We discussed, way back on day 4 of this shindig, the intangible sense of pleasure a cheesy ’80s horror movie has to offer; while that entry, Night of the Demons, makes its mark with irrepressible atmosphere and delightfully low-rent ’80s effects, today’s offering is a different beast. Sleepaway Camp‘s claim to fame is twofold: it’s one in a long line of Friday the 13th knockoffs, and it boasts a classic go-for-broke, left-field ending.
Spoiler alert: it’s far from a good movie. But again, Night of the Demons isn’t a good movie from an objective standpoint. No, Sleepaway Camp‘s sole purpose is to entertain, and at this it sticks the landing. The paper-thin plot, about an orphaned camper named Angela and the murders that plague Arawak Camp, is simply a skeleton on which to hang a series of grisly, inventive murders. No more, no less. We’ve discussed heady, intelligent horror films here – The Orphanage, A Tale of Two Sisters – and Sleepaway Camp is the glorious opposite of that. It’s a spectacularly dumb slasher-by-numbers that manages to separate itself from the pack by being so hilariously balls-out.
Sleepaway Camp beefs up its kill tally in a number of inventive ways. We get death by killer bees; we get death by curling iron; there’s even death by hot soup, delivered in a swift and grisly fashion to a would-be pedophile who’s uncomfortable dialogue practically telegraphs his comeuppance. These characters are cyphers, mere slasher fodder; and, in an ’80s horror romp, who would want it any other way?
And then, there’s that ending. There’s a reason I chose the phrase “balls-out” to describe Sleepaway Camp, a reason that becomes abundantly clear when viewing the 11th-hour plot twist. And it’s perhaps the sole reason why people still love Sleepaway Camp; without it, this could easily have been a Jason Voorhees film. But Sleepaway Camp deserves all the credit in the world for being willing to mount a plot twist so brassy; simultaneously hilarious and deeply disturbing, the last five minutes are a work of art unto themselves.
There are lots of ’80s slashers that are mere footnotes in horror-cinema history; Sleepaway Camp‘s sense of anything-can-happen unpredictability and willingness to skip merrily over the line of good taste elevate it to something different entirely. It’s not high art, but it’s high entertainment, and it’s a perfectly seasonal film.
Extra Credit: Veteran director J. Lee Thompson’s concession to ’80s slashers has been largely forgotten (save for a few dedicated genre connoisseurs), but Happy Birthday to Me is a nice little horror romp with inventive kills and ridiculous plot twists to spare, and should be heralded as such; meanwhile, at Arawak, the Sleepaway Camp series rolled along for a few lackluster sequels and was soon forgotten. The grand return, which reunited the original cast, didn’t receive good notices, but Return to Sleepaway Camp is actually a rollicking good time, focusing heavily on slapstick comedy and an undercurrent of coy wit.
More 31 Days of Halloween:
Day 1: May
Day 2: The Night of the Hunter
Day 3: The Descent
Day 4: Night of the Demons
Day 5: Them
Days 6 & 7: Night of the Living Dead // Dawn of the Dead
Day 8: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Day 9: A Tale of Two Sisters
Day 10: When a Stranger Calls // Amusement
Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Day 12: The Orphanage
Day 13: I Know What You Did Last Summer
Day 14: Dressed to Kill
Day 15: Deep Red
Day 16: Jeepers Creepers
Day 17: Black Sabbath
Day 18: V/H/S