Sleepaway Camp is almost a play on words. Although we have a conventional Friday the 13th-inspired film on the surface, it also has so many elements that border on "camp."
Recipe for a fun slasher? Start with loads of funny, foul-mouthed and realistic dialogue by the mostly very young cast. Add one bitchy girl with facial ticks more appropriate to the silent film era and who has her name embroidered on a tight shirt.
Spice it up with gay characters and a bevy of "New Yawk" accents rarely seen in ANY film. Toss in for good measure the issue of pedophilia. Season with a good amount of gore, cook for 90 minutes til golden brown and you have a truly bizarre treat for horror fans.
Robert Hiltzik wrote, directed and was the Executive Producer for this oddball mix...and along with its notorious and shocking ending, Sleepaway Camp became an instant cult classic when it first appeared on video in the mid 80s.
It's a beautiful day as John (Dan Tursi) and his two kids Angela and Peter (Colette Lee Corcoran and Frank Sorrentino) are relaxing in a small sailboat near Camp Arawak. The brother and sister are in a playful mood and accidentally overturn the boat.
Two teens, Craig (Paul Poland) and Mary Ann (Alyson Mord), are driving a motorboat and pulling their friend Dolores (Carol Robinson) who is nervously water skiing.
The couple is unaware that they're driving towards the family in the water and cannot hear Dolores' warning. It's too late to steer the motorboat away and it plows over them. "OH MY GOD, SOMEBODY HELP THE PEOPLE FAST!" Dolores screams. Nothing can be done - the father and one of the children are both killed as the dad's male partner watches.
Eight years later, we see that the survivor was Angela (now played by Felissa Rose), who is living with her Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). The girl is withdrawn and barely utters a word...while her aunt seems to have lost her mind completely.
Preparing the two youngsters for summer camp, Martha gives them a bag of "goodies" for their trip. She also hands them their physicals and tells them not to tell anyone how they got them.
Camp Arawak is packed with excited kids. "Look at all that young, fresh chicken," Artie (Owen Hughes), the friendly pedophilic head chef says to a co-worker. Ricky introduces his friend Paul (Christopher Collet) to Angela but his cousin doesn't say a word.
"She's kind of shy I guess. You know, first time away from home and all," Ricky tells Paul. Before Paul goes to his cabin, he tells his friend, "wait 'til you get a load of Judy" - as he makes the international big breast symbol with his hands. Ricky explains to Angela that he and the girl went steady last summer.
They see Judy (Karen Fields) standing around with three guys. She turns around but couldn't care less about Ricky this time around. Unfortunately, Angela is staying in the same cabin with Judy and the other camp prick, the bossy Meg (Katherine Kamhi).
Judy takes an instant dislike to Angela when she catches the girl staring at her. Susie (Susan Glaze) tries to befriend Angela but Meg isn't having it. She tells Judy, "looks like we've got a real winner here."
By the third day, Angela still isn't fitting in. During lunch, Meg alerts the main counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) and tells him the girl hasn't eaten since she arrived. Ronnie takes Angela into the kitchen and introduces her to Artie. Ben (Robert Earl Jones), one of the other cooks, tells Ronnie he has a phone call. Ronnie leaves Angela with our friendly chicken hawk.
Under the pretense of finding something for her to eat, Artie takes Angela to the storage room. Unable to control his urge, he begins opening his pants. Ricky finds them just in time and yanks his cousin out of the room. But not before Artie warns them not to tell anyone. "What was that all about?" Mel (Mike Kellin), Camp Arawak's owner, wonders after the commotion. "Guess I scared 'em," is Artie's response.
Later, Artie is alone in the kitchen, about to put some corn on the cobs in a huge industrial pot. Someone is watching...as he stands on a chair next to the boiling water. That person shoves Artie, who then hangs onto a shelf for his life.
It appears he knows the perpetrator as he says "c'mon kid, let me down and I'll make you a nice ice cream sundae." It's not a convincing bribe and the "kid" pulls the chair out from under him. As Artie falls, he tips over the pot of boiling water and is left screaming in agony on the ground. Ben finds him with most of his body burned.
The doctor (played by John Churchill) gives Mel and Ronnie his prognosis. Mel is intent on keeping the accident a secret so as not to alarm the kids or their parents. To that end, he offers Ben the position of head chef, along with a raise for him and the other kitchen workers.
