Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
Produced by: Jerry Silva, Michele Tatosian
Written by: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi,
Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tiersten
Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet
Released: November 18, 1983

*Portions of this review were originally posted in HOUSE OF HORROR Presents: Essay Series – The Slasher Film!

**I’m putting up a major SPOILER ALERT! for this one folks!**

In Sleepaway Camp the viewer is introduced to the film (via a flashback story) in which a little girl’s brother and homosexual father are killed in a boating accident. Orphaned, Angela is re-located to the guardianship of her peculiarly disturbed aunt. Several years later, Angela attends a summer camp with her over protective older cousin Ricky. A string of murders occur at the camp and all paranoid suspicion, both by the camp director and the viewing audience, leads to Ricky as the prime suspect. Ultimately, it is revealed that Angela is the killer but not before the audience is shown her shocking secret……”she’s” actually a dude!! This eye-opener is revealed simultaneously in the narrative real-time of the movie, and in a flashback sequence eight years prior to Angela’s first arrival at her Aunt’s house. The Aunt is ecstatic to finally “have a girl around the house”. The Aunt continues a dialogue with the child throughout the flashback stating that she always wanted a girl and since there was already a boy in the house with Ricky that “there was no need for two boys now is there…Peter“. It is then that the audience comes to the chilling revelation that it was not Angela who survived the boating accident, but her brother Peter – who was now forced by his nutjob Aunt to be raised as a girl and assume his sisters’ identity. The scene then continues in real-time where two of the camp counsellors encounter a naked Angela embracing young camper, Paul, on the beach. When she rises, and turns to face the counsellors (and in-turn the camera), the audience sees Paul’s severed head in Angela’s hand as well as ‘her’ penis!!

Much like Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), Angela’s altered gender role is a result of an irregular childhood with a disturbed matriarchal figure. Add in a homosexual father who Angela walked in on while he was in the embrace of another man (as seen in flashbacks) for extra scarred trauma motive. Angela murders the males who sexually advance on her, and the females to whom Angela is attracted to. Angela’s homicidal activity is a resultant effect of her cross-gender and confused sexuality. It can be surmised, then, that Angela is a sexual other. She has both elements of masculinity (which is genentic) and of femininity (which has been instilled upon her). Although Angela exhibits both of these elements, she was not fully either and as a result her sexual rage was unleashed on the clueless victims of the camp.

Sleepaway Camp is actually pretty good. The acting is of a Community Centre Christmas Pageant calibre, but the make up and technical effects look really good — the kill scenes are done well — and the final reveal sits with you after the movie is over. The film was a moderate success and spawned two immediate sequels and a return to the camp in 2008. The sequels amped the sarcastic clever quips to 11, the murder scenes were more creative and over the top, but the original was on a scale where it hangs out with the 80’s slasher cool kids. The sequels sat at the corner lunch table all by themselves with that kid that smells like extreme body odour.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Bri says:

    I’d have to disagree with you. There was no shity acting whatsoever

  2. Anonymous says:

    You’re totally underestimating Jonathan Tiersten’s acting compass in “Sleepaway Camp.” He was a young teen–he did a great job in an intricate slasher flick, as did Felissa Rose as Angela. Your comment regarding Jonathan’s acting ability is completely off-base.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have a hard time understanding your comment about Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). His character was always a favorite and I never once thought of his acting as “shitty”, as you so eloquently put it. I felt his demeanor, and the way it was acted, was well in line with the flow of the narritive and his protectiveness towards Angela (Felissa Rose), was endearing to me.

  4. IMSTILLAKID says:

    The characterizations of both Angela and Ricky are perfectly conveyed in the movie, I just found the acting range limited for most of the principal cast. For me, I felt as if I was watching a High School production of a Horror film. I still enjoy the movie a great deal, there is much to it that I love and I consider it a slasher classic…but I have a hard time with some of the acting ability. I realize that it is a horror film, and so I shouldn’t be expecting Shakesphere in the park or anything, but some of the dialogue delivery was groanable at best.

