The problem with going four rounds with the “Sleepaway Camp” series is the last sixty seconds of “Sleepaway Camp” itself. In the final minute of movie one, we get a massive reveal, both of the person who has been doing all the killing and their motivation for doing so.
So we’ve got two options – we can be painfully coy through the course of four write-ups, or we can give away the big secret right off the bat.
I’m choosing the latter. So consider this your bailout point. If you want to be shocked and amazed (or at least let out a little “Huh… didn’t see THAT coming”) at the end of “Sleepaway Camp,” turn away now.
Here’s the big reveal, part one: Angela, the creepy big-eyed girl we’ve been following for the whole movie, is the killer.
The big reveal, part two: Angela is a boy. This is not remotely in question at the end of the film. Trust me. There are man-bits.
The second reveal is the primary (and possibly the only) reason that this movie continues to be remembered by fans years later, and I’m about 99% certain it’s the reason this movies has three sequels (and almost had four). Up until that moment, the movie is fairly standard stalk-and-kill fare.
Though I will give the film extra credit for having actual kids in it – a true rarity for movies like this, which more often than not feature people in their twenties playing people in their teens.
Back to the movie.
“Sleepaway Camp” opens with the words, “In fond memory of Mom, a doer,” burned into the screen. Now, granted, I’m sure we’d all love to be remembered in the afterlife, but I suspect that most of us aren’t really looking to be memorialized at the head of a film that sets transgender politics back a decade or two.
As the movie continues to unspool, we’re treated to three straight minutes of credits, all laid over pictures of a closed campground. I suppose this is meant to build questions in the viewer’s mind – “What camp is this? Why are there no kids here? Is it the end of the summer? Did I remember to turn off the stove?” – but since there’s no context for the camp, we’re mostly left wondering when the movie is going to start.
This leads into the prologue, which I could spend pages explaining, but you wouldn’t get much out of it. Suffice to say we’ve got two groups of people we’re watching.
The first is a dad and his two kids, a boy and a girl. There’s also another guy on the shore. We’ll get back to him at a later time.
The second group is a boy and a girl and their waterskiing passenger. The girl wants to drive the boat, but the boy won’t let her until he realizes that he’s a teenaged boy and this may be he only chance to find love in the arms of a woman. Or something.
Either way, the teenage girl runs the boat over the dad and the two kids, killing the dad and implying that the son has been killed. Only, of course, he hasn’t. The daughter has.
Then it’s eight years later, and a woman who is clearly out of her mind calls Richard and Angela downstairs. We’ve already covered Angela and his/her big secret, so let’s talk about Richard and the crazy lady. The crazy lady is Richard’s mom, and Angela’s aunt. Angela lives with them now.
The woman who is out of her mind demonstrates this by being unable to use an inner monologue, touching her chin when she should be talking in her head, and presenting the kids with copies of their physicals, because after all she’s a doctor and can do that kind of thing. She does note, however, that the neither of the kids should tell anyone who performed their physicals.
That right there, folks. Hint number one that something is up with Angela. Doctors aren’t allowed to examine her.
This means that crazy Aunt Martha performed Richard’s physical. I bet the “turn your head and cough” bit was awkward.
The kids get to camp, and we meet Judy, Richard’s “ex” from last year at camp. Judy has grown up a bit since then, and by “grown up” I do not mean emotionally matured. Subsequently, older boys want to talk to her now, and Richard is left out in the cold.
Angela goes to her cabin, where she creeps Judy out by staring at Judy while Judy unpacks, and we get to meet Angela’s second nemesis: Meg. Meg has no previous relationship with Richard that I’m aware of.
On a side note, at camp, Richard is mostly called Ricky. Just FYI.
Cut to three days later, and Angela isn’t eating. Possibly because she’s a dude who must maintain a girlish figure. But also, possibly, so the writer/director can have a kindly counselor bring Angela to meet the cook to “find something she likes.”
This presents certain problems, as the cook is a bad, bad man who brings Angela into another room and begins undoing his belt.
