Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
In the early 1980s, Robert Hiltzik was a recent NYU film school graduate, looking for a fresh idea for a feature film. Not really a horror fan himself, Hiltzik recognized the growing market that horror films were garnishing. In his recognition, he took on the task of writing feature length horror film, which he thought would easily acquire funding, following the success of Friday the 13th and The Burning. What was envisioned as his break into the industry has, with the thirty years since its release, become one of the most memorable and shocking horror films ever produced, Sleepaway Camp. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory, Sleepaway Camp is available on Blu-Ray/DVD combo Collectors Edition, for the first time completely uncut and digitally restored with a 2K transfer.
Following the tragic death of her family in a boating accident, Angela is forced to lived with her peculiar aunt and protective cousin Ricky. Appearing normal at its surface, the family holds a deep secret. It is during the cousins stay at Camp Arawak that this secret is revealed, but not before a series of brutal, but not necessarily (at least by today’s standards) graphic, killings. Angela, a timid teenager, is bullied by her fellow campers and counselors. Keeping to herself, she is almost immediately targeted by a series of camp personnel, including the uncomfortable sexual advances of the camp cook. Overprotective of his introverted cousin, Ricky does his best to protect Angela, but is unable to stay by her side throughout the film, leading to a few moments of ridicule and abuse for Angela.
For the bulk of the narrative, Sleepaway Camp offers the typical fare: oversexed teenagers, drug use, and irresponsible (if not utterly abusive) adults. Where Sleepaway Camp differs from the typical Camp Slasher is in its victims. Not necessarily killed at the time of heightened sexual gratification, the victims, if you choose to call them that, are actually targeted by their attitudes. Almost all that perish by the hands of the unknown killer are guilty of some cruel act, begging the question of who really is the victim. The film is purposefully ambiguous, however, sometimes the narrative is a bit cloudy as a result. In particular, the connection between Angela’s family, and Martha’s, Angela’s aunt, estranged husband is a bit unclear. With the inclusion of the homosexual relationship, and the ultimate finale, the film struggles ideologically. The inclusion of these ‘hot-button’ issues ends up feeling more the result of shock than anything. Some academics have even lashed out at the film for playing into a trend, which is supported by films like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, of films that demonize transexual people. It is a valid argument, but one that falls short when understanding how weak the film’s ideological stance ultimately is. The film is barely grounded in a singular, dominating meaning, rather oscillating between moments of excess and violence. One thing is clear, the film is intended first, and foremost, as pure spectacle and entertainment. Any attempt to read too far into the film will leave gaping holes.Technically speaking, the film is handled rather proficiently. The cinematography, lighting, and composition all aid the overall picture, nothing seems out of place or improperly composed. While the film has aged surprisingly well, the one aspect that may distract modern audiences is the acting. Hiltzik’s biggest downfall, one noted by the actors in the special features, is his handling of actors. The actors, who all seem to comment on a certain ambiguity in Hiltzik’s expectations, are inconsistent. The result is a certain camp aesthetic: over expressed action and delivery. Being a low-budget film, utilizing many fresh and young actors, there are actually some strong performances, but they are contrasted with awkward, if not humorous, ones.
The film’s real strength is in its reveal. The final moments of the film are harrowing, even after multiple viewings. Whether you are a seasoned Sleepaway Camp veteran, or a first time viewer, the last thirty seconds will have its impact. Perhaps the film’s conclusion aids in its continual relevance and ability to garnish new and young audiences. The only thing that is for sure is that Sleepaway Camp continues to shock viewers, and has, if not gained momentum in its age, remained as relevant today as it was in 1983.
As a now cult classic, Sleepaway Camp has been given its fair share of home video releases. These releases have offered numerous different print transfers and cuts, creating an uncertainty among fans alike. Now, for the first time, fans have access to a release of the film that is true-to-form, presenting the film in its original glory. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer, presenting the film in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is vibrant, bold, and crisp. A 2k resolution scan from the original negative, the film is nearly an identical presentation of the original celluloid. The colors offer a deep saturation, most notable in the rich reds and greens. This is a tremendous step up from the wavering quality originally available in various DVD releases. There are some noticeable scratches in the print, and a few moments where dust is present, but overall they are not distracting. No noticeable digital noise reduction or edge enhancement exists.
Overall, there are almost no noticeable deficiencies in the audio print. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix offers a good balance between the sound effects, dialogue, and score. No real hisses, pops, or cracks are present. In addition, the mix really highlights the wonderful soundtrack, composed by Edward Bilous, which, if anything, is underutilized.
An interesting addition, the release offers three separate audio commentaries with overlapping commentators, but the reason for this overlapping is understandable. The two newly commissioned commentary tracks separate the cast from the crew, while the re-issued commentary blends cast and crew. This allows for a difference in perspectives across a span of time. At the Waterfront After the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp, billed as newly commissioned interviews, in reality plays out more like a short documentary on the making of the film. The piece is quite interesting, answering many questions that people have had about the film. It covers topics ranging from behind-the-scenes love interests, working with Hiltzik, the practical effects, and some of the more unintentionally humorous moments such as the inclusion of the fake mustache. Shot in HD, the interviews area nice companion to the release. A real step-up from some of the included interviews in past Shout! Factory releases. In addition, the package contains the short film Judy, directed by SleepawayMovies.com webmaster Jeff Hayes, and starring Karen Fields. The film is a bit hard to watch, but fans of camp (no pun intended) may find some value in it. Additional features include reversible sleeve allowing the choice between the newly commissioned artwork and the original poster artwork, “Camp Arawak Scrapbook,” a stills gallery, the original theatrical trailer and TV spots, “rare images from make-up effects artist Ed French,” and a demo of the 2k transfer process.
Sleepaway Camp may not be a classic horror film, in the way that Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, or even Halloween are, but is has continued to create a place for itself in the changing horror landscape. For this, the film remains relevant; even growing in importance every year. This release offers fans of the film, and fans to come, the most complete and true-to-nature copy of the film currently available. The strength of the transfer, matched with the addition of a few great special features, makes this Blu-Ray/DVD combo a must buy for any fan of the film. We have come to expect a certain quality from Shout! Factoy, and they have not let us down. Sleepaway Camp devotees will not be disappointed. This is perhaps the best overall complete Shout! Factory release, and if it is any sign of what Shout! Factory has to come you can safely say we are excited.