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DVD Cuts Controversy

Sleepaway Camp fans in the USA and most of the world (besides the UK) never had to face cut versions of the film because before release, the MPAA awarded Robert Hiltzik's little shocker with an R rating with no cuts needed, so that's what was released theatrically. And after the run, Media Home Video released that same r-rated uncut version which is what most pre-DVD era fans remember falling in love with. Even the next version on video a few years later - Video Treasures' poor quality EP-mode tape was, yet again, uncut and not tampered with (barring missing Hiltzik's dedication to his mom and the American Eagle Film Corp logo). So fans through the 80's and 90's never really had any trouble at all viewing the director's exact vision. That's why it's so tragic that, in an age where movies come out on DVD with extra scenes, just the backward happened with Sleepaway Camp - its digital incarnation was cut, and drasticly.

Anchor Bay Entertainment (formerly Video Treasures, accounting for the rights already being in their hands) released the Region 1 DVD in 2000 and went to the trouble of remastering the print with a fine tooth comb and releasing it in three different flavors: Widescreen DVD, Widescreen VHS, and Full Frame VHS. Yet they neglected the fact that scenes and shots were not only missing from their print, but chopped up badly. The controversy was brought up by purchasing fans and initially seemed not of importance due to the fact that the audio commentary participants who viewed the print well in advance did not notice or take action against the cuts. Upon viewing however, I thought: how on earth could they not? Here is the chopping list:

Cut 1: In the prank scene when Mozart's face hits the kid's naked ass, the slap sound effect is missing and then his "You guys are gross" line is out of synch with his lips.

Cut 2: The shot of the naked guys running down the dock is completely missing, and covered up by a weird over-dubbed cat howl.

Cut 3: The watersnake slithering out of Kenny's mouth is cut to the point where you only see the final few frames of the shot after the snake has emerged.

Cut 4: After Mel accosts the guys for throwing water ballons at Angela and Ricky and Paul tend to her, a shot of the guy's reaction to Mel leaving is cut, where one calls him a "wrinkled old dick".

Cut 5: After Ricky sticks his finger up at Judy and walks off, a shot of Judy coming back with "Same to you" is gone, as a result the music does not sync up.

Cut 6: Several frames of Meg's corpse on the bathroom floor are cut, and Mel's reaction is cut up too - "He did it" should be followed by "to get back at me".

These are not only missing parts but instances of re-edited dialogue/music that are painfully obvious even to someone who has never viewed the film before. I'm talking horribly out of synch sound and jump-cutting back and forth. Anchor Bay US's official statement said they acquired the print from a distributor and had no knowledge of the cuts. However, my viewings of the full frame and widescreen re-release cassettes uncover startling facts: different cuts are present in each! Dialogue missing in one version is evident in the other! One cringe-wrothy moment comes in the Widescreen VHS when Mozart inadvertantly thrusts his face into the buttocks of another camper. He is supposed to proclaim in disgust "You guys are gross!" after the act, but here he says half the line before his face even hits ass, then the full line after! To add further insult, the butt slap sound effect is not even present, losing the sick humor of the scene. This is different from the DVD. The differences in each version might mean the print was damaged and were re-edited hastily to preserve what was left. Or, it was possibly a TV print. Why Anchor Bay chose to claim non-knowledge is beyond me. They also didn't issue a recall & replace as they should have.

In 2002 after recording the audio commentaries for part 2 and 3 (which, by the way were released in flawless form with no additional cuts), I informed Anchor Bay's LA guy of the drastic cuts in the original disc and suggested they borrow Robert Hiltzik's personal print to rectify the damage. I was also worried that with the festival showings Robert's print makes, wear and tear would continue until the print is no longer mint, and therefore needed to be archived onto a digital format posthaste. Well, they did look into this but production was too far along apparently, so the Survival Kit boxset was saddled with the same old chop socky version but with new disc artwork, suggesting they had to re-press the films, in which case why not use that opportunity to switch the content with the corrected version? But anyway, let's press on.

2003 was the 20th anniversary of Sleepaway Camp, a perfect opportunity to re-issue the film with a special birthday cache on the heels of the best-selling boxset, but although they did revisit the notion of doing one, they didn't see it feasible to do so. Fair enough, because a fix of sorts seemed to be around the corner. In 2004, Anchor Bay UK, the company's British arm - started prepping a fairly straight port of the US boxset to Region 2. But this time they would seek to rectify the cuts and as such announced it would be the proper uncut version. Early plans to make this occur were to edit in the uncut shots from a copy of the Austalian K-Tel VHS (which was the same as the NTSC Media video but in PAL format therefore of higher quality image) which, although it has always looked spiffy, would not match the remastered DVD quality. So they instead finaly listened, and got their hands on Robert Hiltzik's uncut print for a full remastering.

