WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ONE GIGANTIC SPOILER!
Back in 1983, one of the weirdest, cheesiest, funniest and downright craziest slasher films ever created was released on an unsuspecting world. It was called SLEEPAWAY CAMP and if you’ve never seen it before, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITNG FOR? It’s incredible!
The first time I saw it was back in my teenage years. My girlfriend at the time and I were at the local video store looking for a good horror movie to rent. As we scanned the aisles I stopped upon the box for SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which I had noticed many times before and had made a mental note to give it a shot. The artwork was really awesome, with the sneaker impaled with a bloody knife and the kid’s frightened letter home. It was way too intriguing to pass up, so we took it back to her parents house, popped it into the VCR and watched it with all the lights turned off in the basement. We were expecting something along the lines of a simple FRIDAY THE 13TH rip-off, that would be good for a few harmless scares and would be easy to make out to. Well, we got a lot more than we bargained for.
Last Thursday night in L.A., the Cinefamily held a double feature screening of SLEEPAWAY CAMP (the director’s own 35mm print was flown in from New Jersey) and it’s most recent sequel, RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008) to kick off their slasher series, that will be going on every Thursday night, all month long. I was joined by the lovely GRAE DRAKE and GARIANA ABEYTA of THE POPCORN MAFIA and good old KATHY ZONIS, who was their cameragirl at last years COMIC-CON. She was the only one in our group who hadn’t seen SLEEPAWAY before and watching her reactions to it was priceless.
What is it like? If DAVID LYNCH’S brain were transplanted into the head of a low budget filmmaker from New Jersey back in the early 80’s, he would have made SLEEPAWAY CAMP. It’s a film that is not really well made at all, but manages to entertain as well as genuinely creep out the audience. Over the years it has built up a huge following of fans, whom speak of the film with great admiration. Much of this can be attributed to one of the most notorious and shocking “shock” endings ever filmed. But there are many other reasons to love SLEEPAWAY CAMP:
The film opens with a horrible boating accident that occurs at Camp Arawak, which judging from everyone’s “Joisey” accent, is located somewhere in upstate New York or perhaps in the garden state itself. Flash forward to five years later and the surviving child of the accident, Angela has been adopted by a crazy lady, who ties string to her fingers and has a few bizarre ideas about parenting as well. She sends Angela (FELISSA ROSE) and her new brother Ricky (JONATHON TIERSTEN) to the exact same place where Angela watched her dad get chopped up by a motor boat, Camp Arawak. As a result of the accident, Angela doesn’t speak very much, which makes her the target of all the camp bullies and the pedophile cook. One by one, they all meet a grisly end at the hands of a mysterious killer who’s stalking the camp. The highly creative murders range from being burned by a pot of boiling corn on the cob to having a beehive dropped in your lap while on the can. Normally, after the first murder, the camp would be closed and the children sent home. But Camp Arawak is run by a very cheap middle aged man named Mel (MIKE KELLIN), who keeps the murders under wraps, convinces the local sheriff (who sports the most obvious fake mustache ever) that they are all accidents and plans a rendezvous with Meg (an underage counselor). The bodies continue to pile up and the final “reveal” of the killer is something that is so absolutely insane, it blows the mind! If you’ve never seen it before and want to be surprised when you do, don’t look at the next photo because it’s an enormous spoiler!
I wonder if ROBERT HILTZIK, the writer and director of SLEEPAWAY CAMP, ever realized how truly crazy the movie he was making is. There are so many weird characters in this film, it’s almost like the TWIN PEAKS of slasher movies. The overall tone has a pervasive feeling of cruelty and an undercurrent of weird sexuality that made me glad I never went to camp as a kid. Also, there has never been such an amazing collection of bad 80’s fashions ever featured in one film. Lots of half shirts and short shorts and that’s just what the guys are wearing!
After SLEEPAWAY there was a short break and when we came back, we were treated to a special screening of the long awaited followup film (the 4th official sequel. 5th if you count another unreleased sequel) RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP or “…TURN TO” as the cast and crew referred to it. You see, it just so happens that our good friend KATHY ZONIS is friends with one of the actresses from “…TURN TO”, JACKIE TOHN and she invited her to the screening. My friend BRIAN COLLINS, who has an awesome website called HORROR MOVIE A DAY, conducted a very funny, impromptu interview with her before the screening.
She talked about how seriously the returning director ROBERT HILTZIK took the production and how the cast took it the opposite way. She’s no stranger to working with shlocky filmmakers, considering she worked with UWE BOLL on the horror film POSTAL, which I still have to see. Her performance in this movie is really good and I almost didn’t want to see her die in it. Almost. I’ve actually seen “…TURN TO” before, when it was released on DVD from MAGNET. She said it was shot in 2003, but it just came out last year. I thought it was fun then, but watching it with an audience and a live “heckler” commentary from one of the stars was fantastic. At one point during the movie, Jackie was perplexed by her hairdo in the film and screamed out at the screen, “WHY DO I LOOK LIKE THAT!?”. It was a riot! She had never seen the film all the way through and afterwards she told us that it was a blast for her to watch with everyone. She even received huge applause after her death in the movie, which involved her head being wrapped up in barbed wire. Awesome!
Although “…TURN TO” is not quite the cultural zeitgeist nugget that the original is, it’s still a great deal of fun to watch. The plot involves another summer at the notorious camp, which is now called Camp Manabe ( Man-a- be, get it? Jackie told us that the director was very proud of himself for coming up with that one). This one centers on an obnoxious, disgusting fat kid named Alan, who’s viciously picked on by everyone. Once again, there’s a killer on the loose and nobody can figure out who it is. PAUL DeANGELO returns as Ronnie, the counselor from the original who only wears tank tops and the shortest shorts ever. He is joined by VINCENT PASTORE (Big Pussy from THE SOPRANOS) and ISSAC HAYES in a cameo as the “chef”. OH!
The thing that I like the most about “…TURN TO” is that the cruelty from the original is back and has even been amplified to a higher level than before. Every character in the movie seems like they are on the brink of completely losing control. The Alan character is so horribly treated by his peers you would almost feel sorry for him, if he wasn’t such an unsympathetic freak. One moment I found to be particularly funny and cruel features Alan screaming in agony at the sight of a dead frog he loved, that was skinned alive by bullies. BRIAN COLLINS turned to me during that scene and said, “This is one of the meanest horror movies ever made”, in which I concurred.
It was a great time and the slasher retrospective will be going on every Thursday night, all month long at the Cinefamily. This Thursday is a triple feature of three high school slashers that include SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, GRADUATION DAY and REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN. See you there.
Tags: Brian Collins, cinefamily, Felissa Rose, gariana abeyta, grae drake, Horror Movie A Day, Jackie Tohn, Jonathon Tierson, Mike Kellin, Paul DeAngelo, Return To Sleepaway Camp, Robert Hiltzik, Sleepaway Camp, the popcorn mafia