  5. IMSTILLAKID says:

    I have removed some of the comments left for this post. I stated in my post, and stick to that opinion, that the acting In Sleepaway Camp is awful. The people who anonymously decided to leave a comment all thought it best to name sling and insult me personally for my opinion — claiming that “I’m not qualified to determine whether someone’s acting is awful”, “I suck”, or other such silliness.

    Allow me to retort. I have working ears and eyes, that makes me just a qualified as anyone else to determine whether someone’s acting is shitty. Also, it’s my opinion — I’m entitled to it, and you are entitled to yours — until you start name calling me because of my opinion. That just makes YOU a douche bag.

    Finally, it’s a movie people…find something more substantial to get your backs up against the wall about. Also, stop hiding behind a keyboard and being mean and thinking that you can say whatever you want to people. I welcome all opinions from all people, provided it’s an intelligent rebuttal and not laced with mean-spirited personal attacks.

  6. Rachael says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with you. I don’t believe some of the acting to be top-notch, but I don’t believe it to be as bad as you make it seem. I think Tiersten and Rose did a great job. But I guess that’s not really why I’m replying to this. It actually surprises me that you, as someone reviewing a movie, would actually use a phrase such as “in all his shitty acting splendor” in reference to Ricky. Your view of Angela’s state of mind as events occur throughout the film is insightful, if not original. It’s nice to see someone care enough about the film to want to understand it and share that understanding. However, it occurs to me that someone capable of said insight as well as someone who, admittedly has deleted comments insulting the reviewer, cared so little for someone else’s feelings that he felt the need to break from the beginning of this thoughtful review and insult an actor using the phrasing he did. I could understand you not enjoying Tiersten’s acting. I disagree, but that’s, of course, as you stated, your opinion. I just wish you wouldn’t have been so quick to be so mean.

    1. IMSTILLAKID says:

      Rachael – thank you for your response and for being polite and courteous. I didn’t so much “delete” comments as much as I just didn’t approve the one’s sitting in my cue for moderation. People were attacking me personally and I won’t stand for that, as that is not how I conduct myself. As for Ricky, there were times I prayed that he would hurry up and die because I really couldn’t stand him. So I definitely thought his acting was shitty. I don’t get paid to do this, so I don’t have to refrain from using a particular vernacular when I describe something.
      Plus, horror films aren’t exactly known for the acting talent – a select few rise above – but for the most part the acting is fairly wooden.

      1. Rachael says:

        Being a horror junkie myself, I can attest to your statement about the acting. I know all too well. And as far as your opinion goes in regard to the acting in Sleepaway Camp, you’re absolutely right. You can say whatever you want to say in whatever manner you choose. However, that doesn’t make it right. My point is, you chose not to approve comments in your cue that were insulting. Why? Because you didn’t want to be attacked personally. I’m sure Mr. Tiersten doesn’t want to be attacked and insulted, either. You seem like an eloquent enough person to not have to do that to people, especially seeing as you don’t want people doing that to you, either. In the same respect, said eloquence on your part should indicate that you shouldn’t need to use that sort of vernacular. Fine. You don’t like Tiersten’s acting. You made that abundantly clear. My disagreement will not change that, and I am not trying to. However, my problem is with the way you expressed your views. You could have said a myriad of other things to describe your dislike for Tiersten’s acting. It really kind of made a pretty thoughtful review less intelligent sounding. It just always both bemuses and saddens me when writers of any sort feel the need to stoop to that level. Candor is one thing, but tact is another. Just because you don’t have to refrain, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You can still be honest and opinionated without being mean.

      2. IMSTILLAKID says:

        Fair enough, and I appreciate your articulate, impassioned, and honest response. A revised post is forthcoming.

  7. Rachael says:

    And I thank you and commend you on responding in kind. I appreciate your willingness to be fair, as well as honest. Not many reviewers would do so. It makes my heart happy that you choose to stand out. I look forward to reading more from you.

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