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Sleepaway Camp:
Gender Issues and a Murder Spree most Meta

Sleepaway Camp is one of my favorite film series in that it goes above and beyond what you'd expect out of the "teenagers get killed at summer camp" formula.  Of course, that's pretty much the exact plot of all 4 (or 5, depending on your definition) of the Sleepaway Camp movies.  What we're going to talk about today is a quick run-through of the series and a celebration of, naturally, all the weird murders that happen along the way.  That said, there's something we need to get out in the open right off the bat.  It's time to talk about Spoilers.

Now if you read my articles, you pretty much know that I don't have any problems positively ruining a surprise ending because, quite frankly, that's just how I work....and very rarely is a surprise ending worthwhile.  The Original Sleepaway Camp, however, has an awesome one.  It's totally screwed up and is not unlike a stranger slapping your forehead with his wang.  Not that I'm speaking from experience but very few expressions quite describe the feeling most folks get while walking away from the 1st film.  All I'm saying is that if you haven't seen Sleepaway Camp and you're the kind of person who digs old horror films, you might hate me for spoiling the first film's punchline.  That said, let's do so without regret. 

(In other news, Dumbledore dies in the H.Potter movie as well.)

 

So the movie starts with the traditional "flashback to a traumatic event" opening that sets the stage (sort of) for the twists that are about to come.  A father is with his son and daughter on a lake and there's a terrible accident, leaving only one child alive.  Cut to present day:

...and the survivor Angela, the daughter, has been adopted by a family friend who is...a little crazy.  She totally doesn't fit in the movie.  The Mother here seems to think she's one of the Stepford Wives.  It's all very surreal.  But here's what you really need to know.  Ricky and his adopted sister Angela (who survived the boating accident) are being sent away to Summer Camp.  So crazy Mom + traumatized little girl + summer camp = awesome horror movie?  We'll have to see.

Tangent:  I don't want to say that male fashion from the 1980's was particularly "gay" but I will say that it is pretty freaking Fabulous.  From the "UPS Man has a Package for you" short shorts picture above, to:

the "Ladies love my hairy belly button cut-off t-shirt" look, to...

...yeah.  You get my point.  The fashion in Sleepaway Camp feels the most "legit" for a summer camp, and that terrifies me.  By the way, you have to commend Sleepaway Camp for actually having kids at their murderous summer camp.  The Friday the 13th series didn't have little kids until like the 5th or 6th installment...apparently, Jason didn't have the sheer balls to murder preteens.  Sleepaway Camp?  They definitely have the balls... but I think I'm already giving away the film's big testicular twist.  (I really, really never expected to type "testicular twist" and not be talking about someone's fetish.)  Anyway...

Angela (picture above) isn't that popular at the Summer Camp.  Everyone seems to pick on her, mostly because she doesn't talk, can't swim (which makes sense since her family was slaughtered in a lake), and doesn't shower with the other girls.  One counselor basically picks her up and shakes her screaming "Why won't you talk you little bitch", which is pretty much what my school counselor did in response to most issues now that I think about it.  There's also this other girl at the camp....

We'll call her "Slutty Girl" and I really wonder if girls like this are real.  She basically developed breasts in the past year, has the attention of all the boys, and can't tolerate that anyone has to spend any attention on anyone else.  Oh right, I'm describing my sister after her implants came in.  (Sorry Sara, you know your brother loves you and doesn't judge your life choices.)  Basically, this bitchy girl sabotages Angela at every chance and coins the infamous insult, "She's a real carpenter's dreeeAAAMM.  Flat as a board and needs a screw!"  So weird. 

Another thing I need to briefly comment on before we start murdering folks is the language.  Weird carpentry comments aside, the kids in this movie talk pretty realistically.  (You won't see this in the series again, so take note.)  It's kind of like how in the originally E.T. Drew Barrymore calls her brother "penisbreath," which was edited out of the modern re-release.  While that's pretty tame, (and forgive me for repeating it, parents) the Sleepaway equivalent is, "You suck dead dog dick."   It's not shocking, but there is an immersive quality to any film that admits that little kids curse like sailors.  You know, because they do.

