Lady Parts: A Brief Guide to the Sleepaway Camp Franchise

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The blog is a little late today, because in my first draft (which would have been on time) I made the mistake of trying to review the Sleepaway Camp franchise with a focus on the first film. That’s a fool’s errand for several reasons:

A) It has been reviewed with more skill and humor elsewhere (How Did This Get Made? and others).

B) Subjecting Sleepaway Camp to an academic consideration of the cultural perception of trans* people is like dissecting an overcooked macaroni noodle. It gives far too much credit to this terrible film that is less a product of deep-seated cultural attitudes than the singular bizarre vision of the director. Transphobia in film is totally a thing, but Sleepaway Camp is unworthy of being dissected as an example of it.

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C) The film’s cock-driven twist ending (spoilers, I guess, sorry) is so distracting it pulls any review of the movie in like the dick has a gravitational field. My last attempt at reviewing the movie ended with the profound (?!?!?) statement: “I bet Justin Bieber or One Direction or even Twilight would have a fraction of their fans if there were a cinematic avenue for tweens to sate their frustrating cock lust. Down with Justin Bieber! Up with (horror movie) dick!”

[The thing my boyfriend took away from this was that Justin Bieber was kind of a dated reference. But I’m really quite hip to what the tweens are SnapCatting on their mobiles.]

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So… yeah, I’m rewriting this. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I’m just going to focus on the Sleepaway Camp movies I actually like: Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland. Sleepaway Camp 4 was apparently just shot as porn and then retroactively given the Sleepaway Camp title. Sleepaway Camp 5 is by the same director as the first film and is unavailable to stream on YouTube, two great reasons not to bother with it.

Included below are my collective five favorite moments from both films. Wanna know the plot? Angela once had a penis, but now doesn’t, but it doesn’t really come up ever (even though it motivated her to kill in the first film), and now she’s the most enthusiastic camp counselor ever who deals with unenthusiastic/slutty/profane campers by murdering them. That’s not even a spoiler because you know who the killer is from the beginning. My favorite thing about these movies is the utter lack of suspense. You never ask who is going to kill who when. The answers are Angela and everyone and right now, duh. Props to Pamela Springsteen for her portrayal of one of my all-time favorite horror villains.

5. In Sleepaway Camp 3, Angela kills basically the entire population of the camp, but because she does it one at a time, no one really notices.

I don’t think you understand. Like, half the camp has disappeared and the main counselor is, like, “Hey,  that’s weird, I haven’t seen half the campers for a while. What’s happening with all the kids?” and Angela says, “Oh, yeah, they were bad so I sent them home,” and he’s like, “Angela!” *sitcom-y finger wag* But then eventually she kills him, too.

4. “It’s a drill!”

Springsteen’s delivery is amazing. The snotty camper is all, *eyeroll* “What are you looking for, a gun?” and then Angela just power drills a hole in her dumb chest.

3. The recurring use of the “I’m a Happy Camper” song

Haunting. I want a techno remix, please. Someone fetch me Skrillex.

2. The worst way to die of all the worst possible ways to die:

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Yes, drowning in an old outhouse toilet full of leeches is at least in my top 5 fears, although it probably ranks behind going to a party attended by all of my ex-boyfriends.

1. 30 year old campers and 9 year old campers

In the proud tradition of the first Sleepaway Camp film, these movies feature teens played by grown ass adults, but also actual teen actors, who look like babies compared to their costars. And they flirt with each other in between murders. It’s all very off-putting and yet hilarious, like the Sleepaway Camp franchise as a whole.

Happy Halloween, y’all. Take a moment while you’re creeping and spooking to pour one out for Sleepaway Camp, will you?

Killer Queens: Favorite Women of Cult Horror

Note: The following contains a somewhat graphic discussion of horror films and events therein, which may be upsetting to some readers in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy. 

