Sleepaway Camp (released as Nightmare Vacation in the United Kingdom) is a 1983 American slasher film written and directed by Robert Hiltzik, who also served as executive producer. It is the first film in the Sleepaway Camp franchise, and tells the story of a young girl sent to a summer camp, where a series of murders begin shortly after her arrival. It stars Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, and Mike Kellin in his last screen appearance.
Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Robert Hiltzik|
|Written by||Robert Hiltzik|
|Music by||Edward Bilous|
American Eagle Films
|Distributed by||United Film Distribution Company|
|Box office||$11 million|
Released during the genre's heyday, the film is known for its infamous twist ending, considered one of the most shocking of its kind. Since its release, it has become a cult film. It was followed by five sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008), Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor (started 1992, finished 2012), and Camp Cold Brook (2019).
In 1975, John Baker and his partner Lenny take John's children Angela and Peter on a boating trip near Camp Arawak. Angela and Peter prank their father by capsizing their boat. They attempt to swim ashore where Lenny is waiting for them. However, Mary Anna, a counselor at the camp, recklessly strikes John and one of the children with her speedboat, killing them both.
Eight years later in 1983, Angela lives with her eccentric aunt, Dr. Martha Thomas, and Thomas' son, Ricky. Angela is sent to Camp Arawak for the first time, along with Ricky, who has attended the camp previously. Due to Angela's introverted nature, she is constantly ridiculed and bullied, mostly by her bunkmate Judy, and their counselor Meg. Angela's other counselor Susie and the camp's head counselor Ronnie do what they can to help.
The cook, Artie, attempts to molest Angela, but Ricky catches him, and Ricky and Angela run out. Later, an unseen figure causes Artie to knock over a pot of boiling water and scald himself. Camp owner Mel Costic deems Artie's incident accidental.
When campers Kenny and Mike mock Angela, Ricky and his friend Paul fight them. Paul befriends Angela. When Kenny drowns, his death is ruled accidental at Mel's insistence, although Ronnie and police officer Frank express doubt. Paul asks Angela to attend a film with him. After campers Billy and Mike throw water balloons at Angela, Billy is stung to death when someone traps him in a bathroom stall and drops a hive in it. Mel suspects a killer is in the camp.
Angela and Paul's relationship grows strained when Paul kisses her. Angela has a flashback to when she and her sibling witnessed their father in bed with Lenny. Angela recoils from Paul's advances and runs away. Judy seduces Paul, and Angela finds them kissing. Paul attempts to explain himself to Angela at the lake, but is shooed away by Judy and Meg, who throw Angela into the water. After Ricky rescues Angela, children fling sand at them. Ricky comforts Angela and swears revenge on her aggressors.
Meg is stabbed to death in the shower while getting ready to meet with Mel. At the camp social, Paul apologizes to Angela and she asks him to meet her at the waterfront later. Mel finds Meg's body and is convinced that Ricky is the killer. The children who threw sand at Angela and Ricky camp in the woods with their counselor Eddie. Two of them ask him to take them back to the camp. He returns to find the four remaining children hacked to death with his hatchet. Back at the camp, the killer enters Judy's cabin to where a curling iron is inserted into her vagina while being smothered with a pillow. The camp is thrown into a panic. Thinking Ricky is the killer, Mel beats him mercilessly, only to be shot in the throat with an arrow by the real killer.
Frank is called and searches with the counselors for the missing campers. Paul is at the beach with Angela, who suggests they go skinny dipping. Frank discovers Ricky unconscious but alive. Ronnie and Susie find Angela sitting on the beach and humming, with Paul whose head appears to be resting on her lap as she strokes his hair. They are shocked when Angela jumps up holding a hunting knife, dropping Paul's severed head, and they discover that not only is she the killer, but that she is biologically male.
It is revealed in a flashback that the original Angela died in the accident and Peter survived. After Martha gained custody of him, she raised Peter as the girl she always wanted, already having a son, with Peter taking Angela's name in her memory. Shocked, Ronnie exclaims, "How can it be? My God, she's a boy!" as the nude and blood-covered Peter/Angela stands before the horrified Susie and Ronnie, while letting out an animalistic growling sound.
- Felissa Rose as Angela Baker
- Frank Sorrentino & Colette Lee Corcoran and Archie Liberace respectively portray the Young and Naked Angela.
- Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky Thomas
- Karen Fields as Judy
- Christopher Collet as Paul
- Mike Kellin as Mel Costic
- Katherine Kamhi as Meg
- Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie Angelo
- Susan Glaze as Susie
- Amy Baio as Brooke Warner
- Tom Van Dell as Mike
- Loris Sallahain as Billy
- John E. Dunn as Kenny
- Ethan Larosa as Jimmy
- Willy Kuskin as Mozart
- Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha Thomas
- Owen Hughes as Artie
- Robert Earl Jones as Ben
- Frank Trent Saladino as Gene
- Rick Edrich as Jeff
- Fred Greene as Eddie
- Allen Breton as Frank Breton
- Michael C. Mahon as Hal
- Dan Tursi as John Baker
- James Paradise as Lenny
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The filming of Sleepaway Camp took place in Argyle, New York near Summit Lake at a camp formerly known as Camp Algonquin.  In interviews, screenwriter and director, Robert Hiltzik, has said that he attended that camp as a child.  The movie was filmed in 5 weeks starting in September 1982 and ending in October of that year on a budget of $350,000. The film had been storyboarded but after the first day of filming, the movie was already behind schedule. So, the storyboards couldn't be used and were thrown out.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, which had adults portraying youth, the cast of Sleepaway Camp was primarily made up of adolescent actors.