On with the murders: 

One thing to note is that we're not sure who is murdering people.  The whole film tries to make us think that Ricky, Angela's adopted brother, might be the killer.  He has rage issues and, well, everyone who dies did something bad to Angela.  Almost without question.  Just saying.  Spelling it out like that makes it obvious who the killer is but trust me, I haven't ruined much at all.

Let's check on the pedophile in the camp's kitchen.  (And yes, he talks about the lack of pubic hair on young girls, so we're going to accuse him of illegal child-love.)

Do kitchens really have pots this big?  Look at that bastard.   Apparently, there is kitchenware for cannibals still in production...I could live inside that bad boy.    Anyway, a short while after almost pulling his weenis out to Angela in the stock room, Pedophile the Chef is busy boiling a JUMBO sized pot of water so he can cook a lot of corn on the cob.  While balancing on a rickety wooden chair, someone pulls it away from him....and....

Boiled pedophile, anyone?

Murder #2:  Drowning. 

Apparently whoever the killer is doesn't like folks walking up to Angela asking why she's so F#$ked up.  Not that that gives a hint or anything. 

Murder #3 touches on my own personal horror movie rule:  Never ever go to the bathroom.  Seriously, poop = death in almost any slasher film.  It's one of those neglected film cliches that not so many people realize.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of two films where we see the character use the bathroom, and even then it's just #1 (Will Smith in Independence Day and Kevin Costner (who drinks his own urine later) in WaterWorld.).   So when a camp counselor decides to drop some kids off at the pool, someone locks him in:

...and throws a beehive onto his face.  You know, honestly speaking, I hate to be interrupted while I'm doing my business.  Hell, I'd have issues with anyone throwing anything onto my face while I'm on the throne.  Bees?  Overkill.

So yeah.  Let's speed this up, since we have a lot of ground to cover:

Murder #4:  Cut up in the shower.

Um.  Yeah.  A girl gets cut up in the shower. 

The Cadillac of Slasher films...in other words, a classic.

Murder #There's no way to count the murders anymore, so let's call this Murders #5-8?  Maybe?  You're looking at the only shot of it...assumedly a bunch of boy campers were left alone and got cut up in their sleeping bags while a counselor was away. 

Murder #9:  The Slutty Girl gets a Curling Iron in an uncomfortable place.

Well, to be fair I'm not certain she's getting a hot curling iron in her cha-cha, but the film doesn't really explain how the tool is used to kill.  A pillow over her face, to muffle her scream, the only other sound we hear is the curling iron cooking something and that's defined by how sick your brain is.  So I'll say no more, lest I reveal my hand too soon.

The camp's owner (and well, everybody else) starts discovering the bodies and decides that little Ricky, Angela's brother, must have been the one who murdered everyone.  So what does he do?  He murders Ricky in a rage.  Well, he doesn't really because later we see Ricky get up but when an adult pulps a small child and leaves them limp on the ground with blood all over their face followed by a mad dash to evade capture, that kid was, as far as the viewer's concerned, freaking murdered.  I think they had Ricky get up to please some censor or something.  Anyway, if Ricky was the killer, then who...

...shot the owner through the neck with an arrow?  OMG, Ricky's not the murderer; who could it be?

 

Now, I'm about to reveal the big twist and it's very clear that I haven't summarized the original Sleepaway Camp very respectfully.  No justice has been done here.  The problem is, the great stuff in the flick is stuff that I can't quite explain.  Characters are crazy, children are realistically abusive (and like to talk of each other's ability to fellate dogs post mortem), and, well, "stuff" happens.  It is, by horror movie standards, filler, but it's good filler that makes it harder to predict exactly who's going to die horribly next.  The same filler in a lesser horror film would be summarized as "Fat guy does something annoying, so he has to die."  Sleepaway Camp isn't quite that simple.  But I digress.  It can't be conveyed properly, but I'll confess I fail at trying.  That said, let's explain how awesome Angela the murderer is. 

 

Oh wait, were you seriously surprised it was Angela?  Shame on you. 

In the finale, Angela has gone off with a boy who wants to make out with her/see her naked down by the lake.  Before we see her, we're given a couple of flashbacks.

