Sleepaway Camp has two things going for it on a consistent basis–Benjamin Davis’s cinematography (it’s not flashy, but it’s exceptionally competent) and the special effects. There aren’t a lot of gore shots in Camp, but director Hiltzik makes sure they count. He can’t do the suspense sequences, which is a bit of a problem, but I’m not sure where to start with all the film’s problems.
Some of it is a perfectly fine dumb camp movie. It’s mean in that “jocks versus the norms” eighties way, but there’s a cool counselor (Paul DeAngelo–who shockingly doesn’t turn out to be a prick) and Hiltzik is definitely trying with the camp stuff. The scenes with the counselors explaining how an activity works and whatever? Hiltzik worked on those scenes.
Or he just hired photogenic camp counselors.
But it’s not just some dumb movie about Jonathan Tiersten’s bringing his shy cousin (Felissa Rose) to his favorite summer camp, where she romances his best friend, Christopher Collet, and feuds with his ex-girlfriend, Karen Fields. No, it’s not got a serial killer on the loose. At first, the serial killer after some of the downright evil and then just stupidly bad people in the camp. Eventually, however, the killer starts targeting even the innocent and what’s going to happen. Will sleazy camp owner Mike Kellin pin it on Tiersten, or is something else going on?
It’s not a good mystery–there isn’t one–so Hiltzik slaps a twist ending on it. That twist ending has certain very uncomfortable foreshadowing throughout the film and it’s clear, even though Hiltzik wanted to write about a bunch of kids at a summer camp being in danger, he never had any sympathy for any of the characters. Otherwise, maybe the script would’ve been better.
But there’s nothing to be done about his direction. Or Edward Bilous’s score.
Decent moments from Tiersten, Collet, sort of Kellin, definitely Paul DeAngelo and maybe a handful of others. Rose’s part is awful. It’s hard to gauge the performance. Desiree Gould turns in a performance out of a Saturday Night Live dinner theatre sketch. Not the best way to start a picture.
Sleepaway Camp, partially thanks to Hiltzik’s misunderstanding of MacGuffins and general weirdness about sex, is nowhere near as endearing as it should be.
Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik; director of photography, Benjamin Davis; edited by Ron Kalish and Sharyn L. Ross; music by Edward Bilous; production designer, William Bilowit; produced by Jerry Silva and Michele Tatosian; released by United Film Distribution Company.
Starring Jonathan Tiersten (Ricky), Felissa Rose (Angela), Christopher Collet (Paul), Karen Fields (Judy), Mike Kellin (Mel), Katherine Kamhi (Meg), Paul DeAngelo (Ronnie) and Desiree Gould (Aunt Martha).