Sleepaway Camp (1983): Death by Inertia

How, in my vast exploration of 80’s horror, did I miss Sleepaway Camp (1983) until now? It is so terrible in the best way. Director/writer/producer Robert Hiltzik (wonder how many hits I’ll get off that name) made a career out of killing people sleeping away at camp, and then vanished into obscurity. Rightfully so. But seriously, 5 sequels?!

Synopsis: Shy misfit Angela is bullied at camp, while her tormentors mysteriously die around her. Whaaaaa?

The finest deuce Hiltzik drops in this movie (and there are many) is the manner in which the victims die. Only the truly lazy and stupid would fail to survive this maniac. It is a thing of ridiculous beauty. While I try to keep this site spoiler free (I hate spoilers; I love to be surprised), I cannot convey the inanity of this without discussing the deaths in more detail. Ye hath been warned.

Death 1: Ok, it’s not really a death; merely a severe scalding. (Sidebar: how weird is it that the pedophile is the only one who survives an attack? Not the traditional moral code of a horror movie. Or, to Hiltzik, child molestation comes second to super-bitch bullying) But here’s the scenario: our pedophile/cook is standing on a chair, stirring a giant pot of boiling water. We see a hand reach out and begin to shake the wobbly chair. Our cook grabs ahold of the shelf above the stove, yelling at his tormentor to stop. Eventually, the shelf gives way and the cook pulls the pot of water down on him as he falls. How it could have been avoided: Step down off the fucking chair! Seriously! It’s 2 feet off the floor, and he has a good 45 seconds to react. Even if he were to fall, isn’t that better than pulling a ginormous pot of scalding liquid onto his head? Cause guess what? He fell anyway, and that didn’t seem to be the painful part. Alternatively, when he does fall, he could have just refrained from grabbing on to the one thing that took the situation from a band-aid to an ambulance. Stupidity x 2.

Death 2: Random jock a-hole #4; drowning. Scenario: After romantically dumping his date in the water, RJA is under the canoe. He apparently thinks his date has come back (despite watching her swim far away from his loser ass a mere second before), and is surprised to find the killer under the canoe with him! The killer holds his head under the water. How it could have been avoided: Swim away! For fuck’s sake, you’re in the middle of a lake! Swim down, out from under the canoe, and call for help. He was clearly comfortable in the water, so we can’t assume his loser ass can’t swim, and (extra spoiler) he’s dealing with a KID here. He had to have just complacently stayed under the water until his air ran out; he didn’t even struggle. Lazy.

Death 3: Head jock a-hole, AKA Billy; eaten by bees. No, that is not a typo. He was eaten by bees. Scenario: While going to the bathroom, the killer ingeniously bars Billy’s exit from the stall with a wooden plank and then sneaks a hive of pissed off bees through the torn screen of the window bathroom using a stick (it’s possible the killer studied under Dennis the Menace). Billy frantically fights to get out of the stall, and is finally successful… but it is too late. The bees have already eaten his face. How it could have been avoided: Go under the fucking stall! It’s a public bathroom; heck go OVER the stall! When trying to escape a bathroom stall, I’d wager the least effective method is through the locked and barred door. The Darwin Awards salute Billy.

Death 4: Head bitch, and in the running for the worst camp counsellor ever, Meg; sliced down the back. Scenario: The hussy’s taking a shower to prepare for her age-inappropriate date later, when a knife emerges through the back of the shower and plunges into her back. The killer then drags the knife down, reverse-gutting her. How it could have been avoided: Step forward! I can’t fault Meg too much for the initial stab wound; who expects a knife to suddenly protrude through the wall, through the shower, and into their back? But I would think the first reaction when stabbed in the back is to leap forward, away from the weapon. Especially when the killer starts to cut further – wouldn’t one’s response be to remove themselves from the weapon doing increasingly irreparable damage? She just stands there, no killer in sight, nothing keeping her in place (apart from her own ineptitude), and lets him continue to cut her.

Death 5: Rival and uber-bitch Judy; ?? There’s a pillow and a curling iron involved… but I’m not sure which kills her. Scenario: Judy’s curling her hair before bed (who doesn’t?), when a mysterious figure enters the room. Judy antagonizes the figure until she realizes who it is, and then decides further antagonism is the best course of action. The killer punches her in the head, covers her face with a pillow, and then burns her with a curling iron… although we don’t see where. How it could have been avoided: This one sounds like an almost plausible killing (minus the fact that I have no idea what actually kills her). It’s in the execution that the absurdity becomes clear. Because after she is punched, even though she is not unconscious, Judy puts up no fight. She, much like RJA, lays underneath the pillow (which looks like it is lovingly placed over her face, rather than being held in place to smother her) and waits for sweet, sweet death. When burned, her arms reach cinematically¬† into the air in pain, but make no effort to remove the pillow or stop the curling iron. Or fight her attacker. Looks good Hiltzik, but narratively, it’s just lame. (p.s. It doesn’t look good either.)

To speak of death 6 would be to risk spoiling the end of this fine film. And the sad part is, the ending is considered one of the most shocking in horror film history (according to IMDB, so… grain of salt). I imagine that had I not known the twist, I would never have guessed it, and it is a startling image.¬† The problem with the ending is twofold: while shocking, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and unfortunately, time has not aged the effects well at all. At all. A 3-year-old with photoshop could do a better job now.

But still, it is a fine movie to watch and mock endlessly. Marvel at a time when men thought tiny, tight jean shorts and half tees were the epitome of sexiness! Witness the deaths of the most passive victims in horror history! Wish you could get 84 minutes of your life back, because then you could watch the magic all over again!

I’ve gotta go get started on the sequels.


~ by K. Harker on December 17, 2010.

One Response to “Sleepaway Camp (1983): Death by Inertia”

  1. Hmmm.. I would love to read your run down of the ending. Please write it so I can post it on my site. You wrote this beautifully. I am definitely sharing this on my site — this is the first time I have read a break down of the ridiculous murders, pointing out why they are ridiculous. You are 100% correct.

    However – the ending does make sense. I won’t talk about it here but I beg of you to read up on it. The ending goes back to the beginning. Rewatch the intro and then the end. As if it were a short film. It will become clear to you.

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