Luckily, Ricky walks in before things go too far. Though knowing what we know about Angela, you gotta wonder just exactly how that scenario would have concluded.
In the next sequence, the cook is making a massive pot of boiling water for corn. And then we’ve in the killer’s POV. You know the one. The one that doesn’t allow for name usage. “Oh, it’s YOU! What are YOU doing here? YOU shouldn’t be here.”
Ultimately, YOU manages to get the cook tossed under a huge pot of boiling water.
An ambulance comes. The cook, who is alive, and still screaming, is taken away.
Which leads to an interesting thought – the dude is clearly alive. If it were me, I’d implicate the person who scalded 100% of my body with boiling water. But maybe the guy doesn’t want to be a tattletale.
At any rate, the head of the camp, Mel, throws some extra money to the other camp staff to keep quiet.
So the movie heads over to a softball game, so that we can be treated to a bunch of kids demonstrating the use of bad language. And so we can see a buff male counselor in a belly shirt. In a film filled with disturbing images, this ranks right up there.
Later that night, a bunch of boys try to convince a bunch of girls to go skinny-dipping, and one of the boys dares another to ask Angela to join them. This leads to more creepy staring from Angela, and eventually Ricky comes in and tells everyone to stop picking on his cousin.
A fight breaks out, probably because Angela is being teased, but possibly because Ricky is wearing a straw cowboy hat and needs to prove he’s a man.
Post-right, Ricky’s friend Paul talks to Angela and says he’s sorry about what happened to her family. And about how he and Ricky have been friends for three years. And about how he’d rather have his head cut off than kiss a dude.
No, no. Kidding. Just a little foreshadowing there, folks.
Paul finally leaves, prompting Angela to open up her mouth and deliver her first line of the movie: “Good night.”
Meanwhile, out on the shore, the boys try to convince the girls to drop trou and take a swim. The girls refuse, because teenage boys are bumpy and gross. However, one of the girls takes a canoe ride with one of the boys.
The boy tips the canoe, because he thinks this is hilarious.
The girl then swims away, and the boy swims under the canoe, where he encounters, yes, a mystery POV person. To which he says, naturally, “What are YOU doing here?”
(Actual quote right there.)
YOU shoves him under the water and drowns him.
The next morning, while a counselor is locating drowned guy’s body, the girls are off playing volleyball. Except for Angela, who doesn’t want to use her secret maleness as a tactical advantage in the game.
Paul stops and asks her if she wants to go to the movie in the rec hall with him that night. She says yes. Then a counselor comes over and hassles Angela, when it’s pretty apparent that making her mad with just lead to some sort of painful water death for you.
Post-movie-at-the-rec-hall, Paul walks Angela back to her cabin, steals one kiss, asks for another, and then gets shot down.
So Judy hits on Paul. Bad move.
The next day, Angela is watching everyone swim because she can’t get her man-parts to stay in her one-piece, and Paul comes up behind her and does a little “Guess who” humor, which leads to more hassling from Judy.
Judy continues to be difficult later on, giving Angela a hard time for not showering with the rest of the girls, and being built like a teenage boy. Judy gets slapped by a counselor, and Angela goes for a walk.
On her walk, Angela is hit with a water balloon thrown by the same boys who a) hassled her about coming skinny-dipping with them and b) don’t seem to be terribly worried about their dead friend.
The kid who threw the water balloon (Bobby. Like you care.) heads into the bathroom, which is then latched from the outside with an arrow so a pair of mystery hands can cut open the window screens over his head and drop a wasp nest on him.
Mel, the fellow running the camp, has now decided he knows who is killing off various and sundry kids, and is “going to get him.”
So he’s clearly half-right. He knows it’s a guy. That’s some solid detective work, right there.
Angela and Paul have a late-night rendezvous, which begins with Paul sneaking up on Angela and Angela declaring, “I thought you were the killer,” which indicates that Angela has a short memory. Or that the writer/director wanted to throw us off the trail. One or the other.
Paul and Angela go to fool around on the beach, and Angela has a flashback, wherein we get to see her dad and the guy on the beach at the beginning of the movie in bed together. Followed by the brother and sister sitting on the bed, about to engage in a game of doctor.
