SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) is one of many slasher films in the 1980s that also serves as a "whodunit"/mystery film (a device that the Scream films later used as well). Like Prom Night, Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, and countless others, the identity of the killer is not revealed until the end of the film, making the experience of watching Sleepaway Camp decidedly different than watching Halloween, Friday the 13th, or other slasher films.
The plot involves Ricky and his shy, traumatized cousin Angela spending their summer at camp. After some of the campers and staff start harassing Angela, a series of murders begin that may (or may not) be related to a fatal boating accident that occurred 8 years previously. The element that makes the film stand out is the genuinely-surprising twist ending -- something that people still comment about almost 20 years later.
Sleepaway Camp is unique in other ways as well. For one thing, the kids in the film actually look like they are 12 or 13 years old, rather than most other films that have 30-year-olds playing teenagers. It also contains no real nudity or sex, has a smaller body count than you might expect, and avoids most of the standard cliches of the genre. It may not be the best horror film ever made -- the budget is low and the acting is pretty bad -- but it is definitely interesting.
The picture quality of this DVD is excellent, especially given the age and budget of the film. Previously available only on a muddy, grainy VHS tape from Media Home Video, this new transfer looks amazingly crisp and clean. I noticed no digital artifacts and just a very few scratches on the source material. Colors are strong, although slightly washed out (which is likely the way the film is supposed to look). The film is framed at the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically-enhanced. Overall, the transfer is amazing -- I can't imagine it looking any better.
I have no complaints about the 2.0 mono audio on the DVD. The sound is crisp and dialog is always easy to understand, although the dynamic range is very limited. This isn't a 5.1 remix that is going to blow you away, but it's a faithful (and high-quality) representation of the original mono soundtrack.
The DVD includes the theatrical trailer (presented at 1.85:1) and an audio commentary with director Robert Hiltzik, star Felissa Rose (who plays Angela), and moderator/fan Jeff Hayes. While not horrible, I've heard much better commentary tracks. The sound quality of the track itself is not great and is a little distracting. This is not an "informational" commentary jammed with tidbits about the production and how shots were created. Instead, it is more of a rambling series of stories and remembrances that doesn't tell you much about how the film was made. It isn't a terrible track, but I would have preferred more information about the struggles in creating a low-budget, independent slasher film in the early 80s. Still, I'm sure that many fans will enjoy it and I do have to tip my hat to Anchor Bay for taking the time and effort to put together a commentary for an obscure film that most other studios wouldn't bother releasing in the first place.
Sleepaway Camp is not Citizen Kane. It isn't even Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. But it's a fun, unique, and unforgettable entry in the 1980s slasher genre. With it's sharp picture quality and great presentation, Anchor Bay has provided a DVD that fans of this film should treasure -- and first-time viewers have a new film to put on this year's Halloween rental list!