Boys will be boys and Ricky is no exception. He and some other guys tease Mozart (Willy Kuskin) by doing the old "mind over matter / butt in the face" trick. A true classic.
Then onto a competitive game of baseball with Coach Gene (Frank Trent Saladino). Ricky's team wins and the other side, lead by Billy (Loris Sallahian) and Kenny (John Dunn), vows revenge.
The losers make a plan to go skinny dipping that night. They invite Angela, who of course doesn't respond. "Yo Angela, how come you're so fucked up?" Kenny asks her. (He's so sensitive.) Ricky walks in and sees his cousin being picked on. He gets into a fight with Kenny - before Ronnie breaks it up.
Paul seems to have a crush on Angela and tries to talk to her. His pleasant demeanor gets to her and as he leaves, Angela actually wishes him a good night. Judy watches from the sideline and is not happy.
In the evening, Billy and the gang try to get some girls to take their clothes off and go into the lake with them. No takers, so they go in by themselves. Kenny gets high with Mike (Tom Van Dell) and convinces Leslie (Lisa Buckler) to take a canoe ride with him. Knowing full well that she's afraid of the water at night, he tries to scare her by mentioning water snakes, and then purposely tips the boat over.
Leslie swims back to shore, while Kenny inexplicably calls out her name from underneath the boat. Suddenly, someone appears and shoves Kenny's head under the water. His buddies think he's playing a prank by not emerging from the lake and they leave without him.
The following morning, a lifeguard finds Kenny's corpse. Officer Frank (Allen Breton) is sent to investigate and Mel once again tries to convince everyone it was just an accident. Ronnie has his doubts and remembers that Kenny was a good swimmer.
As the girls play volleyball, Angela sits and watches. Paul asks her to accompany him to the movie in the rec hall that night and she agrees. Judy and Meg are pissed. "How come Angela gets to talk to the boys all day and we have to play volleyball? What's she, special"? Judy asks, dripping with venom.
Meg tells Angela that if she's not going to participate in the games, she should sit quietly and do nothing. "You're not a Goddamn primadonna, understand?" she says. Susie is more sympathetic and tries to talk Angela into taking up some other activity.
After the movie...Paul plants two kisses on a clearly uncomfortable Angela, who seems to have issues with intimacy. Judy tells Paul she didn't think Angela was his type.
In their cabin, Ricky and his friends are at it again. They play another prank on Mozart, the "make his nose itch while he's sleeping and put shaving cream in his hand" routine.
It's another day and while the kids are playing around in the water, Angela predictably bows out. Meg has become increasingly irritated that the introvert won't talk and starts to shake the girl to get a reaction. Ronnie intervenes and sends Meg back to her post.
Judy is angry that her best friend is in trouble. She teases Angela by asking why she never takes showers with the rest of the girls. "You queer or something?" she asks.
Judy adds, "she's a real carpenter's dream, flat as a board and needs a screw!" (The Bard never penned one better.) Susie steps in once again in defense of Angela and smacks the troublemaker.
Billy and his buddies are playing with water balloons on one of the rooftops when Angela walks by them. The boys can't resist. They throw one at her, knocking her to the ground. Ricky sees this and is furious.
The boy with the potty mouth yells at the other guys. ("Fucking bastards, you're gonna pay for this! Cocksuckers! Pricks, come down and fight you chickenshits! Pussys!" etc.)
Mel sees this and says there will be no canteen for a week. He threatens to throw the gang out of the camp...and includes Ricky for his "filthy mouth." The guys are unrepentant and continue to taunt Angela when Mel isn't in sight.
Billy goes off to the restroom to take a "wicked dump" as he so eloquently puts it. The killer enters and jams the stall door with a stick - then goes outside and cuts the window screen with a knife. Before Billy can react, a beehive is poked through the window. His face is covered with bees and he's stung to death.
Mel is upset and thinks all the mayhem will cause his camp to be shut down. Ronnie tries to calm him but Mel is sure that angry little Ricky is behind the carnage.
Paul finds Angela outside one of the cabins and startles her. "I thought you were the killer," she says. Paul tries to kiss her but she runs away from him. The boy catches up to her. He kisses Angela and tries to open her blouse.
Just then, she has a flashback: she remembers seeing her father in bed with his male lover...while she and her brother giggled at their discovery. Angela gets up off the ground and runs off.
