The plot follows a shy and possibly mute young girl, Angela, whose strange behaviour is the result of being the sole survivor of a tragic boating accident that took the lives of her father and brother several years previously. Since the accident she has lived with her freakish and obsessive aunt and, as the title suggests, is sent to a summer camp along with her protective and loyal cousin, Ricky. Inevitably, the girl's reluctance to speak or take part in the camp activities arouses the ire of the camp bullies who, as the plot progresses, start being killed one by one by an unknown attacker until the final, shocking reveal unmasks a dark and twisted undertow.
In its summer camp setting the film was clearly attempting to rip off 'Friday the 13th' and yet (much like 'The Burning' (1981)) is actually a far better film than the original. Whereas I have always found 'Friday the 13th' to simply be one-dimensional fun kills, 'Sleepaway Camp' has well-drawn characters that the audience really cares about. It is easy to identify with the various youthful insecurities portrayed on screen which makes the film much more engaging than it's more famous predecessor. Even the drawing of the bullies themselves offers insights into their vulnerabilities which adds depth to their deaths. But let's not think this is some intense introspective teen drama: it's a Slasher, and the kills are as imaginative as you would expect from a film in a genre defined by gore and grisly murders.
and then there's the ending. Apparently, the movie is famous for its final reveal. However, I approached the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it and wasn't even expecting a shock ending or, if anything, I expected a Jason-emerging-from-the-lake shock ending as a nod to 'Friday the 13th'. So for me the ending was genuinely surprising and shocking. Obviously, if you haven't already seen the movie and are reading this review then you know now that there is a twist ending but still, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, in a similar way to the aforementioned 'The Burning' the film suffers from its surface similarity to the far more famous 'Friday the 13th'. As a result I can imagine a potential viewer being turned off by imagining something derivative in an already derivative genre. However, if this is you, I entreat you to give 'Sleepaway Camp' a watch, it is far greater than many "classic" slashers and deserves much, much more recognition.
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