Scream Factory go all out for the quirky eighties slasher classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, on special edition Blu-ray and DVD combo from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative.
Shy and withdrawn Angela (Felissa Rose, SILENT NIGHT ZOMBIE NIGHT) has been living with her loopy Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten, THE PERFECT HOUSE) since her father and brother were killed in a boating accident. Eight years after the accident, Aunt Martha decides Angela should go to summer camp with Ricky. Angela's quietness and staring make her a target for the older kids, particularly counselor Meg (Katherine Kahmi, SILENT MADNESS), but also Ricky's "old flame" Judy (Karen Fields) who has blossomed since last summer and prefers the company of the older boys and grows jealous when Ricky's friend Paul (Christopher Collet, THE MANHATTAN PROJECT) takes an interest in Angela. Soon after their arrival, people who have bullied Angela start to meet with grisly fates via a series of "pranks", starting with the cook (Owen Hughes) who has an appetite for "fresh chicken". As the camp's numbers dwindle, JAWS-esque publicity-minded owner Mel (Mike Kellin, THE BOSTON STRANGLER) starts to suspect Ricky who always rushes to Angela's aid and has already demonstrated a propensity for practical jokes – but admittedly none so deadly – and the killer has a special surprise in store for the remaining campers after the social…
SLEEPAWAY CAMP sticks pretty much to the slasher template, but it has become a cult classic for the audaciousness idiosyncrasies of its plotting (Aunt Martha, Angela's parents, and an inept depiction of Glen Falls law enforcement), and truly shocking final twist. The film ably mixing the feel of a more benign teenage summer camp film – even the "eat shit and die/eat shit and live" exchange might have rated a PG back in the day – with a horror film and heaping on some decidedly non-PC unwholesomeness; and its violent and sexual aspects (a subplot gay relationship might be the only positive relationship in the film) are all the more disturbing because most of the actors were the age of their characters, with Rose and Tiersten respectively thirteen and seventeen (the latter playing younger). Of course, close examination of the film reveals that certain scenes and shots are achieved without the involvement of the minor actors (seen in reverse angles or close-ups). The death scenes are largely suggested – partially due to the budget and partially on the grounds of taste – but Ed French (BLOOD RAGE) supplies some grisly aftermaths including some severed heads, the likenesses to the actors of which hold up well (although the camera lingers a bit too long on some of them). The plotting holds up rather well as it pertains to the surprise ending with little clues here and there (with some intentional and unintentional aspects inspiring quite of a bit of speculation on valid alternate theories about the killings), as well as enough throwaway touches to distract viewers from examining it too closely the first time around. The film was followed up by two sequels both directed by Michael A. Simpson (FUNLAND) with Pamela Springsteen (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) as Angela returning to camp disguised as a counselor and gleefully hacking her way through the teenagers and staff. SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV (1992), directed by editor Jim Markovic (THE REAL BRUCE LEE) remained unfinished when the production company went bankrupt – with about thirty minutes of footage included as an extra on a bonus disc in the Best Buy exclusive version of Anchor Bay's series boxed set – but Hiltzik stepped back behind the camera in 2008 to direct RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP which also featured the return of Rose, Tiersten, and DeAngelo, as well as THE SOPRANO's Vincent Pastore and the last screen work of Isaac Hayes as "Charlie the Chef".
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray is mastered from a 2K scan (a first for the company) of the original camera negative, which is brighter – enough to rob one shot of its intended ambiguity – and more detailed than Anchor Bay's 2000 DVD which was missing a handful of brief shots amounting to roughly twenty-four seconds which ended up being a sore point with fans since the shots included a grisly bit with a snake emerging from the mouth of a corpse, and nudity during the skinny-dipping scene). Colors are quite bold (starting with Aunt Martha's wardrobe) while the night scenes are also more readable although the grain is substantially heavier in these bits (even clumpy during the climactic camping scenes, possibly the encoder's reaction to the heavy swimming grain). The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is likewise in perfect condition, with the scoring of Edward Bilous (DEAD BROKE) and Frank Vinci's "Angela's Theme" having more range than anything else on the otherwise adequate mono soundtrack. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Anchor Bay's DVD featured an audio commentary with director Robert Hiltzik and actress Felissa Rose – moderated by Jeff Hayes of the SLEEPAWAY CAMP website – that has been carried over here, along with two additional newly-recorded commentary tracks. The "vintage" Hiltzik/Rose/Hayes track is a light but informative affair as Hiltzik recalls being behind schedule almost immediately (the first time director having to throw his storyboards and schedule out the window and plan the next day's shooting the night before). Rose points out her relatives, recalls her first experiences with "young love" on the set, being starstruck with ALL MY CHILDREN's Kahmi, and the ways in which Hiltzik directed her mostly wordless performance. They both have warm memories of Mike Kellin (who died shortly after the film was finished). Hiltzik's and Rose's chemistry is such that they have to remind Hayes to chime in amidst their enjoyment of the film; but he has more involvement in the newer track that he shares with Hiltzik. There's a lot of overlap, but Hayes provides some trivia (the actor who played the boy Peter in the opening and flashbacks is the older brother of JERSEY SHORE's "The Situation" and is apparently making a comeback for better or worse on a spin-off of that show), anecdotal information from some of the cast and crew he tracked down who are not otherwise present on the disc, and questions about the story (not all of which Hiltzik is willing to answer, although he admits to wanting to push the envelope like many filmmakers of the time doing horror films to get noticed). Of the characterizations, Hiltzik states that the characters have to justify their fates; hence the extreme nastiness of the ones being on the receiving end of the worst fates.
