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'Sleepaway Camp' Review: Eleventh-Hour Scares

'Sleepaway Camp' Review: Eleventh-Hour Scares

After so many years in celluloid, there are a wealth of ways to stage a horror flick. Some movies choose to let their fights take the spotlight. Others decide to make the terror a bit more cerebral and unseen. Still others weave their character building and scares into a macabre tapestry, while some force every scene to the gills with the grotesque.

 But we’re not talking about any of those today.

Sleepaway Camp is a cheap little slasher from 1983 that centers around a string of horrific murders inflicted upon a children’s summer camp. The setup is already trite in the wake of genre classics like Friday the 13th and its bloody ilk, but unlike other films of its type, Sleepaway keeps its killer a secret rather than making them the spectacle. Much more time is spent in the daylight with the campers and coaches than in any racing tension against a monstrous assailant. Most of the kill scenes are basically two minutes or less, punctuations of violence between your average summer camp story of friendship, bullies, growth and romance.

And you wouldn’t be wrong for wanting to turn the movie off at any point. The kills are bland and poorly staged, the acting is passable to unbearably hammy, and what little “plot” is given is loosely strung together, at best.

No, none of these are reasons to watch Sleepaway Camp. It is not a film for critical analysis or existential terror. It’s not bad enough to make fun of like Trolls 2, nor is it a cornerstone piece of horror cinematography. Sleepaway Camp has more in common with viral shock videos or the Bongcheong Dong Ghost webcomic than your average slasher.

Because the entire payoff is in the last minute of the film.

It’s a twist that more or less comes out of left-field, as the revelation is dumped on the viewer in a quick flashback just before the legendary spook. It doesn’t totally hold water under real scrutiny, but Sleepaway Camp isn’t here to give you that kind of time. The imagery and sound presented as the film’s climactic end is a dastardly creation that is more unsettling even than its own absurdity.

Sleepaway Camp isn’t a film to watch alone; it’s the kind of movie you watch in a group, so you can drop it on unsuspecting new viewers. The joy comes from watching your friends slump down in disinterest, yawning away 84 minutes of their life, just for that last moment of shock. It’s a pain you can only heal by inflicting on others. And while that isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I definitely understand the appeal.

Final Verdict: Watch It… With a friend

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