Crazy Mother:  "Oh, I'm sorry.  We already have a little boy so now that we're adopting you you'll make such a pretty girl, won't you, Angela?  Yes, that will be your new name."

So the big twist is that Angela was actually the boy at the beginning of the film and it was his sister and father who died.  And crazy Stepford Mom forced him to live life as a girl.  Is that the twist?

Could the Twist be a flashback of young Angela and her/his sister watching her father make out with his gay lover?  Could gay love combined with transgender abuse have inspired this killing spree?

Maybe.  All I know is this:

Sleepaway Camp ends with Angela covered in the blood of her boyfriend and full frontal male nudity.

Seriously.

That's the end of the movie.  Flashbacks followed by a naked boy's junk and a scary face. 

Camera freezes on that shot, and the credits roll. 
So the big deal is that Angela was a boy the whole time, but they kind of gut-punched you by doing something that's still shocking by today's standards:  They showed you the penis.  I'm not saying that male nudity makes for a good ending, but the shock value is really, really classic.  I've watched this film with all sorts of people and the fact that it abruptly ends with "crazy psycho exposing their junk at you" is just....some would say awesome.  I don't entirely agree but it is a real HOLY CRAP, WHAT DID I JUST WATCH moment that you aren't expecting from a Friday the 13th rip-off.

So, Sleepaway Camp is definitely something that everyone needs to see, because full frontal male nudity is just the dramatic touch most of us need in our lives.  Let's talk about the next part which is, my personal favorite.  Sort of.  It's a Meta thing.

Sleepaway Camp 2 & 3 (they were shot back to back in 3 months so they're really the same film with different victims) are an interesting response to the whole horror inundation of the late 1980's.  Damn, that sounds proper and almost freaking academic.   Basically, let's break that down a bit by showing you the opening scene of Part 2.

The film opens with Mullethead here telling spooky camp stories, when one of the campers starts talking about how a few years ago Angela this little boy was forced to be a little girl and murdered all these people at a camp.  Yeah, he's talking about the original.  Then he talks about how Angela got a sex change surgery and electro-shock treatment and escaped from the Asylum.  A camp counselor, named ANGELA, tells the girl telling the story that it's time to get back to her cabin.  On the dark walk back, ANGELA THE CAMP COUNSELOR hits the girl in the back of the head with a stick and cuts out her tongue.

...and thus begins one of my favorite horror formulas.  You see in Part 2 and 3 there is NO question that Angela (now a girl for realz, apparently) is the killer.  She pretty much lurks about the entire movie making these cute little jokes about how everyone should be a good camper or suffer the consequences.   She KNOWS she's in a horror movie....hopefully I'm explaining the concept here.  I'm certain it wasn't meant to be that deep when the movie was made but there's a weird honesty to this crappy slasher film.  They don't screw around with suspense or drama...the only question is when is Angela going to stop smiling and gut someone.  It's refreshing for a horror movie addict like myself...you really have no choice but to cheer for the villain.  She gets the best lines and is, in a world of annoying characters, the least annoying person on screen.  You know, because she's here to kill all the others.

That's her at the guitar singing "I'm a Happy Camper".  The irony is, well, painful but whatever.  Speaking of Angela, she's played by Pamela Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen's sister.  I don't have much to say about that...there's a joke to be made but I'm too young to know much about Bruce Springsteen, so we'll move on.  So Angela is now a camp counselor and is killing folks.  Most of the teenagers in this film (and the next) are significantly older than, well, most everyone in the last movie, so, well, yeah.  Oh well, let's start killing them.

Oh Angela, what ever will you do with the Stoner sisters who smoke out, drink, and fornicate all the time?  Can you boys at home guess?  I'll give you 6o seconds.

...

...

...

...alright.  Pencils down. 

If you said she burns one while the other's passed out so she can wake up tied to the charred corpse of her twin before Angela burns her alive, then you move on to round 2.

Question #2:  What does Angela do to the girl who gets all pissy and doesn't want to stay at camp?

The correct answer is Drill to the Gut!

(The fact that she flinches makes it almost adorable.  Yeah.  I have problems.  My apologies.)

