Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 1983 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Hiltzik Actors: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tierston, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Susan Glaze




ary Ann (Alyson Mord) convinces Craig (Paul Poland) to let her drive their speedboat. But when she fails to see John (Dan Tursi) and his two children in the water, swimming around their overturned craft, she careens straight into them. Eight years later, lone survivor Angela (Felissa Rose) is a teenager, still reeling from the loss of her father. And her adoptive mother, Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould), has more than a few screws loose.

For the summer, Angela, along with cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston), attend Camp Arawak. Ricky is consumed with jealousy over his former flame, the antagonistic Judy (Karen Fields, who has to wear a t-shirt that says Judy on it in order for audiences to remember), who has matured rather noticeably, while head chef Artie (Owen Hughes) creepily ogles all the underage girls. And Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) is the overly muscular lead counselor, assistant Ben (Robert Earl Jones) helps with the maintenance, and bully Meg (Katherine Kamhi) is in charge of the girls. Despite a few friendly gestures, particularly from nice guy Paul (Christopher Collet), Angela remains utterly silent for the first three days, clearly having a difficult time adjusting to the crowds and the campers (Artie’s spontaneous rape attempt definitely doesn’t help matters either). “If she were any quieter, she’d be dead.”

Artie’s character is so severe and inappropriate that he probably belongs in a different movie, though a theme of sexuality – the elements that shape sexual maturity and adult interactions with children – seems to be running throughout. Nevertheless, his villainy meets a certain degree of justice, initially propelling this independent picture into its slasher realm. As with the countless other camp-based serial killer movies (bolstered most memorably by “Friday the 13th”), “Sleepaway Camp” features rivalry, cursing, pranks and other troublemaking, swimming, child actors (some of whom are better than others), budding romances, and slow stalking from a first-person perspective. There’s also the disbelieving adults, headed by the camp’s owner (Mike Kellin), who wishes to promptly dispel rumors of deadly tragedies. “It was obviously an accident!”

As casualties start accruing, the mystery builds, though it’s hinted at from the start that the culprit is recognized by the other campers. Amid the lengthy baseball games, volleyball matches, and water balloon fights (there’s a strange playfulness between the kids – and their much older counselors – even when they’re feuding), grisly deaths pop up. But they’re spaced rather far apart for a film that has so little substance with its characters and their various contrived dramas. An abundance of accidental comic relief also interferes with the horror, largely surrounding mediocre acting, bad scripting, and goofy expressions.

“Sleepaway Camp” may be low budget and devoid of stars, but the music by Edward Bilous is rather rousing, if a touch overdramatic. It’s undoubtedly one of the more competent aspects, and it sets a fitting tone, especially as the murders escalate in their violence and creativity (though not in the quality of their executions). Unfortunately, writer/director Robert Hiltzik is so focused on creating a twist ending that he forgets to design an actual conclusion, leaving behind a number of loose ends and unresolved plot points. In fact, the big reveal is so abrupt that the movie just stops right afterward – perhaps recognizing that none of the rest of it even matters.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10