Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Studio Line: Anchor Bay - …You Won't Be Coming Home!

Welcome to Camp Arawak, where teenage boys and girls learn to experience the joys of nature, as well as each other. But when these happy campers begin to die in a series of horrible 'accidents', they discover that someone -- or something -- has turned their summer of fun into a vacation to dismember. Has a dark secret returned from the camp's past…or will an unspeakable horror end the season forever? From its grisly special effects to the truly shocking climax, Sleepaway Camp is no ordinary 'body count' movie. See for yourself why this killer thriller spawned two sequels and became one of the most surprising horror hits of the '80s!

Director: Robert Hiltzik
Cast: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles none; single sided - single layered; 24 chapters; rated R; 84 min.; $24.98; street date 8/8/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Director Robert Hiltzik, Star Felissa Rose and Moderate Jeff Hayes; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C-/C-

Next time I'd better check my facts in advance. When I requested a copy of Sleepaway Camp from Anchor Bay, I did so for one reason alone: because I thought Bruce Springsteen's sister Pamela starred in it, and I was curious to see the Boss' sibling in action.

Close but no cigar; as it happens, the Bossette appeared in two SC sequels but not the original. While SC does feature one much-less-successful celebrity relative - father Robert Earl "I sound a lot like James so why don't they pay me as much money?" Jones - no Springsteens can be found, so the entire point of my request went down the drain.

As did the 84 minutes of my life - which became almost three hours once we factor in the audio commentary - that disappeared forever in the mists of time. Message to God: I deserve credit for those minutes when I die, because it's not fair I lost them due to this movie. I won't say that Sleepaway Camp is the worst film I've ever seen, but it's clearly close cousins with that picture.

On the surface, SC is nothing more than a cheap rip-off of hit "slasher" films like Friday the 13th and Halloween. Actually, dig as deep below the surface and it's still just a cheesy imitation of those more successful pictures; SC totally lacks depth and offers some of the worst writing, acting and directing one could possibly imagine.

The story is simple. At the start of the film, we see a father and his young (roughly six) son and daughter as they boat on a lake. Some dopey teenagers steer their motorboat into Dad and one of the kids in one of the most ludicrous accident scenes ever witnessed; they couldn't have done more damage if they'd tried! Anyway, Angela (Felissa Rose), the surviving child, goes to live with her weirdo Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston).

Angela remains freaked by accident after all these years, apparently, so she 's extremely quiet and shy, which means that the other kids will make fun of her frequently. Ricky defends her most of the time, and things start to look suspicious when those who mess with Angela end up dead. Who possibly could be the killer? And just exactly why won't Angela go in the water or shower with the other girls?

If you really want to know those answers, watch this movie, but don't come crying to me when you discover how insanely bad this clunker is. Somehow this stinker has built up a cult following, which leads me to believe that everything is loved by someone somewhere. Frankly, I have no explanation how someone could even tolerate this movie much less really like it; it has virtually no redeeming value.

I'd like to be positive and state what worked well in the movie, but there's literally nothing good about Sleepaway Camp. The story is just regurgitated slasher junk, and the characters are stiff and lifeless cardboard cut-outs. The script makes little sense most of the time, as it never even attempts a coherent narrative or any form of character development, and the pace is slow and pointless. Dialogue is cheesy and artificial, and the actors are uniformly atrocious; there's not even a semi-talent in the bunch.

Maybe some folks like SC for its trashy pleasures, though I have yet to find any "it's so bad it's good" sentiments; some people seem to really get an honest charge out of this thing. Frankly, the incompetence viewed on this project does lead to some amusement, mainly from the cartoony acting; the performances are so absurd that it's impossible not to laugh at the moments of highest drama such as the aforementioned boat disaster. Let's not forget the beyond-cheesy tune "Angela's Theme (You're Just What I've Been Looking For)" that runs over the end credits; Frankie Vinci's classic may be the worst movie song I've ever heard.

Many fans of SC appear to love it largely for the film's "shocking" surprise ending. I won't give away the movie's conclusion, but it seems that many folks were genuinely stunned by its "revelation". Puh-leeze! I saw it coming from a mile away and had figured it out no later than halfway through the movie. Even if I hadn't guessed it, the ending is just more silly cheese and adds nothing to the film other than to make it even more ridiculous and distasteful.

The highest praise I can offer Sleepaway Camp? It's often in focus. Other than that, I have nothing positive to say about this absolutely horrible film. I've reviewed close to 600 DVDs since 1999 but I don't think any of them feature a movie as bad as this one. Sleepaway Camp is one of the worst pictures ever made.

