Sunday, November 8, 2009

389) Sleepaway Camp (1983)

389) Sleepaway Camp (1983) Dir: Robert Hiltzik Date Released: November 1983 Date Seen: November 8, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

I'm having a hard time believing that writer/director Robert Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp was made just three years after the original Friday the 13th set up a cottage industry around Jason Voorhees and horny teens. Hiltzik's tendency to camp it up is filled with a sly disdain for the slasher conventions Friday set up. Playful as his debut feature is, Hiltzik is effectively trying to put the nail in the coffin of that more successful film--he would not go on to direct anything else until 2005's Return to Sleepaway Camp or Sleepaway Camp V--and he does a good job by inverting the most basic rule of the genre: you screw, you die. In Sleepaway Camp, only people paralyzed at the thought of sex are murdered, or at least, that's the general rule of thumb. One character, Mel (Mike Kellin) dies just because he's very angry. He dies because he doesn't go far enough in throttling his victim for the killer's tastes. Mel is, after all, violently shaking a young boy after a worker in the cafeteria is scalded to death because he failed to molest a child. The audience can't help but imagine that there's a rocket in his pocket and that's enough to warrant punishment.

Hiltzik's film perfectly satirizes the severity of the Friday the 13th films, particularly in the way that it directly references a death scene in the second entry in that rancid series. In Friday the 13th II (1981), a man dies after copulating by having an arrow puncture his Adam's apple; in Sleepaway Camp, Mel ends up dying the same way except the arrow is shot from off-camera and after it hits, Hiltzik cuts away immediately, lampooning Friday the 13th II's self-serious concept of avenging penetration. There's no way you can take Sleepaway Camp's deaths seriously, even if they are more inventive than any of the slashers, most of which pride themselves on their "kill scenes."

Similarly, the characters in Sleepaway Camp are so parodically unhinged, as my well-read colleague Steven Carlson alluded, are "like a self-loathing John Waters flick." The actors vamp it up so much that they exhibit a disdain for camp by using it, if you'll pardon the expression, to excess. Histrionics abound, especially during the film's shocking ending, where the anatomical "twist" in question is exposed for longer than most of the victims' grisled corpses. In fact, the murderer its attached to has his/her eyes and mouth open wide enough to catch swarms of flies. Apparently, even he/she is astonished to see his/her naughty bits so grossly exposed. The best kind of shock.

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