Now here's the final question and it's a tough one:

What does Angela do to the two boys who dress up as Freddy and Jason, who intend to scare her?  (Answer in 2 parts.)

Part 1:  Angela kills "Freddy" with his own glove.

Part 2:  Angela beats "Jason" by painting a Michael Myers mask to look like Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and cuts him up with, well, a chainsaw. 

It's so much horror fanservice to have 60 seconds of gore that references Jason, Freddy, Myers, and Leatherface all in one go.  Or maybe it's just me.  Point is, it's notable and if you got that question right:  You're cheating.  Get out of my class.

My favorite murder (dear God what would moral purists of the last generation think of what I'm writing here?) has to be when Angela stabs the camp's resident slut in the spine and dumps her in the outhouse septic...hole.  So Angela's clubbing her in the head as she tries not to drown in urine and people's poop while leeches eat her alive.   It's like someone took the game Whack-A-Mole to the next level. 

The downside to this is that later Angela has a cabin filled with victims...meaning that, after dumping the girl in sewage, she had to pick her up and drag her poop-encrusted corpse around the place.

What do Mulletheads get? 
Battery Acid to the face.

Naturally.

Did you know that if you decapitate people fast enough there's no blood whatsoever?

It's a terrible picture, but you're looking at two murdered twelve-year-olds.  You have to salute a film that goes the child murder route more than once.  Well, you don't have to, but if you don't, it stabs you in the face.

...and it pretty much goes on from there.  The film's finale is just "hey, we killed EVERY character besides Angela, isn't that awesome?"  And it is.

And just to round out every cliche in every horror movie, the car the escaped camper flags down has...Angela!  No redemption, no escape!  God I love this movie.  It's so bad, but....unashamed.  A lot of direct to video films try for this, but there's some magical quality in watching a transgendered sister of a celebrity kill, well, everyone.  Now that I think of it, Angela is very much the Godzilla of slasher films.  "Good" Godzilla films don't screw around and pretend you're here to watch anything but Godzilla crush things, Sleepaway Camp 2 works off very much the same principle. 

Part 3 was filmed at exactly the same time as Part 2, so, as you might imagine, they have a lot in common.  I do, however, like the opening of 3 just a little bit more.

Trashy toplessness.  It can't be helped.  Basically we, the audience, don't really understand what's going on.  Some random rock/punk music is playing and we hear white trash city folk arguing while their daughter gets ready for camp.  As she steps outside:

...she gets run over by a garbage truck. 

"Hey Dad, I'm finally in a movie!  No, I'm not the star but I get to be in the opening.  Ummm..No, not really.  Mostly....I show off my breasts.  And then die.  Ummm...can you put Mom on?"

What the hell is going on?

Turns out the plot of this one is that there's yet ANOTHER summer camp going on and Angela is pretending to be an inner city teenager sent to some weird camp that sounds like it's right out of a sitcom.  The theme is "poor kids get to hang out with rich kids".  Ok fine, it is a good idea, if only to see preppy spoiled kids get gut-stabbed by ghetto soldiers.

Ah, Sleepaway Camp.  You're always so classy.  Above we see the class struggle personified:  With Breasts. 

I told you Sleepaway Camp is the Alpha and Omega of Horror films:  All Cliche are found here.  They Float too.  They all float down here.  But I digress.

And so the murders begin.  The reporter who helped explain what the hell the plot of this film asks, who else, Angela where she can get some drugs and after a noseful of Ajax cleaner, we have our 2nd murder.  That's the other thing I appreciate about these films:  They really don't screw around.  The cast is big enough and don't need to be empathized with (we don't WANT to think they'll escape after all) so ultimately we get a saucy on-screen murder every ten minutes.  For the horror economists out there, that means that, while the intensity isn't optimal at the end of the film, there's more of a net gain of homicide when you compare this formula to, say, an installment of the Friday the 13th series.   In those we get a murder or two before the finale, but ultimately everyone just starts dying rapid fire towards the end.  In Sleepaway Camps 2 & 3?  It's not as dramatic, but it's a constant.

Dear God I need to either stop drinking while I'm writing or drink a heck of a lot more.  Let's move on.

