One night my friend and I entered a video store determined to rent the movie with the cheesiest cover we could find. Before long, we found our winner - SLEEPAWAY CAMP. On this box, there is neither a description of a movie nor any shots from the film. Instead the box is a simple handwritten letter from a child to his parents, describing camp and the fact that there is a killer on the loose. Are you ready for my favorite part? The kid doesn't get a chance to finish the letter since the killer interrupted him mid-sentence and all that’s left is a trail of blood. What started out as a winner in the cheesiest cover contest became our unintended introduction to a classic horror trilogy.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP begins with a brother and sister swimming in a lake with their father. A speedboat comes along, and in this massive, mostly empty lake, manages somehow to head straight for two of the swimmers. How’s that for bad luck? Flash-forward a few years later. It turns out the sister, Angela, was the sole survivor of the boating incident and lives with her aunt and her cousin somewhere in suburb-ville. The aunt, who looks like a cross between a fortune teller and Cruella DaVille (but just acts straight up crazy), packs up her son and adopted niece and sends them off to summer camp.
Angela is a shy nerd whom everyone makes fun of at the camp. Her cousin tries to protect her from their brutal insults, but to no avail. Oddly enough, anyone who messes with her ends up dead (although, in the film's concerted effort to create mystery, we don't know for sure if nerdette is responsible for the killings...I'll give it away, it's her).
As the film continues, Angela gets a boyfriend, confronts a Beverly Hills-type bitch (who gets speared with a curling iron!), and has a series of weird flashbacks about her dad in bed with another man?! O.K., as you might guess, this film has no strong narrative base, which means it really doesn't go anywhere. Also, its budget is so amazingly low that I found myself trying to remember if there was a guy with a camera walking around my summer camp when I was a kid.
On the plus side, it is precisely its low-budget nature that gives for some good laughs. The acting is atrocious and there is even a muscular camp counselor guy who walks around in tank tops tucked into the tightest shorts you could imagine (not much of his genitalia is left to your imagination). This guy probably gets type-cast for the muscular gardener or the pool guy, now you have a visual. So, with this Lou Ferrigno-wannabe walking around, piss-poor child actors, and some reasonable amounts of gore, can I honestly recommend SLEEPAWAY CAMP?
Actually, yes. Very much so. The reason is the twist ending. Now, if you’d seen the sequels first, this ending won’t be a surprise. But if you’re going into this with a blank slate, you will find it genuinely surprising and truly quite creepy...in fact, it's probably too good an ending for such a shoddy production. But it works better than most M. Night Shamylan endings. Couple this ending with the entertainingly low-budget production values, and SLEEPAWAY CAMP more than merits a recommendation.
RATING: *** (out of four)