Summer camp may be a few months away, but aside from Crystal Lake there is another nightmarish campground horror fans like to return to. In the 1983 cult classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, a group of young folks are terrorized during their stay at Camp Arawak by a violent and creative psychopath. The gruesome murders included a beehive dropped into a bathroom stall, a straightening iron and a very large vat of boiling water. Shockingly many of the victims actually looked young; this includes four children who are slaughtered with an axe. Add to the twisted proceedings an extremely creepy pedophile and a sleazy examination of sexual identity issues and you get one hell of a politically incorrect Eighties horror flick.
There are some movies that seem to be perfectly suited to the decade onto which they are released. With SLEEPAWAY CAMP, there is a real sense of Eighties culture going on. So what does that mean for a modern day audience? Let’s remake this sumabitch! Not surprisingly it appears that ex-Fox/New Line exec Jeff Katz wants to gather up the old gang - including the original film’s writer-director Robert Hiltzik, producer Michele Tatosian and “Angela” herself Felissa Rose – and give the old camp a fresh coat of blood red paint. What does this mean for this cultish franchise? Is there more to this story aside from the handful of mostly crappy sequels?
Let’s face it, as crude as the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP may be, it holds up impressively well. A big reason for that is the fact that it never plays it safe. Whether it is the idea of young Angela and her brother Peter being emotionally scarred because their father was f*cking another dude, or the outrageous sexual politics throughout, the filmmakers had every intention to shock. Even the camp cook Artie (Owen Hughes) lusts openly after the young flesh as all the new campers arrive to celebrate a summer away from home. This is some sick shite here! In fact, there is so much wrong that it is almost a celebration of bad taste. Thankfully however it never quite feels as trashy as it should even if the murder victims are unusually young for this genre. Are they seriously going to recreate that in this very PC filtered day and age?
Probably the main thing that audiences remember about the original film is the surprise ending. Now if you haven’t witnessed this bit of cinema you’d better skip ahead to the next paragraph… Yes! SPOILER ALERT! That final moment when we witness a very naked Angela with a penis may be one of the strangest moments ever put on celluloid! After two counselors find her with another boy’s severed head in her lap, she gets up revealing her male genitalia and begins to hiss like some bizarre inhuman creature. The shock has been done… are they just simply going to repeat this? This worked the first time around for obvious reasons. Sure on repeated viewings it is pretty clear that dude looks like a lady but f*ck man, this is messed up! My friends, that there is a one trick pony which would be near impossible to duplicate.
This franchise itself has gone through a number of changes including recasting Angela for SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS and SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3: TEENAGE WASTELAND. Completely disposing of any horror that remained, the two follow-up films featured Pamela Springsteen (Yes, Bruce’s younger sister) as a full-fledged psychotic chickadee killing off idiots in various ways with a heavy dose of comedy. Personally I enjoyed UNHAPPY CAMPERS but that second flick was a Wasteland indeed. Of course you can’t keep a good psycho down so in 2012 we were treated to SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV: THE SURVIVOR – part of which was originally included on the box set release of the first three films originally sold at Best Buy. I’ve yet to see this 2012 sequel but with its 3.0 rating on IMDB, I can’t imagine I’m missing much. Besides, I had my fill with the dreadful RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP in 2008.
Maybe it’s the booze talkin’, but SLEEPAWAY CAMP was a blast of a trashy good time that doesn’t merit a remake. With a handful of less-than-stellar sequels and its odd look at teen sexuality, is there a place in modern horror for a reboot? The original will always hold a very special place in my heart and it is a film that every single genre fan should see. It is certainly not great art and the characters are so disgustingly awful that you truly root for their demise, but to this day there has never been anything like it. How do you reboot something which pushed the envelope and presented such a f*cked up version of a typical slasher flick? Personally, it seems like an impossible task. The original SLEEPAWAY CAMP is a great place to revisit, but with a bright and shiny new look it would lose its dirty little heart and soul.