Rose and Jonathan Tiersten appear on the first new track, which is moderated by Justin Beahm. Along with mentioning that 30 ROCK's Jane Krakowski was the original choice for Judy, Tiersten's doubling for Rose in certain insert shots as well as how one actress replaced another for a single shot (it's more apparent in the brighter transfer), on-set injuries that delayed the shooting of some scenes, and how their temperaments offscreen were the polar opposites of their characters (as well as their tentative offscreen romance, and her admitted jealousy and his flirtation with an older SAG-registered actress whose participation beyond a few shots does not survive in the final cut). Tiersten describes the ways in which SLEEPAWAY CAMP resembled his own summer camp experiences (Hiltzik had pointed out in the previous commentary that he wanted to film on his own childhood camp and also says he drew from his experiences). They also update us on the subsequent careers of their fellow castmates – actor Tom Van Dell would produce RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP as well as DESTINATION FAME (directed by Paul DeAngelo and featuring Rose) – and point out plot points and onscreen gaffes (which may or may not be their recollections or culled from Hayes' website). It's a charming track but not particularly informative, although not at all a bad way to re-watch the film.
The featurette "At the Waterfront After the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp" (45:42) combines the recollections of Hiltzik, Rose (and her "stage mom" mother Joan Esposito), Tiersten, Fields, Paul DeAngelo (who plays counselor Ronnie), Frank Saladino (who plays Gino, one of the few nice older kids), Aunt Martha herself Desiree Gould, as well as make-up effects artist French. The actors start off discussing their unconventional auditions while Hiltzik discusses each of the death scenes with some input from French as well as Tiersten (who repeats from the commentary his explanation of how the arrow-through-the-neck gag was achieved). Rose recalls sitting for the face cast for the climax, and they all chuckle over the experience with the unidentified naked college student who figured into the final shots. As the featurette comes to a close, they discuss their subsequent careers (Hiltzik had a few studio projects fall through, while Rose and Tiersten have returned to acting intermittently) as well as their experiences at horror conventions (starting with Hayes' cast/crew reunion at one of Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors conventions). Of the sequels, Rose says that Simpson was already set on casting Springsteen, but also that she could not connect with the campier version of the character as scripted.
"Judy" (15:52) is a short film by Hayes starring Karen Fields as her SLEEPAWAY CAMP character having survived via a miraculous surgery and taking on deadbeat parents with a curling iron. Amateurish with a plot that seems like a bent Lifetime movie, it might nevertheless entertain lovers of SOV flicks from the eighties and nineties (although IMDb lists it as having been made in 2014). Tiersten's music career is represented here with a music video titled "Princess" (5:32). A theatrical trailer & two TV spots (2:12) are structured around the familiar letter home animation, while the "Camp Arawak Scrapbook" (3:32) includes nearly seventy behind the scenes photographs and a separate gallery includes make-up effects artist Ed French's storyboards and Polaroids from his workshop and on-set of the realized appliances (1:26). The final extra is a demonstration of the 2K scan (8:59) using the original camera negative for SLEEPAWAY CAMP showing the real-time scan of the film at full aperture (before the 1.78:1 cropping for the Blu-ray) consulting the lab note, adjusting the RGB levels and focus, and tacking in the credits came from separate internegative material. Presumably more color work was done afterwards since a scan of the negative provides more leeway to make adjustments than a telecine. As with Scream Factory's other deluxe special editions, SLEEPAWAY CAMP comes with a reversible cover (the inside featuring the more familiar knife through the tennis shoe artwork) and a cardboard slipcover (for the first pressings only). The only thing this special edition of SLEEPAWAY CAMP is really missing is some serious critical and analytical discussion of the film, which might seem trite since the director has claimed to have been mainly interested in pushing the envelope; however, the film has inspired many interpretations and has struck a chord with various factions of its audience. (Eric Cotenas)
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