Camp Slashers: A Retrospective

From John Klyza, webmaster of SleepawayCampFilms.com (circa 2002)

The Sleepaway films be viewed as the ultimate excursion into summer camp terror. Why not just plain camp slashers? Well, the early Friday the 13ths relied on teen counselors and weekend vacationists to lace carnage upon. A summer camp slasher puts the blade where it belongs, in the body parts of boy and girl campers. You get a helping of sunshine, forest, pranks and gore. There were actually little other camp slashers besides, before and after.

The Burning kept a balance between kids and their counselors, withholding the bulk of its slaying until the second act, after the campers have had time to goof about and experience alienation and sexual pressure. The backstory is secondary... a careless prank on Cropsy the caretaker results in deforming burns. So he returns years later to chop up happy children that must represent his attackers (or more likely, death=$$$). In the finale, we learn that one of the counselors was one of the boys who perpetrated the original prank. He comes to the aid of a withdrawn boy taken hostage by the maniac and saves the day, closing the circle he opened and uniting the two generations.

Another film shooting at the same time and near the same location, Madman was also based on the real-life Cropsy legend but the filmmakers quickly changed their story to that of Madman Marz, a massive man who one night slaughtered his family then went for a refreshing beer, only to be hung and slashed for his crimes... in the morning his body was gone. Years later (as it goes) on a campground, kids and counselors tell a campfire version of the tale. Inevitable lampooning of Marz on a boy's part result in the killer's appearance. Through the night, each who cross woody paths meet their red fates. The film focuses on the adults more but retains young campers in peril.

Post-Sleepaway Camp but pre-Unhappy Campers came Cheerleader Camp which comes awfully close to pre-dating the sequels' campy dark humor but really attains its own more by accident rather than design. Non-blonde cheerleader Alison Wentworth has frequent nightmares of pompoms with a razor slashing life of their own. Her trip to a camp for training of high school cheer quads is shared by the usual misfits: the frustrated overly hormonal boyfriend, the undervalued best friend, the fat comedy relief, the buxom sexpot, and a rogues gallery of quirky suspects. As is expected, mystery murders and sassy sex lace the running time, but it's all there: woods, women, jokes and stabbings.

Since then, the woods have not been alive with the sound of slaughter. Sure, you could expand the camp slasher tag to include those who "camp", in which case you could feast your eyes on such lovelies as Just Before Dawn, Mothers Day, The Final Terror, and recent attempted millenium camp slasher franchises as Bloody Murder and Camp Blood. But one can be forgiven for wanting back those sylvan slaughters ripe with the smell of pine, cabins of gore, and teenagers, frolicking carelessly.