 
This is not a list of horror’s greatest Virtuous Lady Survivors, or Final Girls, a much-parsed trope you can read about on several other blogs. Nor is it a list of Sexually Liberated Friends (AKA The Slutty Blonde Ones), although an exploration of this horror trope is overdue. I just wanted to list some of the most memorable performances of my lengthy horror adventure. [Spoilers abound, including for “You’re Next”, which is still in theaters]

4. Wahrwilfs and Wall Beans
“Werewolf” (1996) – Natalie Burke, played by Adrianna Miles

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As Natalie Burke, Adrianna Miles slurs and blankly stares her way through an already-ridiculous plot, heightening the film to schlocky horror high art, on the level of Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”. I mean, she pronounces “werewolf” “wahrwilf,” you guys. THE MOVIE’S TITLE IS “WEREWOLF.” Miles’ performance is the most hilariously terrible thing I have ever seen. You should be impressed, because I was a theatre minor in college and took an introductory acting class with virtually half of the football team’s defensive line (note: screaming all of your dialogue ≠ A+ acting). In a genre full of stilted, terrible performances, Miles’ has stayed with me the longest. It’s so memorable due in part to her line readings, which lie at a convergence of a thick accent, no acting experience and an apparent inability to understand the words she’s saying.

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Her line, “I’m worried about your well-being!” pronounced by Miles as, “I’m vurried bout your wall bean!” is something my boyfriend and I still say to each other all the time. “Werewolf” is a fairly popular MST3K episode, and Miles, thanks to her “I have no idea where I am!” performance, is an MST3K fan favorite.

3. Dead Mom Sex and a Perfectly Executed Smoky Eye

“You’re Next” (2013) – Zee, played by Wendy Glenn

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“You’re Next” is one of my favorite recent horror films, offering both genuine laughs and innovative kills (blenders as you’ve never seen them before!). Also: I would include the movie’s lead, the gritty and irrepressible Erin, in the Virtuous Lady Survivors list. But when Wendy Glenn’s smoky-eyed Zee first appeared on screen, I leaned over to my boyfriend in the movie theater and whispered, “Zee is awesome!” My first impression of her was pretty spot on. And, yes, I regarded her favorably in part because she’s all hot and Suicide Girl-y, but also because female horror villains are fairly common, but rarely do they seem as bored as Zee does in this movie. When introduced to her boyfriend’s family, she reacts like your average, hard-to-impress hipster stereotype (she seems modeled after Jane from “Daria” in that respect), but she remains hilariously disinterested even when people start dying really grisly deaths.

Horror Movie Trope: Exposed Bra Straps = Evil

My favorite moment is when she tries to get her murderous boyfriend to have sex with her next to his mother’s corpse, and, when he declines (huge duh, Zee), she reacts like he just said he’s scared to try a new restaurant. I wish Super Evil, Bored, Hot Bitch Lady was more of thing. Hey, Horror: make this more of a thing.

2. World’s Best Vampire Queen and also Best Giver of Finger
“Vamp” (1986) – Katrina, played by Grace Jones

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From last week’s review of “Vamp”: “Her character is supposed to be the vampire version of Cleopatra, which is pretty spot on, because Jones radiates the glamour and confidence that makes it really plausible she’s one of history’s most iconic women. And the character is fucking boss. Men crumble at her feet or are literally devoured by her. Oh, also [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE]: when she’s killed by the light of day (boo!), the ash shell of her corpse gives the protagonist the finger. Bless you, Grace Jones, you glorious bad ass.”

1. Sing along. Or else.
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers” (1988) and “Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland” (1989) – Angela, played by Pamela Springsteen (Bruce Springsteen’s sister? Yes, Bruce Springsteen’s sister.)

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Angela is a deeply problematic character, primarily because of the crazy transphobia stuff going on in the first “Sleepaway Camp.” Not to spoil it, but Angela’s (she’s the killer, btw) primary motivation is that she unwillingly underwent gender reassignment after being adopted by her weird aunt. The movie feeds into Silence of the Lambs-variety bullshit portraying trans people as dangerous and/or unhinged due to living outside of the gender binary. But Springsteen’s performance in the film’s two sequels is fucking boss and the trans origin myth of the first “Sleepaway Camp” barely if ever warrants a mention in these two sequels. Springsteen takes the role over from child actor Felissa Rose who presumably wanted to go to high school in peace instead of filming sequels to a movie in which she played a tweenager who decapitates her love interest before showing the world her prosthetic penis.

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She’s super going to decapitate that guy later. And then go to college and never tell anyone about her child acting career.

