my sister, haylee, is celebrating her 30th birthday!
look at that badass li'l movie lover. i figure this picture is appropriate because, at her request, today's feature presentation is sleepaway camp (1983), which she was probably watching with me somewhere around the time that photo was taken. consider yourselves lucky. her first choice for me to discuss was big business (1988) but her copy of that was somehow conveniently "misplaced" so i couldn't watch it in time to post anything here.
some background - in our family there is a long and illustrious tradition of the adults showing the kids movies they shouldn't see. people still speak in hushed tones about our uncle quillie and the thanksgiving of the texas chain saw massacre (1974), truly a masterstroke. never content to rest on his laurels, not long after that he acquired the neighborhood's first satellite dish (back when they were about eight feet across) and we never looked back. the late night airwaves were our illicit oyster.
down that pipeline of forbidden fruit came sleepaway camp. looking back now, i understand what a truly subversive act it was to sneak this into the vcr. on the surface, this seems to be just another campers-as-cannon-fodder entry in the early 80's slasher sweepstakes. the story begins at the lake, where an innocent bit of horseplay results in an accident that leaves two people dead and one very traumatized child to pick up the pieces. pretty rote stuff. well, your expectations are about to be reduced to ashes when we leap forward eight years and meet aunt martha.
a vision of loveliness, no? angela, survivor of the horrible accident, has been sent to live with aunt martha and cousin ricky, who never met a hat he didn't like. we catch up with the family in this scene that alternately highlights aunt martha's excellent diction, exquisite fashion sense and enormous hands. she is sending the cousins off for a fun-filled summer at camp arawak. what could go wrong?
well, for starters, it seems that not one single adult operating the facility has any business being around children. artie, the lecherous, pedophiliac cook introduces himself with a little monologue peppered with gems like "look at all that young, fresh chicken" and "where i come from, we call 'em baldies". all of this is dismissed by his co-workers with a hearty chuckle. that artie, he's a rascal. it takes about 30 seconds for him to corner and attempt to molest someone. i think we know what's in store for artie.
artie, meet cauldron of boiling water. you won't be touching anymore thirteen year olds with those, you scamp. over the course of these 88 minutes we also see death by drowning, knife, hatchet, curling iron and bee hive. some of the kills are run of the mill slasher fare, a couple are more clever than average. that's not what sets this apart from the pack, though.
what makes this unique among its slasher brethren, and an especially revolutionary act to be sneaking in twenty minutes sections before mom and dad got home from work, was the overwhelming amount of confusing sexual politics and gender identity issues going on in this thing. it is unbelievable.
in the softball game alone, there is almost more repressed homosexuality going on than you can fit onscreen. i post this picture for a cheap laugh at the choices made by a costuming department in 1983 (and there are plenty, why use a whole shirt when you only need half?) but i don't want you to think i have confused that alone for subtext. the cumulative effect of more short shorts on the men than women, the practical jokes that end with faces shoved into bare asses and the less than subtle dialogue all make for a pretty ironclad case. when asked how his summer is going, ricky could say anything. what he says is "it would have been better if there were more guys around". at one point billy asks "who wants to go skinny dipping with fifteen guys and only five girls?" yeah, who let those five girls in here? after mozart falls for the old shaving cream in the hand business he does what any kid would do, chases ricky around the cabin with a huge knife. gene, the swarthy, half-shirted counselor breaks it up and orders "now, everybody in bed. that includes you, loverboy" and every single boy in the room, including gene, piles on paul, the only boy to this point to have much success with the ladies. did i mention angela's "my two dads in bed" flashback? all the sexual exchanges between the boys and girls are tense, awkward and downright angry in a lot of cases. if this movie was an accurate distillation of "growing up can be confusing" then adolescence would have a higher mortality rate than the black death. this thing throws an awful lot at an audience that was expecting nothing more than some good clean homicide. slashing takes a backseat, without a doubt.
and we haven't even talked about the ending yet.
oh man, the ending. i won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it. unfortunately, that also means i can't discuss how it goes a little awry in its handling some of the aforementioned issues. we can talk about it later, when you stop having dreams about angela hissing at you on the darkened lakeshore. don't worry, you'll be alright. look how haylee turned out.
happy birthday, haylee! it seems like only yesterday both mom and aunt martha were saying "i always wanted a girl".