(Celebrity relative update: as I browsed through IMDB, I checked listings for SC's sequels. Apparently Robert Earl Jones and Pamela Springsteen weren't alone. SC II features Renee Estevez, sister of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen and daughter of Martin Sheen, while SC III includes Tracy Griffith, half-sister of Melanie. What, Frank Stallone was too busy?)

The DVD:

Sleepaway Camp appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture seemed pretty erratic, with some segments looking quite crisp and clear but others appearing fuzzy and bland.

Sharpness varied frequently throughout the film. Most relatively close shots seemed accurate and well-defined, and some wider images looked that way as well. However, most wider shots came across as rather soft and hazy, with weak definition. The film fluctuates between these two sides often. Moiré effects cropped up occasionally, mostly due to striped shirts worn by actors. I discerned only a few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws appeared fairly minor, with only a little grain on display plus a few speckles and scratches. Overall, the movie looked surprisingly clean and fresh.

Colors often appeared nicely warm and vibrant. These displayed erratic qualities but not to the extreme of the sharpness; at worst the hues seemed fairly drab, but they remained acceptable. Black levels were less positive. At times they looked pretty deep and rich, but for the most part they appeared somewhat gray and faded, and shadow detail usually was excessively heavy and opaque. Ultimately, the image of Sleepaway Camp remained pretty watchable, but the inconsistency could be very frustrating.

The film's monaural soundtrack was more stable but unfortunately it offered few positives. Dialogue fared worst, as much of the speech came across as rough and edgy; the lines remained intelligible for the most part, but they should have been more distinct. Effects were dull but fairly accurate and they lacked noticeable distortion. Music showed no dynamic range but it remained acceptably clear and bright and probably was the best part of the soundtrack. No background noise was detected. Ultimately, the mix seemed passable for a low budget flick from 1983, but it wasn't very good.

Sleepaway Camp includes a couple of supplemental features. Most significant of these is an audio commentary from director Robert Hiltzik and actor Felissa Rose; this track is "moderated" by Jeff Hayes, one of the operators of . Sometimes bad movies feature entertaining commentaries that I enjoy and that allow me to find some merit in the film. "Sometimes" isn't now, as SC provides an audio commentary almost as lame as the movie itself.

Almost no quality information about the film can be heard on this track. Instead, the remarks fall into a few different categories. Hiltzik seems to think he's on "Amateur Night at the Improv" as he spends most of the time making allegedly-witty statements about the movie; he provides gems like frequently asking why the kids aren't better supervised. He also likes to pretend he doesn't know what's going to happen, and he involves Rose in this game as well; it gets old incredibly fast. When not going along with Hiltzik's inanity, Rose points out people in the cast and tells us how much she loves everything about the film.

Hayes says almost nothing and is a virtual non-presence throughout the track. In his defense, however, his attempts at involvement are quickly ignored by the other two. Hayes asks a few questions about specific parts of the filmmaking process and either gets no response at all or receives a joke answer. Hiltzik often pretends not to know how something was done or the facts behind parts of the plot - all part of his "who knows what will happen?" game - and he likes to defer questions with vague statements about "movie magic".

As such, any opportunities to provide actual information about the film that might interest or entertain listeners are quickly quashed. In the end, that means that we find a tremendously useless commentary. Actually, it's worse than useless; the participants - especially Hiltzik, who doesn't appear to understand the point of an audio commentary - actively make it frustrating and tedious. I didn't think it was possible, but I disliked SC even more after I heard this miserable commentary; if that doesn't indicate how awful a track it is, I don't know what will.

Finally, the DVD also includes the film's original theatrical trailer. However, one other issue deserves some attention. Apparently parts of SC were cut. As reported in a number of places, small trims make this version slightly different from the one found on an old VHS release.

One site - Horror - maintains a list of all the edits. It should be noted that at the site, they offer rebuttals to the criticisms about the cuts. These statements relate that the trims are exceedingly minor and represent the theatrical print, whereas apparently the VHS release included some extra footage.

Both comments seem to feel that the changes are no big deal, but a lot of others appear to think differently. If this matters to you, check out the list of cuts linked above and decide for yourself. I never saw the movie prior to this DVD, so I can't offer an opinion about them either way.

One issue on which I do have an opinion, however, regards Sleepaway Camp as a movie, and the findings aren't good. Although I' m not a huge fan of "slasher" films, I've always liked the better examples of the genre such as Halloween and a few of the Nightmare On Elm Street pictures. Sleepaway Camp doesn't belong in that company, as it represents the absolute worst the field has to offer. It's an insanely bad production with no positive qualities.

The DVD itself provides decent but no better than average picture and sound. It also features an audio commentary, but this track is one of the worst I' ve ever heard; it's an actively-annoying affair that gives us almost no useful information about the film. This combination renders Sleepaway Camp the video equivalent of toxic waste. Stay far away from this dreck!

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