Which is super-disturbing, now that I’m typing this out.
Angela shoves Paul away. This saddens Paul, who doesn’t know how lucky he is.
The next day, the remaining 25 campers (everyone else has gone home, because their parents love them, and want them to live) play capture the flag.
There are some logistics involved, but the only important thing that happens is that Judy drags Paul into the woods and tries to make out with him. Which Angela sees. Will there be blood? Oh yes. And a curling iron.
Then it’s “encounter by the lake” time, wherein Paul tries to tell Angela he’s sorry for what happened.
This ends with Judy and Meg throwing Angela in the lake.
During the same span of time, and on the same beach, Mel accuses Ricky of causing all of his problems. I would generally accuse someone of murder in a more remote location, but that’s me.
Later, counselors are given their marching orders for the night, and Meg is rewarded for almost drowning a camper by getting the night off. So she reminds Mel, who is about 30 years here senior, that he promised her dinner. She goes to take a shower, while all the audience members cry on the inside.
Meg, mid-shower, gets a knife in the back, through the shower stall wall. Try saying that five times fast. Then the killer shut off the water, because being a serial killer doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the environment.
Paul encounters Angela, and once again begs for forgiveness. Angela tells him to meet her down by the shore after the camp social is over.
Meanwhile, in another part of the woods, Eddie (don’t bother to remember his name, either) takes five boys into the woods to camp, only two of them are really whiny. So he drives them back and leaves the other three young boys out in the woods alone, at night, with a psychotic killer on the loose.
Back at the camp, Judy has slipped away from the camp social with a boy, but when Mel, seeking Meg, walks into the girl’s cabin, the boy flees, leaving Judy all alone to curl her hair.
Mel goes to the next cabin and finds Meg, who falls out of the shower just as he walks in. This is the last straw for Mel, and he heads off to find Ricky and have his revenge.
Judy, mid-hair-curling, gets to have an “oh, it’s YOU” moment, after which Judy is shoved down on the bed and her hair curler is put someone hair curlers really, really, really don’t belong. Seriously. Don’t think about it. Just keep reading.
Eddie (remember Eddie?) heads back to his camp site and finds what looks like a bunch of cotton kind of spread around, which is supposed to represent the fact that someone has taken a hatchet to three kids. Eddie throws up, because he knows this is going to look terrible on his resume.
Mel finds Ricky, who is walking around alone in the dark. Mel then beats and chokes Ricky until Ricky appears to be quite dead.
Mel is then immediately punished, when an arrow which is apparently THROWN by “Not YOU,” goes through his neck.
A cop shows up. A search of the camp ensues. Dead bodies are found. We discover that Ricky is still alive.
(Yes, I said A COP. If there’s more than one I didn’t see them.)
Angela meets Paul down by the shore. Clothes start to come off. Paul is in for a surprise.
Counselors hear singing. They find Angela and Paul, naked on the beach. Also, Paul’s head has been cut off. Also, Angela is a…
Wait, wait… first we get a flashback where the crazy aunt we kind of forgot about goes through a long monologue that ends with her informing a little boy named Peter than he’s now a little girl named Angela.
And then we get to see Angela make a face that will haunt your dreams, assuming his/her bits and pieces don’t already.
This is a totally “Whoa, dude!” ending, until you think about it for five minutes. Because in this ending:
Dad’s man friend never sees Peter/Angela again, nor questions what happened after Peter/Angela went to live with his/her aunt.
The onset of puberty and health class did not cause Angela to lose it a looong time ago.
Angela hasn’t had to attend gym class for eight years.
None of the cops/judges/whatever involved in Angel’s casework (because Angela couldn’t just be dropped off somewhere after her sister and father went through the blades of a motorboat) ever checked in on him/her.
Ricky never accidentally walked in on his cousin in any bathroom scenario.
Angela’s mom, who we can only assume is dead, has no relatives that want to see their beloved Peter after all the trauma he’s gone through.
And on and on and on.
Only in the movies, folks.