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Film / Sleepaway Camp

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The Hotel California of summer camps...

"Dear Mom and Dad, I've been at Sleepaway Camp for almost three weeks... and I'm getting very scared."
Opening line of the trailer

Sleepaway Camp is a film directed by Robert Hiltzik, and it was released in 1983 during the heyday of Slasher Movies.

The plot follows two cousins, Angela and Ricky, who are attending a summer camp. Shortly after their arrival, people start to die. Especially those who pick on Angela...

The film became notorious for its Twist Ending and amassed a cult following over the years, mostly for its odd yet endearing mix of '80s slasher movie thrills and wistful summer nostalgia.

Several sequels also followed: The comedic Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, the troubled Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor and the return-to-form Return to Sleepaway Camp. There is also a short film spinoff Judy, focusing on the character of the same name.

Sleepaway Camp provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Aunt Martha is the abusive carer of Angela. However, the plot twist reveals "Angela" was actually Peter. The boy survived the boat crash and Aunt Martha insisted she wanted a daughter. She forced him to take on the identity "Angela", causing Peter to develop gender dysphoria that only got worse during his emerging sexuality.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The rest of the kitchen staff know Artie, the head cook, is a pedophile and don't seem to care. The head of the camp is more concerned with the bad publicity and possible lawsuits that might arise from homicides than the fact that there's a potential murderer on the grounds that are filled with kids.
    • Aunt Martha. DEAR GOD, Aunt Martha!
  • Alpha Bitch: Judy. She seemingly goes out of her way to be bitchy and hostile toward Angela. And arguably worse than Judy is Meg, one of the counselors, who is extremely nasty and aggressive towards Angela in a way that would get her fired if anybody else but Mel had been running that camp.
  • Ambiguously Gay / Ambiguously Bi: Angela who is capable of seducing and killing her victims, both male and female. She even attracts a male admirer but seems shy to get close to him. Then there's the reveal that Angela is really Peter...
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the victims. Most notably Artie the cook, who really likes children (yes, in that way). Ironically, he's also the only victim who doesn't die. Though if he survived his grave injuries it's likely a Fate Worse than Death. He's horribly disfigured and likely blind by the time he's rolled off to hospital. However some of the victims are selected for very petty reasons, most notably the young children murdered for being bratty and kicking sand at Angela.note 
  • Ax-Crazy: The killer has a lot of pent-up aggression as shown by the brutality.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: Billy is stung to death when a beehive is dropped into his bathroom stall.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason why Angela spares Ricky, Ronnie and Susie. Even in the Return to Sleepaway Camp sequel.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Ricky was very protective of Angela throughout the movie. His behavior is the reason why camp owner Mel suspected him as killing kids that picked on Angela. (Whether knows the truth about Angela is left unknown.)
  • Butt-Monkey: Mozart who is on the receiving end of several pranks in the boys cabin.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Aunt Martha gives Ricky and Angela signed physical examination forms so they can go to camp. There's a good reason she doesn't want another doctor taking a look at Angela...
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Aunt Martha is a particularly creepy one that is ultimately responsible for the whole mess due to her madness.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Angela, or rather Peter, holds Paul in his arms.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Angela is actually Martha's nephew, Peter; the crazy old bat, upon winning custody of him, forced him to dress up as and pretend to be a girl because she wanted a girl and not a boy.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Judy has...something done to her with a curling iron.
  • Dead All Along: The real Angela Baker, as Peter was forced to take on Angela's identity after their father was killed.
  • Death of a Child: The opening has a child dying in a boating accident along with the father. 'Angela/Peter' also kills a group of younger camp children for throwing water and sand on her.
  • Dies Wide Open: Kenny is shown with his eyes open when his body is found under an overturned canoe.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Angela kills a group of young children for throwing water and sand on her. Even the director later regretted this.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Several kids take a trip to the woods, and never return.
  • Drone of Dread: The movie's theme is a succession of prolonged off-key notes, particularly the horn parts.
  • '80s Hair: Mullets!
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The last scene reveals Angela actually died in the boating accident as a child, and Aunt Martha instead raised Peter to be his sister.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Meg takes a shower... and gets stabbed through the back!
    • Paul shirtless towards the end when he's been killed and Angela/Peter is cradling his head.
  • Final Girl: Inverted with Angela who is the killer and really a guy. A better example would be Susie considering she's one of the few survivors.
  • Flipping the Bird: Ricky delivers one to Judy after she makes out with Paul just to hurt Angela.
  • Foreshadowing: There are clues hidden throughout the film that allude to Angela's real identity. For example, Angela refuses to swim in the lake with the other campers, and at one point, Judy asks why she always showers alone.
    Aunt Martha: Just be careful not to tell anyone how you got [your physical exam].
