Friday, May 30, 2014

Worth Mentioning - No Matter What They Do, I'll Never Tell

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody and Priscilla team up to discuss a famous '80s slasher.


Fledgling writer/director Robert Hiltzik's cult classic entry in the 1980s slasher boom begins with a title sequence over shots of the film's primary setting of Camp Arawak at some indeterminate time, possibly a flash forward, when the cabins are empty and the camp is for sale.

By appearances, it seems like a nice place. A peaceful, woodsy, lakeside location in the fall. However, the blaring horns and string instruments in composer Edward Bilous's score telegraph that there's something sinister at play.

I love how the score suggests there's something bad right at the beginning. It sets the tone for the whole movie, and it's somewhat superb, not only during the main titles but throughout the movie. It's one of my favorite scores and it's one of those times when the score matches the movie perfectly, in every single scene and sequence.

At the end of the title sequence, the season changes. It's summer. People are having fun in the lake, the camp is packed with kids.

Those shots of the place and the lake are very pretty. It looks so full of life and bright. But even then, there's something off about it. It's hard to explain, but the movie has such a gloomy tone, and it's present even when something fun or funny is going on. It's definitely present here as well. 

A man named John is out on the lake in a small sailboat with his two young children, a son and a daughter, but they'll soon need to go back to shore because their Aunt Martha is coming to visit. The children are disappointed to hear that Martha isn't bringing their cousin Ricky along, as he's spending the weekend with his father.

Seeing a teenage girl water skiing, the children note that they'd like to do that someday. The little girl even wonders if they'd teach her to water ski if she went to camp.

John's kids are interested in it, but the girl who's actually skiing is so terrified by it that she's on the verge of tears. She wants the guy driving the motorboat, a lifeguard at the camp, to take her back to shore, but he's too preoccupied by a female companion talking him into letting her drive the boat.

A very annoying female companion, who has no idea what she's doing. She probably only wanted to show off, without realizing that the only reason she was there in the first place is because the guy wanted in her pants. I mean... why else?

Tragedy strikes when the children playfully push their father off the sailboat, tipping it over and dumping them all in the water, at the same time as this inattentive girl takes over the motorboat. The boat ends up heading straight for John and his kids. The lifeguard spazzes out when he sees this and accidentally hits the accelerator while trying to take back control of the wheel. The motorboat speeds up and collides with the family.

I remember finding it so awful the first time I saw this movie, which wasn't all that long ago. It felt horrible and hopeless with the water ski girl screaming at the top of her lungs, and the rest of them looking stunned.

The skiing girl did an incredible job with her reaction to the accident, she was very intense.

Time shifts again, now moving ahead eight years. Apparently John's daughter Angela was the only survivor of the boating accident, and she has been raised by her Aunt Martha alongside her cousin Ricky. She's now around twelve or thirteen years old, as is Ricky. It's summer again and Angela is finally getting her chance to go to camp. She and Ricky are about to catch a bus to go spend a while at Camp Arawak.

The glimpse we get into their family dynamic before the kids have to leave is short, but something is clearly not quite right about this group, particularly Aunt Martha, who is at least extremely eccentric if not completely off her rocker. 

She is a nut job. It totally justifies how Angela and Ricky act. Poor kids.

Martha is a doctor, but she has apparently obtained the physical reports the kids need for camp in a less-than-official manner, because Ricky swears that he'll never give away the secret of how they were obtained. That's strange.

I'd like to see what sort of people Aunt Martha gets as her patients.

I wouldn't. That's a very terrifying thought. Also... who marries someone like her? Terrifying.

Ricky has been to camp before, but this is the painfully shy and introverted Angela's first time away from home, and she has a lot of trouble adjusting to this new, busy environment. For her first three days at camp, Angela doesn't speak, she doesn't eat, she just sits and stares. Rather than reach out to her and try to get her to come out of her shell, her peers take an instant disliking to her. She's not like the others, so she's rejected and picked on.

Angela's main tormentors are the supremely unpleasant, stuck-up, conceited pair of eighteen-year-old counselor Meg and her camper pal Judy, who went steady with Ricky the previous summer but is now too good for him.

Judy is so weird. Her hair and legs are too long for her short torso, she's just so bizarre. Meg isn't cute, either. The two of them really look like witches and they're such huge bitches. I feel bad for Angela every time they pick on her.

Judy is weighing her options with the cooler guys at camp, enjoying the attention she's getting now that she has grown breasts, but Meg has her sights set on one guy in particular. The camp's owner, Mel.

It seems like all the guys might be into Judy at first... but thank goodness, boobies are not all they're interested in. She actually has to practically beg the guys to get with her. If I was a guy or into women, there's no way I'd be interested in someone like her. She's awful, so it makes sense that she'd be so moody and lonely all the time in reality.

It's a baffling, appalling concept that Meg and Mel are hooking up. He's old enough to be her grandfather, looks like a grandfather, dresses like one, but apparently Meg just can't get enough of his droopy features and stale cigar smell.

Meg doesn't seem to realize that Mel's broke, even though it's pretty clear, since the camp's in bad shape. So, maybe she wasn't just into his wallet... maybe it was love. Yeah, right.

Angela also catches grief from guys at camp, from the boys who make fun of her and throw water balloons at her to the pervy camp cook whose motto is that there's "no such thing as too young", and proves he means that when he makes a move on her.

Picking on Angela turns out to be a very bad idea. For one thing, they'll get cussed out by Ricky, who has a hair-trigger temper and quite a vocabulary.

Ricky is awesome. Always looking out for his cousin, even when it means standing up to six guys at once. It doesn't matter to him how outnumbered he is. He's such a badass and I love how intense he is. It's so cool.

