‘Camp’ is Back in Session: ‘Sleepaway Camp’ Star, Trilogy Come to New York

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A young Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) in Sleepaway Camp

Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. Freddy Krueger. Angela Baker. Yes, Angela Baker. While some people might scoff at the idea of including her (him?) in the same breath with the horror icons of Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, respectively, don’t tell that to those who were in attendance at the Sleepaway Camp Trilogy at the popular Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, N.Y. on July 28.

The event was organized by Retro Picture Show, a Long Island, N.Y.-based movie revival company known primarily for its screenings of classic genre pictures on 35mm film. Established in 2016 by Michael Ciani, the frequent collaborations between Retro Picture Show and Cinema Arts Centre have proven to be a major success.

Sleepaway Camp tells the story of a shy, young girl who is sent to a summer camp where unusual murders start to occur soon after her and her cousin’s arrival. Released in 1983, a tad before the mid-to-late 80s slasher boom, the low budget flick failed to make much impact at the time. Now, however, it’s considered to be a true cult classic, primarily due to its shocking climax, an ending that is still talked about and analyzed by fright film fans to this day, 34 years later.

But a one-trick pony Sleepaway Camp is not. Even taking the ending out of the equation, it still boasts an imaginative plot—quite a rare trait of horror movies in that era—unique death sequences, and a memorable performance by Felissa Rose, the then-unknown child actress who first brought the Angela character to life.

While the horror genre is frequently represented at Cinema Arts, with upcoming Retro Picture Show screenings of a mix of both well-known and less popular films like Pet Sematary, Halloween 6, Night of the Creeps, and I Drink Your Blood, what made this event so special was the guest appearance of Rose, along with Sleepaway Camp writer and director Robert Hiltzik.

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Felissa Rose, today

The line to meet Rose before the movie snaked from the front of the theater, where she was seated, all the way past the entrance, into the lobby. In fact, the interest was so great that it had to be moved into another room so that the screening’s start time wasn’t delayed even longer.

The film’s fanatics waited patiently to meet the horror icon, holding memorabilia such as posters, DVD inserts, and even original VHS tape boxes. And no Angela meet-and-greet would be complete without a photo opportunity, and she was more than willing to pose mimicking her infamous expression from the film’s final scene.

The two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, rounded out the (very late) night. While not as fondly remembered as the original, both certainly have their supporters, evidenced by the still-crowded theater. Released back to back in 1988 and 1989 and directed by Michael A. Simpson, the pair had more of a comic tone to them and also mirrored other slashers of the time period with their gratuitous violence, excessive gore and ample sex and nudity.

But the most blatant deviation from the first film was the recasting of Angela. Pamela Springsteen, the younger sister of a certain New Jersey-based musician, took over the lead role, playing Angela as an adult. Her satirical portrayal stood out as completely different than Rose’s, yet it was near perfect in the context of the less serious sequels.

Other interesting tidbits about the series: In the original, James Earl Jones’ father, Robert, played a cook; it was also the last role of Tony-nominated actor Mike Kellin before his death; many of the characters in SC2 were named after popular young actors of the era, specifically the Brat Pack, such as Molly (Molly Ringwald), Sean (Sean Penn), TC (Tom Cruise), and Emilio (Emilio Estevez); Estevez’ sister, Renee, also had a lead role; SC3 included character names from The Brady Bunch, The Munsters, and West Side Story; and the film’s subtitle Teenage Wasteland, is an homage to the Who’s  “Baba O’Riley,” one of Simpson’s favorite songs.

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The classic: Sleepaway Camp

While it was the trilogy that was represented at this event, it should be noted that Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor was partially filmed in the early 90s before being scrapped and the resulting footage was eventually released as part of a box set collection. And 2008’s Return to Sleepaway Camp saw original director Hiltzik back at the helm. The less said about both of these, the better, and they’re recommended for only those die-hard fans who wish to see the series to completion…for now, anyway, as it’s been rumored for years that a reboot is in the works. And that’s okay because horror fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Upcoming horror events at Cinema Arts Centre, include The Crazies – George Romero Tribute (Aug. 11), Jaws (Aug. 12), Pay-To-Get-Out Horror Marathon (Retro Picture Show, Aug. 26) and They Came from the Sky Double Feature of Critters and Night of the Creeps (Retro Picture Show, Sept. 8).