At Camp Arawak teenage boys and girls learn to experience the joys of nature as well as each other. But when these happy campers die in a series of horrible 'accidents' it becomes clear that someone - or something - has turned their summer of fun into a vacation to dismember.
During the mid to late 70s and all the way through the impressionable 80s, horror films paved the way for a sub-genre called slasher movies, where a group of people would be terrorized by some evil person or monster and killed off one by one in some gruesome way. Jason Vorhees and his mom paved the way for these films in 'Friday the 13th' and spawned tons of similar takes on this successful genre that is still alive and well today. One that may have slipped through the cracks back in 1983 was a film named 'Sleepaway Camp', a movie that falls into the 'so bad it's amazing' category on every level. And it would have been lost in the vast number of slasher films if it had not been for the twist ending that would have made M. Night Shyamalan kill himself because he didn't think of it first. The shock-twist ending is still regarded as one of the best and most surprising endings in horror movie history, but don't worry, we won't spoil it for you here.
The director, Robert Hiltzik, only directed this one film, then, for some reason, went on to become a lawyer in New York. However, after release of the movie, a few people made a couple of sequels over the years, which are down right laughable. But in 2008, Hiltzik put up his law books and directed a sequel to his own movie that went direct-to-video, and he is now trying to shoot yet another sequel to in hopes that it receives a wider release. After viewing this film, you might wonder why Hiltzik left the world of filmmaking and went to pursue a career in law. But one thing is for sure, Hiltzik sure knew how to offend and shock his audiences with a very low budget film that took place at a summer camp with a bunch of young teenagers.
One great and hilarious aspect to 'Sleepaway Camp' is its level of homoeroticism, which is off the charts. Even for 1983, strong hairy men disguised as camp counselors, wearing tight super short shorts that define every intricate detail of their manhood and cut off t-shirts that expose their bellies is pushing the bounds. If that weren't enough, when the male counselors try and coax the female counselors to go skinny dipping one night, and the females refuse, the men do not let that stop them from jumping in the water in their birthday suits and giggling. Hell, whenever there is a fight between two guys at this camp, the rest of the guys feel the need to join in by jumping on one another in a dog pile and trying to grab one another. It's all quite comical.
The film tells the story of a young teenage girl named Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) who have been sent to a summer camp by their creepy Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould). Angela is a very shy girl who does not talk to anyone and does not partake in any of the summer activities. To her opposite, Ricky enjoys playing pranks on the other kids, one involving an ass-to-mouth joke (homoerotic), and spouting obscenities if someone picks on him or his cousin. The queen of summer-camp bullies here is Judy (Karen Fields), and has decided to make her summer about picking on the poor, shy, and defenseless Angela. It's not known why Judy begins to pick on Angela, but I suspect that it is because she is a huge harlot, because once a guy or two begins to talk or look at Angela, Judy begins her reign of terror.
Meanwhile, the head guy in charge of the camp, Mel (Mike Kellin), who is always tackily dressed in some sort of pastel polo with a cigarette hanging from his lips, golf shorts, and socks pulled up past his knees, has hired a cook (Owen Hughes), where only three words describe him - sweaty child rapist. It's beyond me why the camp hired a guy who is not above luring kids into the walk-in meat freezer while drinking beer and unbuckling his pants, only to have the rest of the staff look away. Speaking of the rest of the cooking staff, there is one guy who has a connection to main-stream Hollywood and might be the biggest name to come out of this film. That guy is Robert Jones who is none other than James Earl Jones' father.
But after the head cook unsuccessfully has his way with Angela, somebody pulls a chair out from under him while he's standing on top of it trying to get an ingredient, and boiling hot water flows all over his body. From here, most of the people who pick on Angela and Ricky start to meet their gruesome demise whether it be from a beehive, a large knife, drowning, or a hot curling iron straight to the female genitalia. But for some odd reason, the camp counselors don't seem to mind to much that their kids are dropping like flies. I guess they would rather oil up and play a game of slow-pitch softball in their cut-off shorts and belly shirts where one of the best lines of dialogue in the film is said. A camp counselor yells at Ricky, "Eat shit and die Ricky", to which Ricky replies with, "Eat shit and live, Bill." It's true poetry. I laugh until I can't breathe when that scene happens.
Even the police officer who during his first scene has a glorious real mustache, and in his second scene later on in the film has a laugh out loud fake mustache made up of electrical tape (see image below), doesn't seem to worry about the murders that are going on at the camp, and has a "give it more time" approach to find the killer. 'Sleepaway Camp' follows all of the basic rules of a slasher flick, that is until the ending, where you might have to pick your jaw up off the floor, which is why this film has procured a permanent spot in the basement of everyone's horror vault.