    • As Cinema Snob pointed out about the drowning scene: "...We didn't get a good look at the kid at the beginning."
  • Freudian Excuse: The killer has a doozy of one. Peter's family died in a boating accident and his aunt forced him to dress in women's clothing and otherwise pretend to be her niece, who she preferred but actually died in the accident.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The final scene. The counselors walk on a nude Angela, revealing her male genitalia, bloody hatchet in her hand as a decapitated Paul lies on the ground.
  • Groin Attack: Happened to Judy. With a curling iron to boot! However, whilst the scene indicates the possibility, it never explicitly shows what happened.
  • Harmful to Minors: Angela witnessing the death of her family. Well, Peter witnessing his father and sister's deaths more accurately.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The creepy breathing/moaning that Angela does at the end.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Judy is incredibly self centered, insecure and jealous. Her ego is so massive that she becomes envious of Paul and Angela despite having several other men fawn over her constantly. Apparently the idea of a girl who isn't like her, that also has a man's attention, just rubs her the wrong way. Interestingly it's implied that before she hit puberty she wasn't such a jerkass with a high opinion of herself.
    • Angela's aunt is a variant. She wants a little girl to raise, not a boy. So she decides that when she is left with custody of Peter due to the death of his entire family, she has a right to force him to adopt his sister Angela's identity.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Aunt Martha wanted to raise Peter as a girl because "she already has a son and it won't do", so as said above, she forced Peter to live with Angela's identity.
  • Insult Backfire: During a baseball game, Bill and Ricky trade insults with each other.
    Bill: Eat shit and die, Ricky!
    Ricky: Eat shit and live, Bill.
  • Jerkass: Pretty much every one who is targeted by the killer. There's also Aunt Martha.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Aunt Martha. Although there is a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Return to Sleepaway Camp that shows a newspaper clipping about what Aunt Martha did to Peter and mentioning that she is in police custody. So presumably she did face the consequences of her actions, albeit off-screen.
    • The killer themselves. Nothing is said to have happened to them.
    • Mike is notable in that of the various bullies in the film, he goes completely unharmed.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Angela scalds the pedophile cook with boiling water.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The little kids who kick sand at Angela and throw water on her.
  • Kubrick Stare: Angela seems to pull this off frequently.
  • Large Ham: Mel, whenever he starts flipping out.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Bordering on All Love Is Unrequited. Ricky and Judy dated the summer before, but Judy isn't interested in him anymore now that she's "more mature". Instead, she's interested in Paul, who's seems attracted but is more interested in Angela, who returns his feelings but freaks out anytime they get too close. By the end, Judy and Paul are dead, rendering the whole thing moot.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Peter at the end to reveal his true gender.
  • May–December Romance: Mel is in his late fifties-early sixties at the youngest, and is in a relationship with the late teens/early twenties Meg.
  • My Beloved Smother: Aunt Martha to Angela.
  • Nerd Glasses: Mozart is the sole character wearing glasses, which makes him the "loser nerd" of the cast.
  • Nightmare Face: The final shot of the film is Angela staring at Susie and Ronnie with an unsettling wide-eyed, gaping smile.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Judy's death is more disturbing because we're not shown what happens when she is killed with the curling iron.
    • Same thing with the kids Angela hacked and Paul. All were killed offscreen, and we don't know the events that lead to them.
  • Off with His Head!: Paul is decapitated off-screen with a hatchet.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Several victims are discovered this way. One beneath a boat and another corpse falling from behind a shower curtain.
  • Primal Scene: Played for Drama. Angela and her brother Peter, as kids, saw their father spooning which another man (not sex, just embracing lovingly), which seemed to confuse them more than anything else. Peter, now being forced to be a girl against his will, is now deeply confused about his own sexuality and flashes back to this when contemplating being hit on by Paul. Unable to sort his feelings out, he eventually winds up murdering Paul.
  • Psychosexual Horror: In this 1983 horror movie, a girl called Angela is the sole survivor of a boat accident that kills her father and brother and she's sent to a summer camp. In the movie, Angela is revealed to be Peter, her brother, who was forced to adopt his better-received sister's identity by his adoptive aunt because she didn't want to raise another boy. As Angela, Peter is kissed by Paul and it reminds him of a time when he saw his father and his boyfriend Lenny after they had sex. Peter doesn't understand sex, never had the talk (or had the talk properly), and he doesn't understand the harmless nature of John and Lenny's relationship. These feelings are horrifying and deeply confusing for Peter and it causes him to go insane and murder people for mistreating him and for treating him as a girl.
  • Raised as the Opposite Gender: Implied with Angela, who was really Peter growing up but was forced to become a girl against his will by his sadistic aunt.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ronnie, the buffed-up, muscle-shirt-wearing counselor, really does care about the kids and their safety in the face of the killings, far moreso than the selfish, asshole owner of the camp. He gets a Pet the Dog moment early on when he politely tries to get a homesick Angela to eat her lunch. Another counselor, Susie, also counts, as she's always kind towards Angela, to the point that she loses it and slaps Judy in the face when the latter wouldn't stop her nasty verbal abuse towards Angela.