Well, sex always equals death in these things, but DEAR GOD that's Michael Pollard.  If you recognize the name, I commend you.  For those of you out of the look he's this bizarre character actor that's like a failed Clint Howard.  A FAILED CLINT HOWARD.  Which is amazing and somehow is so lame it rips right through the other side and ends up awesome.  (For the uninitiated, check him out in American Gothic or, my personal favorite, Skeeter...a flick I reviewed almost 5 years ago.)

 

...of course Angela just beats them both to death with sticks, but hey, you can't be morbidly creative all the time, can you?

I will say this:  Sleepaway Camp isn't the most groundbreaking in the "weird way to die" department.  While the reigning champ of that is Freddy Krueger, you have to at least say that Angela tried.  We get people blown up by fireworks to the face (while they're asleep)...

..to be burnt alive....

...to simple decapitation....

...to blindfolded?

Oh right, blindfolded and then tied to a flagpole, lifted up high enough so the fall kills her...yeah.  Ok, I'll give you points for convolution.

...and yeah.

Fine.

It kind of goes on like that.   But do you know what truly wins?

A killer who goes to the trouble of writing a "Rap song" for one of her victims before stabbing them.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Sleepaway Camp Rap:

 

Angels are pretty

Angels can fly

and here's an angel that can make you die

You got no style

you got no flair

all you do is fight and swear

so say your prays and make amends

because your life story is about to end

:clap clap:

Amaaaaazing, right?

So the film pretty much wraps up with Angela forcing the survivors to run around doing physical challenges Double Dare style until eventually, she gets stabbed.  We have survivors!  And Angela is....on the way to the hospital?

"You know, post-op transexuals creep me out...why don't we just kill her here.  No one would know...she's an escaped killer, after all."

Let's just say that the "lets kill the hero/I mean monster of the movie while she's asleep" plan does not go well, and thus room for another sequel is launched into the stratosphere.  But...would there be another sequel?

So you might have noticed that earlier I was saying there are four or five of these things.  What the heck does that mean?

It means someone started to make a 4th movie and it was very, very doomed from the moment it started.

Sleepaway Camp 4 started being filmed in 2002, starring Carrie Chambers of Bikini Carwash Company 2 fame and was directed by Jim Markovic, the glorious director of "Linda Lovelace meets Miss Jones" (yes, the porno starring Harry Reams).  As much as I'm as curious to see a ex-porn director make an installment of this series starring a softcore porn actress....I'm not the only one who had doubts this flick would be a success.  While it was started, they lost funding during the shoot and, well, the film was never made.  The screenshot you see above was totally stolen from another site because, well, it SORT of exists.

If you went to Best Buy a few years ago you could get a "Best Buy" exclusive Sleepaway Camp DVD set that contained the unused footage from Part 4.  Even worse, on eBay it's pretty damn hard to tell which boxed set MIGHT be from Best Buy.  Sadly, in this day and age of shady filesharing and what-not, I haven't been able to find ANYONE who has this thing.  So...since it didn't get made, didn't star anyone connected to the series, and, well, fails....most of us pretend it never happened. 

In a similar vein, the latest installment is a film a lot of us WISH had never happened.  It hurts.  So very, very much.

I was...excited to hear that another film was coming out for this series and I'd hoped that it'd be in that weird post-modern vein that got introduced in part 2 & 3.  Sadly, what we got was a most generic slasher film that had the look and feel, minus a few gore moments, of a Nickelodeon "made for preteens" TV Special.  If that dig doesn't work for you, let me put it another way:  This movie is embarrassing to watch.  Hell, when I first watched it I had to shut it off....it just.  Words fail, let's try some pictures.

Say hi to Michael Gibney.  He plays Alan in his first and ONLY acting job to date.  He's the main character of this film and he's the guy you're supposed to empathize with.  The problem?

He's the loud, annoying, smelly, slightly but undeniably retarded that you sat next to in public school.  You know, the one that smelled like spoiled milk?  Yeah, he's our "hero". 

:sigh:

Alan is also supposed to be the red herring for this one; you're supposed to assume that Alan is killing folks.  We know he's not because, well, he's too god damn stupid and annoying...and in a genre where you less than secretly cheer for the villain no one wants to root for a character who literally craps his pants and doesn't shower.