Anyway, Springsteen plays a murderous camp counselor who punishes her campers for being “bad,” i.e. not conforming to a puritan idea of sexual propriety. What’s so enjoyable is how little suspense there is to these two movies. You know in the first five minutes of “Sleepaway Camp II” that perky Angela is the killer doing away with all the naughty campers. Really, these films just consist of watching Angela kill the shit out of people who: insult her, have sex, refuse to sing camp songs or just generally don’t have a happy camper attitude. This is amazing and enjoyable and Angela will probably remind you of a too-perky RA or camp counselor you had once.

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Honorable Mentions:

Sleepaway Camp: Angela’s Aunt

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Ernest Scared Stupid: Eartha Kitt as Old Lady Hackmore

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So, later this week you can expect a review of The Stuff (1985), a biting satire and/or sloppy horror movie about low-fat yogurt bent on world domination.

Squeamish to Screamish: the Horror Virgin Origin Story

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The thing about horror movies is that I didn’t watch them. Until this summer, the only scary movies I had seen were experienced in snippets: slices of movie viewed through the gaps between my fingers, a blur in my peripheral vision as I left the movie theater, and the stomach-churning sound effects which continued to reach me even as I buried my face in a couch cushion… that is, with one notable exception.

My family got a premium cable subscription when I was in my tweens–an ill-timed upgrade that gave an intensely sexually curious twelve-year-old access to the boobalicious world of late night cable. This was a couple of years before every savvy tween was streaming hardcore cake-sitting porn on their phones. So, I ravenously searched the cable guide for any and every upcoming movie promising nudity or sensuality. You know what film genre composes a surprisingly large portion of those hot R-rated treats I so desired? Yes, reader, it’s horror. Good job. You must have followed context clues. Also potentially titles of things.

So, you also understand, from the aforementioned horror movie aversion, that this presented my tween self with a dilemma.

“Watch the movie! Indulge your weird downstairs feelings!” said my hormones. “No, but… tension and inevitable gore. Alone. In your basement,” said my brain and also every fiber of my being that wasn’t my genitalia. “But potential male nudity!” I would counter (I always held out hope for some male nudity. Oh, those wasted hours of waiting for naked dudes who would never arrive!).

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My lady bits won, and so I would sit in an armchair in my basement with a blanket over my face waiting for the sex scenes to look at the screen. The first major obstacle was that people being gruesomely murdered in horror movies make the same sounds as people engaging in super-fun carnal activities in horror movies. With a blanket over my face, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference, so I would pop my head out, hopeful that I was hearing a really vocal sex scene only to watch a girl get her guts torn out with a fishhook.

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[Note: So, a quick thing about this whole female moans of pleasure and grisly death thing: if this were an essay for one of my gender studies classes, I would really delve into the problematic characterization of women as whores and victims in these films, noting how the female body is the object upon which the twin male fantasies of the sexual and the violent are enacted. This is, however, my first blog and I will save academic considerations of terrible horror films for later posts. Don’t you worry, readers, I will totally use the words “marginalized” and “dichotomy” a lot.]

Anyway, I ended up “watching” a lot of horror movies this way (under a blanket) for a couple of years, but went back to avoiding them completely when I was old enough to sate my prodigious horniness in less gory ways.

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Basically this.

Then, this summer, my boyfriend and I watched Vamp, a cult classic vampire stripper movie from the 80s starring Grace Jones (the picture at the top is Jones doing her thing in Vamp), and I began to become addicted to the movies that I had once only dared watch under the safety of an old blanket.

So, I will be recreating my cinematic journey here in the form of reviews of individual horror-ish movies in the order I watched them and discovered my love of the genre.

Expect the following reviews to come:

Vamp

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The Stuff (not really a horror movie, but it’s part of the journey and is also amazingly awful)

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Hellraiser

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Class of Nuke-Em High

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The Best of MST3K Horror Episodes (Including Manos: The Hands of Fate and Werewolf)

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The Evil Dead

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The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness (Army of Darkness isn’t really horror, but I can’t just review the first two and exclude the third)

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Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp Sequels (2-4)

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Return of the Killer Tomatoes (Again, not horror, but a dude fucks a tomato, so I’d be remiss to exclude it)

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