All seemed right on track. Anchor Bay UK continued to promote their Sleepaway Camp release as Uncut right up to release date - but it was only when waiting horror fans began to purchase it (many double dipping, naturally) that we realized we'd been suckered again. Oh, the uncut scenes were present on the disc - but they weren't inserted back into the film - they were only an easter egg clip seperate from the movie. There was definitely outrage to say the least. Anchor Bay UK tried to defuse the volatile situation with the following official statement:

Dear All, With the situation regarding the deleted scenes for Sleepaway Camp we had to make a difficult decision. We fully understand the passion some fans would have to want these scenes included in the films however we do have a commitment for quality as well and in our opinion we believe that casual purchasers of the set would have felt that these poor quality insertions would have made them believe that their disc was faulty. Therefore a decision was made on a commercial basis. It was a case of damn if we do, damn if we donít. You can rest assured that Anchor Bay will always do its very best for hardcore fans and general customers who we need to buy product, so that we can continue to bring classic and cult movies to the market place. Yours truly, Kristy Thomason Production Manager

The statement did not do much for public peace, for a few reasons. I believe they believed the print wasn't up to snuff - after all, as I said, I tried to tell them years ago that Hiltzik's uncut print was having regular showings and therefore had a finite time limit, but unusable? Definitely not. Click on the image captures above to see high-res images straight from the easter egg clip. When viewed, the uncut scenes do have some slight age to them and might not warrant a full restoration, but definitely worthy of re-insertion into the existing DVD master, and nowhere near as bad as say, the Silent Night, Deadly Night DVD where Anchor Bay inserted uncut footage from a shocking probably 5th generation tape into an otherwise pristine remastered film print. And why wait for buyers to purchase it and complain to comment on this when they were aware of the situation well prior yet continued to market it as a fixed, uncut release? The only saving grace is that they created both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks for this and the sequels whereas the US R1 DVDs only had mono - but, considering no one even asked for those, imagine the amount of time, work and money that would have taken to create those soundtracks when only a sliver of which could easily have been devoted to living up to a simple promise of fixing the cuts.

It was no wonder that the world of piracy seized the opportunity to do what the official company could not, but as you'll soon read - even in this case the results became part of the running joke. First, a German edition with absolutely excellent cover art claimed to be uncut but, as those willing to take the risk of paying for an import found, was the same old Anchor Bay cut version. Then, a suposedly "public domain" company calling themselves Legacy Entertainment released into first Canadian Walmarts - then US stores - the Sleepaway Camp trilogy in bare bones, crap cover art budget DVDs. While one would think that such a large chain (and others, recently) wouldn't touch bootlegs, think again. Titles like Sleepaway Camp are so relatively obscure in the mainstream eye, that no one would really bother looking into the legality of things. But anyway, these bootlegs were simply digital rips of older video editions - therefore the happy accident was that the original Sleepaway Camp was now uncut on DVD. Fans purchased these in droves, but rarely realized that the VHS source, though largely uncut, was the 80's full frame Video Treasures EP-tape in all its washed out glory. I say largely uncut because, you may remember, that version was missing Hiltzik's mother dedication and the American Eagle logo. Everyone seems to be happy with it, plus it's a nice cheap way to introduce someone to the saga, so I won't complain further, except to say if you are interested in the getting Sleepaway Camp in uncut form plus looking its best, the bootleg DVD doesn't hold a candle to the image quality of the original Media Home Video which was a crisp, clean direct transfer of the original print.

In mid-2006, Monsters HD, a channel devoted to showing genre movies in their uncut versions (at least as far as their originally released versions go) broadcast Sleepaway Camp in glorious high-definition - which would seemingly indicate they worked from an original source. Monsters HD had even stated to us that they did not use Anchor Bay's source. This HD version soon began showing up licensed to several other channels, usually boasting its uncut status. The truth however, is in the middle - it was the original butchered AB print with the uncut scenes re-edited back in with the grace of a screwdriver, resulting in out of synch audio jumps during the scenes. I think it's safe to say whatever messed up print AB originally used has been a plague on Sleepaway Camp ever since in all its post-2000 releases and broadcasts. Meanwhile, Robert's original uncut print sits unused, aging and degrading as the years take their toll. Our concept coverart exists below of what may never be. Please sign and spread this Petition to at least make your voice known - who knows, with perhaps enough numbers...?

Sign The Sleepaway Camp UNCUT DVD Petition



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