I’m getting around to “Sleepaway Camp” right now.
Why this film, and why now, you may ask? Well, it was the first film on Joe Bob Briggs’s first movie marathon since 2000 (which took place on Shudder), and I figured “Why not?” I would much rather be starting out with “Basket Case,” but this one comes first in the lineup of the marathon, so this’ll be the first of fourteen reviews, with “Blood Feast” and “Pieces” excluded and “Demons 2,” “Basket Case 2” and “3” and “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” added for good measure. Let’s get going.
Perhaps the number one issue I have with this movie is that it doesn’t know what kind of horror story it wants to tell. It seems to be caught between a surreal dive into insanity and, as Joe Bob himself says, an ’80s slasher movie. Either way, both feel underdeveloped, especially towards the end, and they don’t even compliment each other well, like they would in something like “Oculus” or the original “Haunting.” There are also a ton of storyline inconsistencies and production snafus that do occasionally create plot holes themselves. (I’ll get into those with more vigor later.) Overall, it seems like something that could’ve had potential, but it needed to be proofread more before the script was written. (Or during, even.) Long story short, it’s pretty bad.
Story Grade: D-
Very flat and rather dull, with the exception of Mr. Slausen, whose actor is far too good for the movie. And I will get to that in greater detail later.
Characterization Grade: D
It’s roughly on par with most ’80s slashers, with similar gaps in logic and human psychology along for the ride. This is not good for a movie that wants to play with genre expectations, which shadow this movie in hindsight, whether fair or not. Still, it’s got an occasional line from Mr. Slausen that’s… effective enough, I guess.
Script Grade: D+
As I say, there’s production snafus everywhere, and that’s at least two letter grades marked down. It would’ve been a C average without those.
Direction Grade: F
As Joe Bob says, you can’t go too wrong with Chuck Connors. I mean, he keeps your attention even when the camera spends too much attention on him, which is another production problem (not just a snafu), but is still impressive. The others are mostly pretty good, especially Jocelyn Jones, but sometimes, it can get a bit underdone or hammy. Still, one of the better overall parts of the movie, honestly.
Acting Grade: B
I’m gonna be honest, this part is rather successful, especially if you let it scare you. It’s certainly helped by Robert A. Burns’s excellent effects and Pino Donaggio’s atmospheric score, as well as some legitimately disturbing scenes, like Tina getting her face plastered to start the process of her becoming a mannequin and that bit with the soup and crackers. There are parts, however, where the movie leans too heavily on violence and shock tactics, but that can be overlooked rather easily in comparison to everything else regarding the shaky feeling of the movie.
Scare Grade: B+
As I say, there’s production snafus everywhere, including bad voice overdubbing and a dripping noise in the basement that never has its source shown (far from the only unexplained sound effect), and those snafus pop up everywhere, even in scenes that are supposed to be scary, which renders those scenes utterly laughable as opposed to scary. (I say this standing by that when the movie is scary, it’s really scary.) But, as mentioned, the effects and score are fantastic, so it’s not all bad. I struggle to find a good enough grade for this area of the movie, as it’s such a mixed bag, but I guess the effects and score are good enough to earn it a…
Execution Grade: C+
This movie is such a missed opportunity in so many respects, but in others, it delivers exceedingly well. On one hand, it has a confused story, bland characters and production snafus galore. On another, it has an excellent score, exceptional effects and some genuinely scary and disturbing scenes. I wish I could award a grade for effort and vision instead of results, but since that’s not my job, the movie shall have to settle for a…
Final Grade: C-
I am so glad to get this review out there so I can be done with this movie. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a review of the next movie in the Joe Bob marathon, “Sleepaway Camp,” which I’ve heard really good things about. I’ll see you then.