finally found distribution, and was released November 4, 2008, by Magnolia/Magnet Pictures.

Summer: John Baker and his two children, Angela and Peter, out on a lake. After their boat flips, John and the children head ashore, where John’s lover, Lenny, is calling. As the family swims, a motorboat accidentally runs them over, killing John and Peter.

Eight years later, Angela is now living with her eccentric aunt Dr. Martha Thomas and cousin Ricky Thomas. Angela and Ricky are sent to Camp Arawak. Due to her introverted nature, Angela is bullied, her main tormentors being fellow camper Judy and camp counsellor Meg.

The head cook, Artie attempts to molest Angela until Ricky interrupts, and the two children flee. While Artie is boiling water for corn, an unseen figure knocks him off the chair, scalding him with the water. Ben eventually storms in, to the sound of Artie’s cries of pain. He is shocked by the chaos casted. Artie’s incident is deemed accidental by camp owner Mel Costic.

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Campers Kenny and Mike begin to mock Angela, prompting Ricky and his friend Paul to get into a fight with them. After the brawl is broken up by Gene, Ricky and the rest of the boys involved in the fight leave, while Paul stays behind and befriends Angela.

Later, Kenny is drowned by an unseen figure, his body found the next day and his death also ruled accidental by Mel. Campers Billy and Jimmy also pick on Angela, pelting her with water balloons. Billy is killed as well by a mysterious assailant who locks him in a bathroom stall and drops a beehive inside it, leaving him to be stung to death.

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The relationship between Angela and Paul grows strained when Paul kisses her twice as a goodnight kiss, causing Angela to have a flashback to her youth when she and her brother witnessed their father in bed with Lenny. Paul is then seduced by Judy, who lures him into the woods and the two are found kissing by Angela and Ricky. Guilty, Paul attempts to explain himself to Angela while on the beach. As Paul talks to Angela, he is shooed away by Judy and Meg, who throw Angela into the water.

After being taken out of the lake by lifeguard Hal and having sand flung at her by several small children, a clearly disturbed Angela is comforted by Ricky, who swears revenge on her aggressors. After the affair at the beach, Meg prepares for a date with Mel. During her shower, she is killed by the unseen killer, who slices down her back through the shower stall with a hunting knife.

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Meg’s disappearance goes largely unnoticed and a social is held. Angela is approached by Paul, whom she tells to meet her at the waterfront afterwards. The six children who threw sand at Angela are taken out to go camping with counsellor Eddie. When two of them ask to go back, Eddie takes them back to his car and drives back to the camp. The other four children are hacked to bits with Eddie’s axe when he returns. Soon after, Judy is killed with a lit straightening iron. The camp is thrown into a panic when Eddie announces the deaths of the four children…

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Buy Blu-ray + DVD combo: Amazon.com

Reviews:

“Sleepaway Camp takes the summer-camp-murderer formula that the Friday the 13th films created and perfects it with more intense POV sequences and more imaginative deaths. Plus, most of the murders take place just off-screen, or are only seen as shadows on a wall. However, many of the plot twists are completely insane, and most of the characters aren’t developed past first names.” William Tuttle, The Video Basement

“Small amount of blood, zero gore, zero nudity, buckets of laughs, the largest cooking pot I’ve ever seen in my life, water balloon fight on a roof, a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt, heart-pounding softball action, the world’s fakest looking mustache and the immortal exchange “Eat shit and die, Ricky!” “Eat shit and live, Bill.” Check it out! If you don’t like it, then you’re probably taking life too seriously.” Happyotter

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” … there is very little about Sleepaway Camp which is normal. Hiltzik had fashioned a disturbing tale, full of every type of cretin imaginable, and whilst the film often fails to convince, the sheer surrealism of the script and Rose’s convincing performance help cover up its shortcomings. An acquired taste for sure, but those interested in a slasher that’s a little different may take great pleasure in this.” Retro Slashers

“Did ALL males in the early 80s wear the shortest shorts available? The only people in the movie wearing pants are female (or Angela). One guy even has a short shirt. And the main, overly sympathetic counselor guy, wears a shirt that’s so tight it makes him appear to have the largest breasts in the film. In short, I felt really dirty watching this movie.” Horror Movie a Day

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“Every minute spent at Camp Arawak provides more delight than the last, leading up to that glorious final scene which is by far one of the most memorable of any 80’s flick I’ve ever seen. If you love slashers, in particular cheesy, 80’s camp-fests then you’re in for the biggest treat. Granted if you’re looking for a serious genre flick, you will hate this.” Horror Queen

Cast and characters:

  • Felissa Rose as Angela Baker
  • Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky Thomas
  • Karen Fields as Judy
  • Christopher Collet as Paul
  • Mike Kellin as Mel Costic
  • Amy Baio as Brooke Warner
  • Katherine Kamhi as Meg
  • Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie Angelo
  • Susan Glaze as Susie
  • Tom Van Dell as Mike
  • Loris Sallahain as Billy
  • John E. Dunn as Kenny
  • Ethan Larosa as Jimmy
  • Willy Kuskin as Mozart
  • Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha Thomas
  • Owen Hughes as Artie
  • Robert Earl Jones as Ben
  • Frank Trent Saladino as Gene
  • Rick Edrich as Jeff
  • Fred Greene as Eddie
  • Allen Breton as Frank Breton
  • Michael C. Mahon as Hal
  • Dan Tursi as John Baker
  • James Paradise as Lenny

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One Comment on “Sleepaway Camp – USA, 1983”

  1. I will never forget the day I sat to watch this on video. Figured I was going to see a cheap ass, silly 80s slasher. Boy, was I in for one unpleasant shock. The soundtrack alone is enough to upset you. I was really amazed at how well made the film was and appreciated the fact that it, like the original Bad News Bears, is one of the very few films that actually portrays children as they really are (if you think the kids in Spielberg film are accurate portrayals of suburban kiddies, then you don’t live in the real world). But the unrelenting atmosphere really got under my skin. I was already aware of how it ended, but was in no way prepared for how graphically it would be shown. That was an image that haunted me long after the film was over. This one is real nightmare material.

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