The next day, the campers all play a game of Capture the Flag. Angela apologizes to Paul for her behavior but walks away when he tries to put his arm around her.
Charming Judy wants to know why he's so interested in the strange girl because "she's so SMALL." Ricky persuades his cousin to play the flag game and the two of stumble upon Judy kissing Paul. "You're a scumbag," Ricky tells her.
When Paul tries to make it up to Angela, Judy makes yet another appearance and reminds him that he called Angela a prude. Paul is embarrassed and leaves. Now Judy and Meg have Angela all to themselves and take the opportunity to humiliate her.
They toss her into the water, ignoring her pleas to be left alone. Ricky tries to help her but is held back by Mel, who's busy telling the boy he thinks he's responsible for the killings. Finally, Ricky gets Angela out of the water and promises they won't let the other girls get away with it.
Meg has the night off and asks Mel to have dinner with her. Unable to take a shower right away in her cabin, she goes next door.
While leaning up against the wall in the shower stall, the killer lunges a knife into her back and slices her. Mel searches all over the camp for her, to no avail.
Again, Paul tries to apologize to Angela. It seems to work and she tells him to meet her at the waterfront after the social that night.
Judy is a no-show at the function, preferring instead to sneak Mike (Tom Van Dell) into her cabin for some fun. But Mike is uncomfortable, fearing they could be busted at any moment.
Mel finds Meg's body and is determined to get Ricky once and for all. Meanwhile, Judy is alone in her cabin...working on her hair with a curling iron.
The killer enters, walks over to her and decks her in the face. Then Judy's head is covered with a pillow and the curling iron is shoved where the sun don't shine.
There are other victims as well. A counselor named Eddie (Fred Greene), who has taken a bunch of very young children camping nearby, finds them slaughtered in their sleeping bags. When Ronnie finds out, he gathers the staff together to figure out what to do.
Mel finally apprehends Ricky and begins beating him. He leaves the boy unconscious and runs towards the archery range. He sees someone and after saying, "it can't be you...it can't be!" - he's shot through the neck with an arrow.
Officer Frank arrives on the scene and Susie tells him that Angela and Judy are missing.
Angela meets up with Paul and tells him she wants to go swimming. The boy is excited about Angela's sudden openness and they both take their clothes off.
Gene and the officer find Ricky badly beaten but still alive. Next, they find Meg's body. Ronnie and Susie conduct their own search and hear something nearby...which sounds like singing.
They find Angela sitting on the ground, cradling Paul's head in her lap. A flashback shows us Aunt Martha talking to little Peter. She presents him with a dress and says she's always wanted a girl. We find out it was Peter who survived the boating accident eight years ago and who Martha renamed "Angela."
Suddenly, Angela leaps up and Paul's severed head falls onto the ground. Standing upright, Ronnie and Susie see the reason for Angela's shyness and they're horrified. The only words Ronnie can muster are "How can it be? My God, she's a boy!"
More than a few people have wondered how the final scene was shot. The original idea was to put fake male genitalia on the girl, but was nixed by director Hiltzik.
According to our interview with star Felissa Rose, a mask was made of her face and placed over the head of an anonymous young college student...who she recalls had a few drinks to get through the filming!
Ed French was responsible for the make-up, while Ed Fountain worked on the special effects. Both men did a superb job, considering the miniscule budget for a film of this type.
Sleepaway Camp was shot in and around Glen Falls and Fort Edwards, New York. Camp Arawak was an actual campsite which had been closed down.
This movie was made in literally the last year a slasher could be produced and still have that early '80s atmosphere going for it. Although you do have kabuki-style Judy for laughs...the rambunctious younguns and raucous energy (Jonathan Tiersten is a hoot), trick slasher offings and authentic settings all fit the mold in a way to make it a strong flick. All fun, murder and blood...
But let's not beat around the bush here. The true element that gives this one its place in the horror pantheon is its 100% original ending. Actually achieved in a remarkably believable manner, this one gets kudos from for merely having the balls to *consider* the ending, let alone the stunning follow-through of DOING it.
And what a payoff. Anyone who even remotely enjoys '80s slashers and has had the joy of seeing this one will always remember 'the girl who was a boy' shtick. Thus, Angela became a terrific character creation for the modern horror genre and this film became a classic.