Sleepaway Camp is one in a long line of summer camp slashers to see release in the wake of Friday the 13th. But there is one thing that sets it apart from the legion of Friday imitators: It was the first slasher to feature a transgender killer. With that said, I wouldn’t go so far as to call Robert Hiltzik’s film progressive, as the twist clearly exists for shock value more so than for the sake of inclusion. But the flick certainly succeeded at shocking its audience upon first viewing. If it weren’t for the unexpected plot twist, there likely wouldn’t have been a barrage of sequels and the picture may very well have been long since forgotten.
Just in case you’re not already familiar with the flick: Sleepaway Camp finds Angela (Felissa Rose) and Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) packing up and heading out to Camp Arawak. Their idyllic retreat by the lake begins as a routine summer of fun and debauchery. But when campers and counselors begin to make problems for Angela, they start meeting with unfortunate accidents. Oh no!
Sure the storyline has been done time and again. But with the aforementioned twist and an undeniably charming level of camp, this trashy slasher has more going for it than one might expect.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it wasn’t until the film hit home video that Sleepaway Camp really found its niche. The flick’s release on VHS saw the picture finding its audience and that audience has only grown since.
The film has enjoyed something of a second coming thanks to the advent of the Internet. Hell, star Felissa Rose has even credited the flick’s online fanbase for helping get Return to Sleepaway Camp off the ground. And that makes sense. It may never have had mass mainstream appeal but Sleepaway Camp has cult classic written all over it.
Like a lot of films of its kind, Sleepaway Camp shouldn’t work as well as it does. The characters are loathsome, the acting is awful, and the script is half cocked. However, the elements combined lend a so bad it’s good kind of appeal to the flick. I enjoy how over-the-top Sleepaway Camp is and I appreciate the ridiculous (often offensive) dialogue contained within. The scene where Judy (the first camper to grow boobs) calls Angela “A real carpenter’s dream: Flat as a board and needs a screw” is (subjectively) hilarious, as are a many aspects of the less than perfect screenplay.
As the above quotation implies, the film is definitely a product of its time. A lot of the jokes are way off color and the fact that the script (arguably) vilifies a trans character make it easily identifiable as a flick that would never be made today. But taken for what it is, I find it hard not to appreciate this 1983 effort from writer/director Robert Hiltzik. All in all, I think of Sleepaway Camp as a raucous and campy good time.