Sleepaway Camp had a limited regional release on November 18, 1983. According to the American Film Institute, it had its premiere in Los Angeles the following spring on May 25, 1984. The August 1984 Box review reported that the first week box-office gross at fifteen Los Angeles, California theaters was $90,000.
A review in The Courier-Journal characterized the film as a "Low-budget slasher in the Friday the 13th mold, with teen-age mayhem at a summer camp." In the Chula Vista Star-News, the film was deemed "a tasteless picture about mysterious murders at a summer youth camp that obscenely blends beheadings, stabbings, pubescent impulses, homosexuality, and transvestism with a cast of junior high school actors." The News-Press called it "A shockingly good slasher film, if you use the relatively fine first Friday the 13th as a measuring stick... it's just another crazed killer stalking nubile summer campers. But, this time, there are some truly creative killings and interesting plot twists."
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 82% rating, based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 6.55/10. The consensus reads, “Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending.”
The website Bloody Disgusting gave the film a positive review, praising Felissa Rose's performance and the film's twist ending calling it "one of the most shocking seen since, possibly, Hitchcock's Psycho". AllMovie wrote in its review on the film, "While most of the gender-bending story's sexual confusion is ultimately half-baked", "Sleepaway Camp is distinctive enough to warrant required viewing for genre enthusiasts."
Over the years, the film has gained a cult following from fans of the slasher genre and garnered critical reappraisal. Film scholar Paszylk called the film "an exceptionally bad movie but a very good slasher." Commenting on the performances in the film, film scholar Thomas Sipos wrote: "[the film] feels odd due to its contrasting acting styles. Most of the cast performs in a naturalistic manner, whereas Desiree Gould's performance as Aunt Martha is strikingly stylistic: broadly overplayed to the point of caricature."
In his book The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey (2009), film scholar Bartłomiej Paszylk characterized Sleepaway Camp as "elevat[ing] the kids to the position of the movie's mass protagonist and becomes a tricky metaphor of the unspeakable pains and anxieties of growing up." He further commented on the film's conclusion: "The epiphanous ending brings Sleepaway Camp further away from the likes of Friday the 13th and closer to such 1980s "slashers with a twist" such as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and April Fool's Day (1986); but Hiltzik's movie goes even further than that: in this case the denouement doesn't just add a new dimension to everything we saw up to this point, but it pushes its way deep into our minds and stays with us forever."
The film was featured on episode 48 of the podcast How Did This Get Made?, where hosts Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael and guest host Zack Pearlman struggled to decipher the film's opening moments, due to the ambiguous relationships established at the beginning of the film. Scheer later recalled that it had been most fan-requested film "by a landslide."
Anchor Bay Entertainment released Sleepaway Camp on DVD on August 8, 2000. Anchor Bay reissued this disc as part of a four-disc set entitled the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit on August 20, 2002, which also contained the film's two sequels, as well as a bonus disc featuring footage from the unfinished fourth sequel. This boxed set, which featured a medical red cross on the front cover, was discontinued in late 2002 after the Red Cross filed a complaint against Anchor Bay, who subsequently redesigned the box art to remove the cross logo. In 2005, the Canadian-based Legacy Entertainment released a region-free budget DVD release of the film. However, unlike the original VHS release, this release contains numerous edits to the film to either shorten violence or certain moments like dialogue. 
Scream Factory released the film in a collector's edition Blu-ray set on May 27, 2014. This release contains a 2K scan of the original camera negative, and this release also has the film in its original uncut version, unlike the DVD released by Anchor Bay.
In the late 1980s, Hiltzik sold the rights to the successive Sleepaway Camp films, after which Michael A. Simpson directed two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989). In them, Angela (now played by Bruce Springsteen's younger sister, Pamela Springsteen) resurfaces at a nearby summer camp, but this time masquerading as a counselor after a sex reassignment surgery. Much like at the previous camp, she gleefully tortures and kills anyone who misbehaves or annoys her. These films had more of a satirical comic tone than the original.
Another sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, directed by Jim Markovic, was partially filmed in the early 1990s but left incompleted. In 2002 the unfinished footage was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc in Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment's Sleepaway Camp DVD boxed set. In 2012 the film was completed using archival footage from the first three films and released on DVD and Amazon Video on Demand.
A fifth film, Return to Sleepaway Camp, was completed in 2003 and initially struggled to have its visual effects completed. It was directed by Robert Hiltzik, the director of the original 1983 film. According to Fangoria, the digital effects were redone from 2006 to 2008. The film was released in 2008.
The purportedly final film in the Sleepaway Camp series, titled Sleepaway Camp Reunion, was also announced to be in the works. Distribution had been arranged via Magnolia Pictures. Creator Robert Hiltzik stated that he would make the film if his budget was met. However, Hiltzik and Return To Sleepaway Camp producer Jeff Hayes later announced themselves as having started work on a reboot that would retain the key characters and elements of the original film with additional storyline elements and a dose of modernizing. As of Summer 2014, Hiltzik was reportedly tweaking the script. In addition, Michael Simpson, the director of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, wrote a script for a further film called Sleepaway Camp: Berserk.
A documentary film on the series, entitled Angela: The Official Sleepaway Camp Documentary, is currently in pre-production, with Felissa Rose as executive producer.
- Sumner 2010, p. 171.
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