It's not that Isaac Hayes as Chef (he has about 4 lines in the movie and is sadly, over-hyped for being in this movie revamping his South Park role in live-action) is the only star in this movie, but he's the only one who has the decency to not make an idiot of himself.  Basically he was paid to come onto the set and say "Hello Children!" and that's about it.  Vincent Pastore (from the Sopranos) might be recognizable to you....or maybe you're more of a purist.   Sleepaway Camp 5 (Return to Sleepaway Camp) has a fair number of stars from the original movie.  None of them turned out to be successful actors...and it shows.  So when you start wondering why that guy who can't talk was given lines, someone thought it was fanservice, rather than fanblasphemy. 

:sigh:

Let's move on to the killing:

Because the director wanted to do a callback, the 1st death is a man getting his face deepfried in the kitchen.  It's actually not too terrible.  In fact, I would dare say the murders in this one are a bit more ridiculous than previous films.  That's not always a good thing, but at least someone was having fun on set.

Filling a stoner's stomach with gasoline and then forcing them to smoke a joint?  Classy. 

"Gee.  Do you see that really sharp stick in the crawlspace below are cabin? It looks really pointy.  Maybe I should check it out?"

"I say, this pointy stick seems to be in perfect working order."

Vincent Pastore says: "Please don't knock me unconscious, build a custom bird cage that fits around my swollen neck, and then fill the cage with Rats.  Please don't do that."

:hilarity ensues:

Fat girl, crushed by a bed?  I'm not certain that's raising the bar here. 

Now when I said this film feels like a Nickelodeon preteen special, I meant it but....the idea of a man being killed by having his penis/balls tied up with fishing line which is then tied to a jeep that drives off (taking his frank and beans with it)....that's something else.  I salute you Part 5...though you're trying to convince me that ALAN is handling this guy's junk, which is....not cool.  If I wanted to see a chubby smelly guy fondle someone there are clubs in Berlin that I'll go to.  Please don't bring it into my home. 

I'm not going to rewatch this movie (it's that bad) but I think you're looking at a girl who was in the jeep and the killer spread barbed wire across the road.  I think that's what you're looking at...basically a body is found wrapped up in wire and I'll be damned if I'm going to care about these characters to recognize them by the name the other soon-to-be-dead characters are screaming.

 

The final gruesome death is...well, pretty gross.  A boy who skinned some frogs while they were still alive gets skinned alive himself, so everything works out.  But who was the killer?

There was an annoying police officer in the movie who wore an obviously fake moustache that...surprise, it's Angela!  (Which makes no real sense because said officer was seen earlier in the film interrogating Angela's brother and....you know what?  I don't care.  I'm sure it's a brilliant plot twist but it doesn't change the fact that, up until the final few minutes, we were forced to tolerate smelly poop-stained (literally) Alan as the main character.

By the way, my bitterness might be coming through a little too much right now but what is cool is that that's the same actress who played Angela in the original Sleepaway Camp all those years ago. 

It's so weird watching an actress try to make the same expression that made the 1st movie infamous.  Not that that's the REAL reason the film was infamous, but I don't expect her to start waving a wang on-screen in this day and age.  So weird how sensibilities change over the years, right?

 

...and there you go.  Not the best of series but one I wholeheartedly endorse.  I still say check out Part 2 or 3 before the "serious" ones.  And yes, I did mean to imply that "Return to Sleepaway Camp" was meant to be taken seriously.  I mean, it isn't because it's so terrible but it doesn't do the meta "we don't really care thing" a few of the others did.  I have no idea if that makes sense at all.  I'm still angry I guess...it's a terrible thing to do to a great series and, well, it's made worse because I would guess the people behind it thought they were being clever/making fans happy.  But, again, I digress.

In closing, Angela is the best transgendered murderer ever, and I'm counting Norman Bates from Psycho.  Sure, he's more famous but at least Angela has class.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go purge that "Rap Song" from my brain.  It's still hurting me.  A Lot.

 

TAKE ME HOME!

TAKE ME TO MORE ARTICLES!

 

Copyright 2008 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman.  It depends.  Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.

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