I’d like to say that my very first viewing of Sleepaway Camp was intentional. I’d like to say that it was carefully chosen based on intuitive forethought. But I can’t. I might have caught some oblique mentions or Ed French’s grisly FX images in the pages of Fangoria magazine, but that would be the extent. The year was a dewy 1984 and I was a horror-loving kid. It was the other camp slasher Madman which I was making a dedicated trip to the video store for. The small Australian town I grew up in had few video stores back then even in the booming video age. For a decent range, we would drive to a store about ten minutes away, but just over the state border. I headed straight for the new releases wall, but the sole copy of Madman was out to another member that day. I had to substitute its place with something else.
I remember wandering down a single carpeted step to the other side of the store, the less-prestigious “recent releases” section. It was the layout of the title on Sleepaway Camp from K-Tel that caught my eye. Those long wave-like drips of blood seemed scary and hypnotic. And the corpse close-up on the cover? I hadn’t known any distributor to have had the balls to do something like that up to that point in this country. It wasn’t painted, it was photographic. It wasn’t just realistic, the boy’s eyes were wide open. He had seen something terrible and suffered the indignity of death in algae infested waters for it. I felt all that, not in my head, but in my stomach.
After deciding to rent Sleepaway Camp based on the front cover alone, only a cursory glance at the back cover was given. In retrospect, it was oddly expansive on the actual film plot:
Her family – killed in a horrifying boat accident in which she was the only survivor.
Her only living relatives – a bizarre and quite strange Aunt, and a cousin Rick.
Poor Angela, all alone – the only choice she has is to live with her Aunt.
Angela withdraws into a world of her own, until mysteriously her Aunt decides to send her and Rick to Sleepaway Camp for their summer vacation – a camp noted for its fun times.
However, the seemingly innocent holiday camp turns into a nightmare of savage killings and horrific mutilations.
So in it went to the VCR at home. Movie played. Movie finished. I have no solid memories or elaboration on the actual viewing experience because I honestly never remembered it as anything special. Except the ending – though even there, my reaction wasn’t anything approaching awe. I thought it was creepy, I thought it was left-field, but mostly I thought Angela standing in the final scene looked like a caveman. For many years thereafter, Sleepaway Camp became the “caveman-girl movie”. I never had any interest in rewatching it. This was not a stance of any kind but simply indifference. Alot of horror videos came through my line of sight that youthful decade, and it was films like Deadtime Stories, Children Of The Corn, Vamp that yielded my steel. But unknowingly, it planted a seed in my mind that wouldn’t trigger until I saw the film again almost 15 years later. And when it did, that personal revelation would change everything.
As it turns out, apart from the few solid memories I had of the actual film I had imagined a few exaggerated versions of scenes and shots that never existed. I remember exactly what happened in this fantasy version of the film:
1) Opening Scene
The lakeside dock is much higher – coming off a wall that leads quite a way down into the water. The father and two young kids were playing in the water here so the tykes could hold onto the wooden posts if they needed stability. Here comes the speedboat. I think the driver fell asleep. The speedboat slams through him dead on and into the dock posts, breaking the one behind him. One of the kids is no longer visible. Dad’s corpse then floats up to the surface in a close-up, face smashed and pupils like pinpoints, staring their dead gaze at the camera.
2) Artie Pantry Scene
Artie and Angela aren’t interrupted by anyone. He’s allowed to continue. He picks her up and sits her on the ledge behind him so their genital areas are more aligned. He begins to unzip both himself… and Angela. His back is to the camera, obscuring Angela’s waist area from view. When he opens her jeans, we cut to a close-up of his face in extreme shock reaction of what he sees. We never see it, but we know whatever it is he sees is bad enough for him to slowly backpeddle away from her (medium upper body shot) with the fear of god evident in his frozen half-screams. Cut to Artie found dead in the kitchen, dead and horribly burnt, curled up in the giant vat of boiling water which must have overflowed when he was dumped in – the floor is stained wet, steaming as the authorities step through it.
3) Judy Death Scene
I remember Judy and Mike actually having sex. Every detail, so vivid even now. Her skinny little bed, which was not in a corner but in a row of many. The grimey darkness of the room punctuated only by a wash of heavily diluted moonlight through the curtained windows. Him hard-grinding her roboticly. She likes it but is sneering, because she’s Judy. Their sweat coating their skin in an oily sheen, so that the white sheet clings to them. A vein runs hard down her neck, her muscles tensing with each additional thrust, ending when he finishes into her with an animalistic grunt, before immediately getting off her, pulling on some jeans and is out the door with not one word. But she’s not disappointed, because she’s Judy. She lies back down on the bed when we discover the killer has been in the room, standing in the darkness all along. We see the POV of the approaching killer. He or she has a powered-up soldering iron which is then thrust straight through the sheet into her befouled snatch. The sheet stains red over her crotch. She can only gurgle as the solder goes back and forth exactly the same speed and motion her previous engagement did.
4) Final Scene
In the ending, I remember a campfire on the beach. Angela sitting by it. It was the campfire that beckoned the counselors in the stark night, not her humming. She is silent, rocking back and forth by the campfire. She is stroking Paul’s decapitated head. She does not let go of it, only slowly turns her neck and tilts, looking up at the counselors (and into camera) with a silent, piercing stare. The light of the flames flicker across her face (hold on that shot), then a howl of wind gets louder until it blows out the fire, fading the screen to pitch black. Roll credits slideshow style, no music.
It’s funny how the mind works. Why would I remember these completely different scenes and why can I recall the finest detail about them? They’re not from some holy grail director’s cut. Then it hit me. After viewing it at a young age, I must have thought long and hard afterwards. Come up with a plethora of theories and would-haves and should haves. Inspired by the film I elaborated on the plot in much the same way whoever wrote the back of the video box did. Because that’s the thing about Sleepaway Camp. The film itself did not etch itself into my memory, but the implications, and possibilities of Robert Hiltzik’s story sat in my subconcious all that time, percolating like a fine cup of coffee.