Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sleepaway Camp

From the first scenes of Sleepaway Camp it's pretty apparent that we're setting off down the heavily-trodden path to the Friday the 13th cloning summer camp. Pretty soon though, we start to get hints that things are going to be a little different with this one.

First of all there's eerie Aunt Martha (Ricky's mother) who Angela lives with after her father dies. Her character seems to fall somewhere between "Generic high school acting teacher" and "creepiest thing you've ever seen."

Soon enough we leave Aunt Martha's house and follow Angela and Ricky to camp. As soon as they arrive, we start to realize that shy Angela, who's been very quiet thus far, is a little odder than your average socially awkward teenager and doesn't talk to anyone... ever.

These are the sorts of things that work pretty effectively to lend us a sense of uneasiness that I wasn't really expecting out of what I'd anticipated to be such a formulaic summer camp setup. The movie progresses along like this, introducing us to the other campers and counselors, and gradually starting to work in a few pretty creative slasher kills.

Notice that the guy who looks like a cross between Lloyd Kaufman and Mel Brooks
gets an appropriately ridiculous death scene.

They're all shot from the killer's point of view so that you can't see who it is and we're obviously being set up for the usual Scooby-Doo reveal ending. Before we get there though, we need to take a detour into the strange sexual aspect of Sleepaway Camp.

Whereas you'd ordinarily just pepper your slasher with a few breasts and call it a day, Hiltzik did things a little differently and cranked the homoeroticism all the way up. First of all there's Aunt Martha. By the end of the film I still hadn't figured out the gender there. Then we have all the male counselors and older campers not bothering with the camp uniform everyone else wears, in favor of these sorts of skimpy outfits.

I'd be willing to doubt the intention of that and just write it off as an 80's dress-anomaly, except the female counselors and all the young campers pretty much just stick to their regular Camp Arawak uniforms. After a while with that, the focus shifts away from the men's bodies and turns back toward the murders... which give Angela flashbacks of seeing her father with his boyfriend.

If these things were all part of some sort of weird, homophobic, "gay people cause murder" message, it would at least make more sense. As it stands, they just serve as more of the strange story anomalies that constantly pop up to defy the otherwise standard summer-camp slasher formula we're working with.

If you've heard vague descriptions of the movie from anyone, they'll probably just be about how shocking it is or how the climax is something that you will never forget... something along those lines. At least, those are the sorts of things I'd heard. But up to this point, aside from the entertaining little abnormalities I've been mentioning, there really hasn't been anything too mind-blowing to speak of and I didn't really see how things were going to suddenly turn around and suddenly fulfill all that had been promised. Soon enough though, the big reveal comes and whether you've figured out who it is or not (you probably have) is completely irrelevant. The execution of the final scene is something that was engineered to be burned into the brain forever, while just incidentally communicating the plot resolution on the side.

The characters catch the killer, the killer turns to face them, and then the characters all just stop what they're doing and freeze in place so as to not distract you from the scene's hypnotic effects until the movie's finished having its way with your eyeballs... not to mention that terrible noise...

The first time I saw it, I was still making that face halfway through the credits.

I'm not willing to give away any more details about the ending here, but this movie is definitely shocking and does turn out to have a conclusion that you'll never ever forget.

If you've not seen it yet, what the hell are you waiting for? Go ahead and give yourself a new favorite slasher.

Available on Amazon: Sleepaway Camp