There was no CG at this point in time, so all the effects are natural and are surprisingly very graphic and good. Hiltzik uses his camera brilliantly by not showing a whole lot of the actual killings, but rather the aftermath, and it works to great effect. And the acting here by everyone is quite fun and energetic, if not over-the-top in a good way. 'Sleepaway Camp' was an instant hit and cult classic amongst genre fans and continues to shock and awe audiences old and new today.
'Sleepaway Camp' comes with an upgraded 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In fact, this is a new 2k scan of the original camera negative and is the best this has ever looked. Scream! Factory did an impressive job with this transfer. Being a low-budget horror slasher film from the early 80s, some might want that dirty and unclean look with this movie. Don't worry, there is still a nice layer of grain throughout and it still has a very filmic look. But the detail and color have been nicely upgraded from past DVD releases.
You'll be able to see those big hairdos much clearer now and be able see each intricate makeup detail during the death scenes, some of which might make you vomit. When the police officer's electrical tape mustache shows up in the second half of the movie, you'll be able to see the thin lines on the fake mustache, due to the great clarity of the image. The colors have been nicely saturated and balanced, giving this thirty year old film a bright new look. There are still some small instances of specks of dirt here and there and some minor artifacting, but there is no significant banding, edge enhancement or any other compression issue. The skin tones look natural and the black levels are deep and inky, earning this video presentation and great score.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix, and for it being only 2.0, sounds very good. I do wish this received the 5.1 treatment, but this 2.0 Mono mix does the job. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand and is free of any pops, cracks, and hissing. From the quiet conversations between the campers to the loud yelling and screaming during the more intense scenes, the audio levels have been balanced nicely.
The sound effects of the teenagers horsing around, the nature sounds, and even some of the fun death scenes sound full, but could have benefitted a little more from coming out of the surrounds. The score adds the infamous 80s horror feel and never drowns out any of the dialogue or sound effects. Again, this is an upgrade from the past DVD releases.
Audio Commentary With Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, and Justin Beahm - An all new commentary track with the actors who portrayed Angela and Ricky, and is moderated by Justin Beahm. The two still have great chemistry together and talk about some fun stories while on set, the locations, and the shocking ending. It was a fun commentary to listen to with tons of information.
Audio Commentary With Robert Hiltzik and Jeff Hayes - Another great commentary track with the director of the film and Jeff Hayes who is the webmaster over at the Sleepaway Camp website. Hiltzik gives a lot of technical information on how he shot the movie on a low budget, casting the teenage actors, and the use of special effects. Hayes acts as more of a moderator here.
Audio Commentary With Robert Hiltzik, Felissa Rose, and Jeff Hayes - A vintage commentary track that made its way over from the DVD version of the film. This is also a good commentary track, but is not as fluid as the other two.
At The Waterfront After the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp (HD, 46 mins.) - The shining point of the extras here, as we have an excellent documentary on the making of the film with new interviews from a lot of the cast and crew. They discuss everything from the ending, the visual effects, the locations, some real romances during filming, and much more. This was a lot of fun and well worth your while to watch.
'Judy': A Short Film By Jeff Hayes (HD, 16 mins.) - Karen Fields stars in this short film by Hayes, which is made with a home video camera and done with no money. Looks like my eight year old nephew filmed it and choreographed it in my grandmother's basement.
'Princess': A Music Video By Jonathan Tiersten - (HD, 6 mins.) - A music video from Tiersten and his band called the Ten Tiers for a song called 'Princess'. Weird and very creepy.
Camp Arawak Scrapbook (HD, 10 mins.) - Photo slideshow of some behind the scenes production stills. These were great to look at.
Trailers (HD, 3 mins.) - Three trailers for the film.
Rare Images From Make-Up Effects Artist Ed French (HD, 2 mins.) - Another slideshow of some the sketches from Ed French.
Demonstration of the 2K Film Scan Process (HD, 9 mins.) - Here we have a cool little extra for you videophiles that explains how exactly the 2K scan works and is executed by using this film as an example, This walks you through step by step how they create the wonderful image you see on screen from the original negative.
'Sleepaway Camp' is a hell of a lot of fun. In the midst of so many slasher films, this particular one sticks out to most because of its shock ending. It's one you really won't ever forget. It's a bad movie, but it's so bad that it's actually phenomenal. It has highly entertaining performances, some good gore, and a lot of odd sexual insinuation. The video and audio presentations are both great with some awesome extras. This release is a must for any fan of horror, and highly recommended for everyone else.