In our second anniversary retrospective this week, we have an eighties slasher staples celebrating an impressive four decades on celluloid.
Sleepaway Camp came along at the tail end of the initial slasher boom, seeming to follow a well-worn formula. The campground slasher had become old-hat by 1983, following the likes of Friday the 13th, Madman, and The Burning.
Robert Hiltzik’s movie had some vital ingredients unique to it that its contemporaries were missing, however. First and foremost, a great deal of heart. Hiltzik made Sleepaway Camp on a shoestring budget of $350,000, using all his money and a large inheritance to break into the business. The writer-director’s passion and determination endeared him to many, meaning he was able to call in favours, including having the slasher filmed at the camp he’d once frequented as a teen. This homey atmosphere makes Sleepaway Camp have a rough around the edges charm that is undoubtedly endearing.
It’s also notable that Hiltzik sought to create a much more realistic summer camp experience than he’d seen in other movies of the same ilk. Instead of actors over 20 and beyond playing camp-goers, Sleepaway Camp employed actors of the right age, including 13-year-old Felissa Rose as lead Angela. Of course, given the film’s tight budget, child labour laws were likely thrown out the window in favour of staying on schedule.
Rose recounts the production as one of the best experiences of her life, recalling a set that was fun, and a cast that grew together as family over the six-week shoot. To this day, Felissa Rose credits Sleepaway Camp with giving her the life and career she has, naming the film as responsible for her meeting her husband Deron Miller and subsequent appearances in films like Victor Crowley and Terrifier 2.
Although a simple summer camp slasher on the surface, Sleepaway Camp has one factor that makes it endure more than all else we’ve mentioned thus far… That ending. It’s safe to say Sleepaway Camp has one of the most memorable endings of any eighties slasher. It is the film’s closing moments that turn a fun and rather cheesy slasher into something much darker, something that stays with you long after the credits roll.
40 years later, Sleepaway Camp is unquestionably a cult classic. The film would go on to spawn a franchise consisting of three official sequels and one unfinished fourth entry that has a lore all its own. The character of Angela Baker, played by both Felissa Rose and Pamela Springsteen, has rightfully become an icon.
In the last few years, talk of a reboot or remake has circulated periodically, the last time being in 2019, with original star Felissa Rose attached. However, as of now, all appears quiet.
It takes a great deal of passion, drive, and one very memorable film to survive four decades and continue to find new audience members as time passes. With that in mind, we salute you, Sleepaway Camp. Happy anniversary!