But that's not all that will happen to them. The camp cook is the first one to find that out. For his attempt at getting illegally inappropriate with her, he gets punished when an unseen figure dumps a huge pot of boiling water on him... And he's the luckiest one. As the film continues, no one who picks on Angela, and angers Ricky in the process, survives the retaliation.

Between interludes of typical camp activities like baseball, volleyball, capture the flag, skinny-dipping, pranks, and gatherings in the social hall, characters get drowned, hacked up with a hatchet, stabbed, shot with an arrow, stung to death by bees... a hot curling iron is put to particularly gruesome use.

It also has the funniest, most weird shower scene I've ever seen. Most of these movies have a pretty girl in the shower looking all sexy and, well... naked. Here we have Meg... not sexy at all. It looks like she's going to skin herself alive the way she's showering, and whatever she's humming is just so strange.

There aren't any effects in Sleepaway Camp that will make your jaw drop in awe, but there are certainly some that could gross you out.

And even though it's a horror movie, with some really creepy stuff going on, I have to say that the scariest things about it are Aunt Martha, the guy's extremely short shorts (especially Ronnie's) and really girly cropped shirts (especially Gene's), the very deplorable state the kitchen's in, with all the bugs and other nasty stuff (including the cook). And let's not forget the already mentioned, totally inappropriate relationship between Meg and Mel.

As people turn up dead or horribly injured at his camp one-by-one, Mel starts to get very nervous about his finances. Instead of honoring the dead and closing the camp early, he just sweeps the incidents under the rug, brushes them off as accidents, and keeps the place running. Keeping everyone together so the body count can continue to rise.

That's Meg's lovely boyfriend! I mean, the guy is as bad as it gets. And what he does to Ricky when he suspects he's the killer is really appalling, too.

Angela's time at Camp Arawak isn't all bad times and death, though. By being a decent person and showing her some compassion and sweetness, Ricky's friend Paul starts getting close to her. But getting close to Angela can end just as badly as antagonizing her does.

It's really sweet when Paul gets close to Angela and gets her to say goodnight to him. They're a really cute couple... for a while... considering.

Throughout the film, the identity of the killer is kept a mystery. They're represented on screen simply by body parts - a hand, the back of their head - and silhouettes. It's obvious that the killer is targeting people Angela and Ricky have problems with, and so likely that one of them is responsible for the murders... But which one? Or could it be both of them?

I don't understand how or why the little kids that were camping in the woods got murdered though. It just doesn't seem like something either Angela or Ricky would do. 

The justification for the murder of the little kids comes when they throw sand at Angela while she's upset from something Meg and Judy did. Hiltzik feels bad about that scene, though. He doesn't think he pulled it off well enough and that the kids didn't really deserve what they got out there in the woods.

Plus, they got there by car, so it wasn't that close to camp, which would've made it really hard for the killer to be in both places during a short period of time. I'm telling you, there was another killer in those woods...

In the end we appear to get the answer to "who dun it?", although theories still linger for some viewers even when the end credits start to roll. At any rate, we know for sure which of the cousins commits one specific murder, as it's revealed in the film's shocking final moments, the most popular element of the film.

Even though I was very young the first time I saw Sleepaway Camp, probably around five years old, I can still clearly remember that first viewing of the movie's twist ending. I was watching it with my older brother, who would've been fifteen if I was five, and when the camera pulled back to reveal the secret Angela had been hiding, my brother started laughing hysterically. I didn't catch what was happening, I didn't understand why he thought it was funny. Then he explained why he was laughing... And I became very confused.

I think it was because of distribution rights here in Brazil, or something of that sort, but I was only able to get my hands on Sleepaway Camp less than 10 years ago. My brother and I used to watch part 2 all the time growing up, and we knew it was a sequel, but it didn't matter how many times or how many video stores we went to, no one had or knew about the first one. We were really frustrated because we loved part 2 and then 3... but couldn't watch the first one. So, when I did get the chance to see it, I was surprised at how different the tone was. But that didn't keep me from loving it, and I still do.

That final scene has certainly boosted Sleepaway Camp's popularity, but I feel that the movie has much more going for it that just that shocking twist. I'm quite fond of the 80+ minutes leading up to that moment as well. 

I was shocked when I saw that scene because I managed to stay away from spoilers during all the years I wasn't able to watch the first Sleepaway Camp, so I really didn't see it coming. Even though they tell Angela's story later on in the sequels, I guess I always thought that specific part was gossip.

The movie has a great look and tone to it, a low budget early '80s charm. Even it is a charm that has a coating of sleaze over it. The horror elements at play are very disturbing and creepy, and the score is really effective at being unnerving.

Definitely. And the score makes the final scene even more disquieting.

There were a lot of camp and backwoods slashers in the '80s, and while Sleepaway Camp is no Friday the 13th, I do feel that it's one of the best movies of its type to come out of that period that didn't involve a Voorhees. One single image can't hold a fan base for over thirty years. Sleepaway Camp endures as a cult classic to this day because it's a great slasher flick.

I agree. I absolutely love this movie (and parts 2 and 3) and I watch it a few times every year. It's some guaranteed fun times!

I can't close this article without mentioning the song that plays as the end credits roll, "Angela's Theme (You're Just What I've Been Looking For)" by Frankie Vinci, who also provided a couple other songs to the film. "Angela's Theme" is awesome, I love the sound of the song and it's lyrics. I often pull it up on YouTube to listen to it even without the Sleepaway Camp build-up.

And I can't forget to mention how much I like the cast. I think it's perfect, from Aunt Martha to Judy and, of course, Angela. They all fit in and are very believable. They do a great job and are a big part of what makes the movie work.

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