  • Red Herring: Hints that Ricky is the killer. While this is obvious to viewers it later works in the film's favor, as The Reveal is more terrifying. There's a twist, just not of the nature you thought you were getting. This was all made more confusing by the fact that Ricky's actor did all the 'kill scenes'.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The prologue confirms that Aunt Martha is a doctor, and before the kids go off to camp she produces forms stating they've already undergone their physicals. She wouldn't want a counsellor checking Angela out more thoroughly.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Mel soon connects the dots as to why the victims are being targeted. They have all wronged Angela. But then blames the wrong person. He suspects Ricky is murdering people out of some twisted desire to protect Angela. When in reality "Angela" is actually killing them personally.
    • Judy teases Angela about never showering with the others, saying that's properly out of shame for not having developed yet. Angela is in fact hiding her body from the other girls, but from completely different reasons.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Angela's flashback sequence acts as a case of foreshadowing for the viewer. In the flashback, a young Peter points at Angela's chest after they both witness a post-erotic moment between Lenny and John. The reveal of Peter being the surviving twin explains the flashback, flashback-Peter was Angela's true identity trying to resurface. Since he didn't understand sex or the harmless nature of John and Lenny's relationship, he freaked out when Paul kissed him since it reminded him of his trauma and true identity.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Everyone makes fun of Paul and Angela for being this. They sort of are for a while until the end.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Judy's death. We don't explicitly see what the killers done, only that it involves a curling iron and an awful lot of pain.
  • She's All Grown Up: Played With. Paul, in an admittedly juvenile manner, points out to Ricky that Judy's hit puberty since last they met. However she doesn't think Ricky's any good for her now that she's "more mature" and Ricky takes an instant disliking to her new found personality.
  • Shrinking Violet: Angela. Until it turns out that "she" is a psychotic killer.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Aunt Martha only appears in two scenes, but her decision to raise Peter as his dead sister shapes the plot in a huge way!
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: On the ending credits.
  • Summer Campy: Particularly for how the counselors behave with the kids, throwing them in the lake and whatnot.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Angela. Rather than view "her" as aimless psycho killer, you can actually pity her. And that's pretty scary in itself.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Again, Angela, as seen here.
  • Trans Relationship Troubles: Every time Angela is about to get closer to her male admirer, she freezes up and runs away before snapping and killing him in the end. And considering her secret that she really is Peter, one would think maybe she murdered Paul because he discovered her secret.
  • Twist Ending: One of the most infamous ones, perhaps because it has multiple twists. Sweet little Angela is the killer. And wait, she's not even Angela: she's Angela's brother Peter, as the real Angela died with the rest of his family, but Peter's crazy Aunt Martha forced him to adopt Angela's identity.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Used for the infamous twist ending where Ronnie and Susie discover that the killer is not only Angela, but Angela is actually Peter and the camera zooms out exposing his male genitalia. It's also implied that this is what led to Paul's demise at the hands of Angela/Peter.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Craig and Mary-Ann, the two teens in the opening who accidentally cause the boating accident that kills most of the Baker family and kicks off the entire franchise.
    • A less innocent example would be Aunt Martha. True, her forcing Peter to adopt the identity of his dead sister was horrifying and abusive but she probably didn't expect it to escalate to serial murder.
  • The Voiceless: Initially Angela. Though she soon upgrades to The Quiet One.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Eddie upon discovering the bodies of butchered camp children.
  • Wham Line:
    Aunt Martha: Angela. Such a lovely name. Why I believe it means 'angel'! Why, yes, I'm sure it does! I know you're going to like that name, won't you, Peter?
    • Ronnie drops one as well at the twist ending:
    Ronnie: Oh my God, she's a boy!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The movie ends on Ronnie and Susie discovering "Angela's" secret, leaving their fates unknown. Ronnie winds up returning in one of the later films.
  • When She Smiles: Angela is typically meant to look like a Creepy Child with an expressionless Thousand-Yard Stare. When not being abused by bullies and talking to Ricky and Paul, Angela comes out of her shell a little and starts smiling, which makes her look adorable.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: It gets increasingly difficult not to see Angela/Peter as this.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mel beats up Ricky to a near pulp. Granted it's because he thought he was the killer but still. Thankfully he gets his just deserts from the real killer with an arrow to the neck. Not to mention Angela/Peter, the movie's killer, who butchers multiple children in the woods.


Video Example(s):


Sleepaway Camp twist ending

As jaded as the Cinema Snob might be, Sleepaway Camp's famous ending still takes him by surprise.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnsettlingGenderReveal

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