Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo,
Jonathan Tierston, Felissa Rose
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Audio: DTS HD Mono (2 Channel)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 84 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2014
"If she were any quieter, she'd be dead..."
Sleepaway Camp belongs on a
very short list of the best 80s horror films; the list that would be topped, of
course, by Nightmare on Elm Street. Though modestly budgeted, it's quite
entertaining, featuring some decent acting for this kind of movie. It also boasts one of the best surprise endings
ever, and if you don't know what it is, I envy you getting to see it for the first
The B-grade horror flick is a genre in it's own right, and while
it has produced innumerable atrociously bad films over the years, there are a few that
seem to transcend the money issue and become influential classics in their own right. Think Night
of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, or Evil
Dead, and you get the idea. Unfortunately,
Sleepaway Camp seems to have fallen through the
cracks of time
so much so, that Leonard Maltin doesn't even mention it in his
popular movie guide (nor the two sequels)! Which
is too bad, because, like I said, that ending is a classic.
Hopefully, the film will find a new generation of fans with this quality
on that further down).
The movie opens with a grisly boating accident, leaving a father and
one child dead. Jump forward eight years, and
we see the other child, Angela (Rose) getting ready to leave for summer camp with her
cousin Ricky (Tierston). The orphaned Angela
has since grown up with her cousin's family and raised by her rather bizarre Aunt
Martha (Desiree Gould's memorable, freaky performance). Since the accident, Angela has been quiet and
withdrawn, rarely speaking, rarely making any kind of contact. Ricky, it seems, has taken over the role of
protector of his cousin, a behavior that continues right on into camp.
The teens at camp naturally A) form into cliques, and B) start dying. Most noticeably, every kid who picks on or
harasses the pitiful Angela seems to end up dead. Is
it Ricky doing the grisly deeds? Could the
sweet, harmless Angela have a murderous streak? The
film keeps you guessing as the body count grows more and more rapidly, and more gruesome,
as the film streaks toward its climax. But,
unless you know going in, you truly won't guess what's coming.
As mentioned, the acting is better than you might expect, though most
of the characters exist as one type of caricature or another. My favorite is the camp owner, Mel (Kellin), who
grumbles, That's it. We're
finished. No parents are ever gonna send
their kids here again. This guy
seriously needs to sit down with the mayor of Amity from Jaws and have a beer. The rest of the kids are your usual assortment of
hormone crazed teens, jocks, nerds, or what have you.
they're just fodder for the killer in these types of movies,
right? And they are, for the most part,
brought to life by competent young actors. The
real standout, however, is Felissa Rose, who brings a genuine appeal to Angela through her
sorrow and silence.
Writer/director Robert Hiltzik brings his own sense of style to the
killings, and it's a good one: most of
the time, you don't actually see the deeds occurring on screen, but you get to see
the stomach churning results afterward
usually at the same time another character in
the film is discovering it, and screaming Oh my GOD!!! And though mostly straightforward in his
filmmaking, he shows a flash or two of expertise with his camerawork and editing to create
memorable sequences, like one particular reveal shot that circumvents a bed with two kids,
edited carefully so the movement is smooth, but so the kids are always shown from the same
side. I have a theory that most B grade
filmmakers have seen and loved Citizen Kane, and
hope deep down inside that they're making horror's answer to that. It rarely works, but it's always nice to see
I realize this isn't the kind of film that will appeal to
everyone, so consider: if turning out all the
lights, having a few friends over, and yelling advice at the characters on your screen
while watching a cheesy slasher flick sounds like your idea of fun, you've hit the
jackpot. If not, lower my rating by a star
and a half. It's not overly gory, but
there are more than a handful of moments that will make you squirm in your seat.
One bit of warning: if
this is your first time seeing this movie, do not, repeat, do NOT turn on the commentary
track before watching. Not even for a few
seconds. If you do, the surprise will be
spoiled, and THAT would truly be horrifying.
This high definition transfer from Shout is amazingly good! I say amazingly, because I've been disappointed with the way a lot of 80s films have looked on disc. This one is bright, crisp, clear, and sharp all the way through, with excellent, natural coloring and no bleeding, and no evidence of compression. The print is also remarkably free from any spots, scratches, scars, or other artifacts of aging. Even the dark scenes are well rendered, with true, deep blacks and well contained coloring. Save for one brief scene in the woods at night, which exhibited some softness and grain, there are no complaints. This transfer comes from a 2K scan of the original negative, and though I still don't know what that means, I'm pleased with the results!
This disc features the original mono soundtrack presented in split
channel DTS HD. It's fine, but
unremarkable. Dialogue is always clear, and
there's no distracting noise, but I would have liked a little bit more dynamic range. The score by Edward Bilous is quite good, though,
and adds to the overall atmosphere and dynamic range.
The disc starts with the original commentary track by director Hiltzik, star
Rose, and Camp historian and webmaster Jeff
Hayes, who's created one of the best movie fan sites I've seen at www.sleepawaycampmovies.com. This is a funny, entertaining, and informative
track. Some of the best commentary tracks
have been for low budget horror films: Re-Animator, Night of the Living Dead, the Evil Dead films
and this one continues the
tradition. There is also a new commentary track, and this one is
equally a treat...shared by the film's stars, Rose and Tierston.
There is also a new commentary track, and this one is equally a treat...shared by the film's stars, Rose and Tierston.
There is a terrific new hour-long documentary on the legacy of the film, featuring brand-new interviews with cast and crew, a scrapbook, the original trailer, a music video, and finally, the strangest feature...a new short film by Jeff Hayes called "Judy", starring the original Judy, Karen Fields. Wait...how is that possible? Never mind...
There is also a DVD of the movie.
I'm thankful that Shout is willing to cater to the serious horror fan, and has delivered a quality Blu-ray with a good extras package here for a title that any number of studios might have just slapped on a disc and shipped it out. Sleepaway Camp may indeed be a horror sleeper, but now, everybody from the die hard fan to the mildly curious can check out this low budget, overlooked classic on this terrific disc. Sleep tight.