Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A surprisingly impressive and original summer camp slasher film with some disturbing undertones. Anchor Bay US R1 DVD & Boxset.

The Film

The early 1980s was the boom of the slasher movie era - inspired by some sucessful films in the 1970s, including Black Christmas (1974) and Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), the genre was really kicked off with John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and for the next five years there would be dozens of follow-ups, sequels and knock-offs as well as a few rather original entries...

At a Summer camp somewhere in America, a tragic speedboat accident leaves a father and a child dead, with the survivor orphaned. Eight years later the survivor is living with their cousin, and Ricky and Angela are preparing to go to camp for the the Summer Holidays... On arrival, the very shy and quiet Angela is soon being picked on by some of the older and more "mature" girls, but after her cousin finds one of the camp chefs trying to make a pass at her, the trouble starts, and the chef finds himself pushed into a huge tank of boiling water, leaving him to die in agony. Presuming it to be a tragic accident, the camp leader Mel tries to keep it from the kids, but when more people start to turn up dead, it becomes clear that someone in the camp is a killer....

Sleepaway Camp, written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, takes an obvious inspiration from the original Friday the 13th (1980), with its campground setting and giallo style mystery over the killer's identity. However, from this beginning, Hiltzik has created a very different atmosphere for his film. Friday the 13th and its various camp based sequels, would generally try and focus entirely on the camp councillors who were of the 16 - 21 age range and ideally suited to the sex and death that the genre called for. However, the script here establishes a much more vibrant and realistic summer camp atmosphere with dozens of kids running around and playing games throughout, with some nicely observed touches in the relationships between the different agegroups, and it is this realism that makes the brutality of some of the deaths so shocking.

While many of the slasher films, especially into the 1980s, took a light-hearted approach to the genre (Sleepaway Camp's sequels being prime examples), the atmosphere is much darker here, from the opening death of a young child to the paedophilic comments by the doomed camp chef. When the killings start, they are equally grim - no one liners or elaborate methods of killing here, but rather some horrific looking demises that can be genuinely scary in places, Hiltzik also avoids the simply gratuitous killings that pervade many of the lesser genre entries - all the victims here are tageted for a reason. Well paced, the film builds to a very strong climax that effectively explains the killer's motives in a way that many other slashers could never achieve, with a very impressive ending.

Fortunately, the film's effective script is matched by some solid production - there are some large casts of kids present to give the camp a realistic look, while the graffiti covered sets look very plausible and the gory effects are shockingly realistic, certainly ranking among some of the best of the genre. Robert Hiltzik's direction is solid and the film is notably well edited - the orchestral soundtrack adds to the downbeat atmosphere that pervades the entire film.

The cast is comprised almost entirely of no-name actors, with many of the cast never appearing elsewhere. However, there are some solid performances all round, especially the young Felissa Rose in her debut performance as the troubled Angela, and most notably all of the cast look very "real", none of the perfectly made-up teens of the rest of the genre. Look out for actor Robert Earl Jones (father of James) as one of the chefs and the final performace by veteran actor Mike Kellin (Midnight Express (1978)) as camp leader Mel.

Often unfairly dismissed as yet another Friday 13th rip-off, Sleepaway Camp actually ranks as one of the more original slasher films, with an authentic summer camp atmosphere, some very dark and disturbing themes and several quite scary moments, plus a script that avoids most of the already hackneyed genre clichés, backed up by some solid production. Eschewing sex and over-the-top gore for characterisation and atmosphere, the film won't appeal to anyone looking for a trashy slasher film, but comes recommended to all genre fans, and horror fans in general.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Robert Hiltzik - an otherwise completely unknown director who is now developing an official sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp (200?).
Is it scary?A few scenes might prove scary, and the realistically gory effects should shock most.
Any violence/gore? Some strong and realistic gore.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Slasher movie fans and horror movie fans in general should enjoy this serious genre entry.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Colour.
The image is generally strong with minimal print damage and mild grain, but some light artefacting throughout.
Audio Original English mono - sounds solid.
Subtitles None
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Robert Hiltzik and actress Felissa Rose.
  • Original US theatrical trailer.
AvailabilityReleased as a single disc as detailed here, or the same disc is available as part of the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxset, along with a booklet. 
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? An Anchor Bay UK release includes the same bonus features, plus remixed 5.1 and DTS soundtrack, and some deleted scenes - detailed at DVD Rewind. However, the print is lower quality. There is a fully uncut German DVD, although print quality is much lower still.
Cuts? This film is cut compared to the original theatrical print - up to 30 seconds of footage is missing, including a couple of lines of dialogue and some extra moments of gore scenes (as detailed at DVD Rewind). To anyone who does not know the film well, these missing shots are unnoticable and the film plays fine with their absence. The print used is English language.



Return to main menu.

All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 17th March 2007. Released as part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: