Our reviews of Fright Pack: Campy Classics (published July 26th, 2005), Return To Sleepaway Camp (published November 14th, 2008), Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (published September 4th, 2002), and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (published September 4th, 2002) are also available.
Meet me at the waterfront…after the social.
Sleepaway Camp is a campy, sometimes funny take on the "slasher at summer camp" sub-genre started by Friday the 13th. Unusually tame in the nudity (none) and gore (little) departments, it has some unique aspects and a total shocker ending that perhaps alone makes it stand out from the crowd. Thanks to Anchor Bay and some dedicated fans, a quality DVD of the film is now available. The film went on to spawn two sequels (and a possible third) so it can't be that bad (well, it could I suppose).
Facts of the Case
A tragic boating accident kills a man and one of his two children, leaving only Angela (Felissa Rose) to be raised by a truly bizarre aunt. Eight years after the accident, Angela and her protective cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston) are sent off to Camp Arawak for a summer of fun, growing up, and unfortunately watching people get picked off one by one by a killer; who finds truly unique ways of doing in those who have hurt or offended Angela in one way or another. Could quiet, shy Angela be the killer, or possibly the fiercely protective Ricky? Or someone else entirely?
Expectations were low as I popped this disc into the player. I'm not much of a fan of slasher flicks, and I hadn't even heard of this one. But I was pleasantly surprised, if not wowed by this one. There is a collection of interesting characters and one low key but strong performance among the cast. Felissa Rose, then only 13 years old, often without speaking makes her character sympathetic and real, even while we suspect she may be the killer. It was surprising she didn't get into more films after this. But the supporting cast, from the rubber-faced Mike Kellin to the despicable pedophile Artie and the mean-spirited Judy each have some quirk or interesting quality about them. While I wouldn't go so far as to call the characters well developed, they do have more substance than usual in horror fare.
I was also surprised by the lack of real gore and the comparatively innocent coverage of sex in the film. By using kids around the age of 13, writer/director Robert Hiltzik refrained from the normal T&A aspect (the usual being if you have sex, you'll die horribly) and made the sexual exploration aspect almost chaste. Likewise, you rarely see a killing take place, but it is rather inferred, and the only real gore is from the resulting corpses. I was also pleased that some rather unique ways of killing people were used and the makeup effects were convincing.
The reasons behind the killings and the ending were particularly interesting. From my research it seems the ending is the one thing that really sticks in the minds of most who have seen the film, and many who haven't.
Leave it to Anchor Bay to take a little known film and do better by it than some studios do for big titles. This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent, without artifacting or other major defects. The source print does reveal some grain in some scenes, and a few white lines creep up, but is seems very clean of nicks, dirt, or blemishes. Colors are a bit faded but retain enough clarity and depth. Detail is likewise reasonably sharp. Overall the disc looks terrific. The soundtrack is a two channel mono that is clear and without distortion. Nothing revolutionary, the mono sound doesn't have the dynamic range a multi-channel presentation would provide, but it is the original soundtrack properly transferred.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the positives I mentioned above, this is still a low budget B movie. The acting level ranges from decent to decidedly wooden, dialogue is often stilted, and the plot is relatively predictable except for the ending. Most of the killings are telegraphed well in advance. There are a few surprises still, and a decent red herring or two. The campiness I spoke of is actually a product of the often poor acting, and is endearing in its own right at times.
Due to some terrific efforts from the fan base, at the last minute Anchor Bay was able to get director Robert Hiltzik and star Felissa Rose together, along with fan website leader Jeff Hayes together for a commentary track. While most of the track is fine, with plenty of joking around and some anecdotes about the shooting, some key details were left out and questions left unanswered. When asked how some of the special effects were done, Hiltzik would simply say "Movie magic," which is inadequate for people who listen to these tracks expecting real information. I found myself dissatisfied after listening to it. I need to warn viewers not to watch the commentary track without having seen the film first, as it spoils the surprise ending quickly at the beginning of the track. Besides the commentary track, only a trailer is offered, despite volumes of information offered and available from the fansite. Lastly, again no subtitles from Anchor Bay, a serious deficiency they need to address.
Finally, I should mention that apparently a few seconds of the film are missing in the film, through no fault of Anchor Bay. They used the print given to them by the distributor, and for some reason a shot of a dozen male butts running by got left out, along with a few other quick shots. I personally will not miss that being left out.
Fans of this closet cult favorite will of course want to buy the disc. For others, it is probably worth a rental as the ending alone makes it worth seeing once.
Anchor Bay is commended again for giving a fine anamorphic transfer to even these little known films; something some studios seem incapable of for many well-loved pictures. The makers of Sleepaway Camp likewise are acquitted for doing a pretty good job with a very low budget. Finally, kudos to the fans of the film who actually made a difference when it came to how this DVD was treated by the studio.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary Track
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