SLEEPAWAY CAMP has become something of a legend among enthusiasts of s schlock horror. Certainly not the greatest of the post-FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher genre, nor the most original, it has nevertheless etched its own special place in the minds of those who've seen it, and is a film not likely to be easily forgotten, despite its shortcomings.
On the surface, SLEEPAWAY CAMP really is nothing more than a FRIDAY clone. Teen angst runs amok at a summer camp, and quickly the kids discover that they've got more to worry about than their raging hormones. The killings are all done FRIDAY-style, keeping the identity of the killer a secret and focusing more on throwing as much blood as possible into the film on the smallest budget possible. That said, there is a lot more to SLEEPAWAY CAMP than initially meets the eye.
For starters, SLEEPAWAY CAMP places much more intrigue into the identity of the killer, giving out numerous red herrings to throw the viewer off track throughout the film. While FRIDAY simply just ignored the identity of the killer until the final moments of the film, any one of the numerous and slightly off-kilter characters in SLEEPAWAY CAMP could be the killer, and the film exploits this fact by pointing continuingly pointing the blame in different directions. It's also worth noting that unlike FRIDAY, the focus in SLEEPAWAY CAMP is on the kids at camp, not the counselors. True, there are counselors that figure into the story (the old nice counselor/mean counselor theme is somewhat over-emphasized, in fact), but the majority of the main characters in the film are just on the cusp of their teenage years. The concentration of preteens seems to make the film's already eerie ending seem even a little more twisted, but we'll deal with that in a bit.
There's also some interesting subtext to the film -- though much of it comes across a bit over-dramatically. While the film is pretty much a by-the-book slasher film, there's interesting subtleties to the story and so many characters with bizarre quirks that SLEEPAWAY CAMP actually somewhat resembles a sort of half-baked early Argento flick; like PROFONDO ROSSI (DEEP RED) without the intelligence. It's almost as though writer/director Robert Hiltzik was trying to do something more than just make a slasher movie, but didn't have the canvas or freedom to properly create it. As a result, there's some really strange hints and notions to the film that are never fully developed, but nonetheless give SLEEPAWAY CAMP a very peculiar slant that separates it from the rest of the FRIDAY rip-offs spawned in the early s.
There's a decent amount of blood in the film to keep the gorehounds happy, and a number of fairly creative death scenes, which is more or less what most folks look for in a slasher movie. People will be looking for those elements. What they WON'T be looking for, what they might not expect at all, is the rather disturbing ending that brings SLEEPAWAY CAMP to an unsettling close. Few endings in cult horror history are as infamous as the conclusion to Angela's sordid summer camp nightmare. There's many people who claim their appreciation of the movie comes solely from its ending, regarding the rest of the film as little more than a trite FRIDAY THE 13TH wannabe. While such praise for the end of SLEEPAWAY CAMP may be a bit exaggerated, it does give at least an idea of just how warped and perverse the finale of the film is.
Though quite obviously an attempt to cash-in on the success of FRIDAY THE 13TH, SLEEPAWAY CAMP does have a few aces up its sleeve, and packs in enough bizarre subtext and goofy characters to make for an enjoyable and somewhat disturbingly offbeat slasher viewing.