1983’s Sleepaway Camp has long held claim to one of the most loyal and vocal fanbases in all of horror. Made for a pittance and well outside the Hollywood system, the low-budget shocker combined plentiful gore, a dose of humor (intentional and otherwise), and one of the most outrageous finales the genre has ever witnessed. Now, this much-loved cult-classic comes to Blu-ray as part of Scream Factory's vaunted Collector's Edition series!
The film opens with a boating accident in which young Angela Baker’s father and brother, Peter, are killed. We flash forward to present day, where Angela (Felicia Rose), now lives with her eccentric Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and her protective cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten credited here as Jonathan Tierston). Deciding that it would do Angela a world of good, Martha sends her off to Camp Arawak with Ricky, whereupon Angela immediately draws the ire of the camp’s more despicable inhabitants, including resident mean girl, Judy (Karen Fields) and stuck-up councilor, Meg (Katherine Kamhi), causing the already introverted Angela to withdraw even further into her shell. She’s also targeted by the camp’s slovenly chef, whose attempted rape of the girl is interrupted by a furious Ricky.
It isn’t long, however, before the chef pays for his misdeeds, and, as others who torment Angela meet similar fates, greedy camp owner Mel (Mike Kellin) begins to suspect that the mercurial Ricky may be taking his role as Angela’s protector a bit too far.
Very much a product of its time and budget (not to mention its “New Yawk” locale), Sleepaway Camp is a gloriously cheesy and charmingly unprofessional early entry into the slasher sweepstakes that still shocks new viewers more than thirty years since its debut. Director Robert Hiltzik’s first – and, until 2008’s Return to Sleepaway Camp, only – film is a mostly slapdash affair, with a groan-inducing script, terrifically bad acting (save for noted character actor, Kellin, Hilzik populated his film with young unknowns culled from all around the Tri-State area and it shows), and all the finesse of a gorilla wiring a circuit board, but its these perceived shortcomings that adds to the film’s appeal. It’s all so loose and oozing with a sense of indie spirit and fun that it’s just
and populated by characters just feel more genuine, especially when compared to the obvious trend/necessity of using obvious twenty-somethings as teens in the genre films that were churned out by the studio system at the time (well, save for Gould, whose performance as Aunt Martha is positively surreal). Here we have real kids playing kids, and, as such, the performances range from “deer in headlights” bad to surprisingly good (Tiersten and Corey Haim lookalike, Christopher Collet, who plays Paul, Ricky’s best bud and Angela’s paramour). Rose, who became a cult-icon with this film, doesn’t get much to do beyond staring intently at anyone who speaks to her, but, by the time the film rolls around to its jaw-dropping conclusion, she’s earned her place in slasherdom as one of the most memorable antagonists in the genre’s history.
While Sleepaway Camp was a hit in terms of pure profit (the film earned $11 million against a meager $350,000 dollar budget), it was initially lost in the shuffle with higher profile flicks like the Friday the 13th and Halloween sequels, as well as bigger budgeted Hollywood knock-offs looking to cash in on the trend. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1980s, when Sleepaway Camp hit VHS, that it would start to build its fiercely loyal cult following. This newfound popularity would lead to three inferior sequels (four if you count 2012’s Sleepaway Camp IV: Survivor, a 70 minute patchwork of footage shot for 1992’s bankrupt production of Sleepaway Camp IV interspersed with clips from the rest of the films), a hugely popular tribute website, and, as of this writing, a potential reboot.
For Sleepaway Camp’s Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory has gone the extra mile to ensure hardcore fans get their money’s worth, presenting the film in a gorgeous new 1.78:1 1080p transfer sourced from a 2K scan of the original negative. The film looks absolutely amazing, with a vibrant, crisp, and surprisingly clean transfer that features an impressive amount of detail throughout. Even the opening credits sequence had my jaw hanging open in disbelief. My only complaint lay with the noticeable increase in graininess during the final act of the film, where much of the action takes place in near pitch darkness, but this is just a minor niggle as everything else about the transfer is a massive improvement over the Anchor Bay DVD release. The accompanying 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is fairly straightforward stuff, with crisp and clean dialogue and well-mixed environmental effects.
Bonus features include a previously released commentary track with writer/director Robert Hiltzik and star Felissa Rose as well as a pair of new tracks; the first of which features an upbeat stroll down memory lane with Rose ("Angela") and Jonathan Tiersten ("Ricky") while the third track is a more technical look at the film with Hiltzik and SleepawayCampMovies.com webmaster, Jeff Hayes.
The set also includes a lengthy new featurette entitled At the Waterfront After the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp (HD) that features all-new interviews with Hiltzik, Rose, Tiersten, Karen Fields, Paul DeAngelo ( who played camp counselor Ronnie – he of the impossibly tight shorts), and others. It’s a very entertaining and informative piece packed with behind-the-scenes tidbits and reminiscences.
Other extras include the short film Judy (HD); Princess Music Video (HD), a pair of stills galleries (HD); a look at the 2K scanning process (HD), and the film’s theatrical trailer & TV spots (HD).
With its gorgeous new transfer and bountiful collection of extras, Scream Factory's Sleepaway Camp Blu-ray is the new definitive edition of one of the slasher genre's most beloved films, and gets my highest recommendation!