Tag Archives: Sleepaway Camp

Fright Club: Mean Girls & Bullies in Horror

Horror is about power versus vulnerability. That’s why bullies and mean girls fit so well into the genre. You always hope the vulnerable will overcome. In this genre, there’s always the real worry that evil will overcome. But somehow, bullies and mean girls never stand a chance.

There are so many great ways to spend time with these high school baddies, but here are our five favorites:

5. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Meg (Katherine Kamhi) was no picnic, but side-ponytail Judy (Karen Fields) is an all-timer when it comes to onscreen bullies. She hates everyone, is mean to everyone, but she really detests poor Angela (Felissa Rose).

“She’s a carpenter’s dream! She’s flat as a board and needs a screw!”

Like all mean girls in horror, Judy gets what’s coming to her. Still, you have to respect that ponytail.

4. It (2017)

Man, the kids of Derry have it rough long before the circus comes to Derry. Between Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his powerful mullet and the girls dumping wet garbage on Beverly, nobody’s safe. The Losers Club really brings them out of the woodwork.

In fact, they save Mike Hanlon’s life, which bonds the group through the real clown show. Maybe this is what made each of these kids tough enough to withstand he real clown show.

3. Let the Right One In (2008)

Sure, we know Conny learned to be a bully from his older brother, Martin. Maybe Martin learned it from his dad or something. But Oskar’s had just about enough of it.

Unfortunately, Oskar’s not as good at defending himself as he’d like to think he is once big brother shows up. Not that he really needs to defend himself anymore. In one of the greatest bully comeuppance sequences in all horror, Eli shows Oskar what friends are for.

2. Piggy (2020)

Carlota Pereda complicates the mean girl trope in this brutal, moving, amazing Spanish horror film. Sarah is targeted by town mean girl Maca (Clauda Salas). Roci (Camille Aguilar) is almost as bad, but it’s Claudia (Irene Ferreiro) who really breaks Sarah’s heart. It wasn’t long ago, they were friends. Now Claudia is willing to taunt, humiliate, and in one instance, nearly drown “Piggy”.

Maybe that’s why Sarah does what she does when the three girls are taken. That is to say, maybe that’s why Sarah doesn’t do what she doesn’t do.

1. Carrie (1976)

What else? Is there a more tragic scene? Is there a scene that better establishes a character, a context, or horror?

De Palma films the scene in question, appropriately enough, like a tampon commercial, all cheesecloth and beautific music. And then Carrie White (Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek) desperately claws at her classmates, believing she is dying. It’s the most authentic image of vulnerability and terror you can imagine, matched in its horror by the reaction she receives from those she seeks: laughter, mockery and contempt.

The result is the ultimate in mean girl cinema and an introduction to a nearly perfect horror film.

Fright Club: Side Characters, Part 1

This episode is years in the making. We’ve talked about doing this, jotted down ideas and characters, debated — and now it’s finally here. Well, half of it, anyway. There’s just no way to reasonably fit the best side characters—those fully deserving a film of their own—in just one podcast. So here is our list, in alphabetical order (no need to rank them!). This one’s for the ladies.

Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould), Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Smartly dressed, thoughtful, loving, misguided, and as if a creature from an entirely different film. She made a decision and, sure, Angela probably should have been a part of that decision-making process. But it wasn’t Aunt Martha’s fault that Paul was a no-good cheater. Or that Judy was such an asshole. I mean, yes, that surprise at the end was due in large part to Aunt Martha, but as for the campers—they had it coming.

Mademoiselle (Catherine Begin), Martyrs (2008)

What a presence. Commanding, calm, wizened and weary, Catherine Begin’s Madamoiselle has such resigned decisiveness that it’s almost impossible to argue with her. She turns something that could have easily become torture porn into a mesmerizing glimpse at zealotry.

Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon) Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Ruth Gordon earned an Oscar as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse’s busybody neighbor Minnie Castavet, wife of Roman and nonplussed chief operations officer of the coven. Yes, Roman made a good figurehead, but somebody has to just keep things moving. And as long as she ate the mouse, everything’s fine.

Mother (Fons Rademakers), Daughters of Darkness (1971)

One of the many glorious things about Harry Kumel’s decadent 1971 vampire fable is the way it feels like two or three different films colliding into one elegant bloodletting. Mother casts a looming shadow over one of those storylines, that of a young, beautiful couple recently married, Stefan and Valerie. Even before they’re ensnared in Countess Bathory’s love web, Stefan (an irredeemable asshole if ever there was one) needs to figure out how to break the news of his nuptials to Mother.

Whenever a new character makes you simply need to hear an entirely other story, one focused on whatever they’re not telling you about that character, you know you have a winner. The way Fons Rademakers pets his butler’s head, holds court in the greenhouse, and wields unspecified but somehow sinister power over Stefan begs for its own movie.

Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), The Omen (1976)

From the moment she takes the screen, Mrs. Baylock is the new sheriff in town. She quietly yet immediately takes control of the Thorn household. If you didn’t know who was alpha, you only need to see who the dog listens to. Yep, Richard Thorn is in trouble. To say nothing of his poor, useless wife Catherine.

Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein), Poltergeist (1982)

Walks in the house, owns the place. Tangina is a force of nature with a soft little lilt and a no-nonsense approach to cleaning the Freeling house. Her confidence gives the character more than a huckster vibe, although there is a sense of showmanship to everything she does. But when she is addressing the living, it’s best not to give trick answers.

Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek), Pet Sematary (1989)

Scary as hell. Sure, the cat, little Gage, that guy with the brain on the outside of his skull—all of it has its horror charm. But the real nightmare in Mary Lamber’s adaptation of the Stephen King tale is Rachel Creed’s guilty memory of the sister who terrified and horrified her, the sister she believes died—at least in part—due to her own negligence and hatred. Thanks to the angular, monstrous vision of Andrew Hubastek in a nightdress, all contorting ribcage and spine, Zelda became easily the scariest thing in the film.

Fright Club: Twist Endings in Horror

No genre has more invested in the twist ending – in being able to pull the rug out from under you at the last possible second – than horror. The best are the films that truly sneak up on you, making you re-examine everything that preceded the surprise.

Andy Ussery of Black Cat’s Shadow podcast joins us and he has an entirely different list of movies – that’s how many there are! Kind of makes you want to listen to the podcast HERE, doesn’t it?

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Is it a brilliant movie? Will George be happy it made the list? That’s a lot of no right there, but honestly, how do we not acknowledge this stroke of genius?

Poor Angela (Felissa Rose)! She witnesses the death of her beloved father and, while still apparently quite traumatized, is asked to just go along with weird Aunt Martha’s (Desiree Gould—amazing!) whim.

Well, it doesn’t work out well for Angela or any of the staff or youngsters at Camp Arawak. But the damage you can do with a curling iron is hardly our concern today. No, it’s that final shot. The money shot. That face! That hairy chest! That wang!!

Angel Heart (1987)

Alan Parker directed Pink Floyd: The Wall. That has literally nothing to do with this list, but still.

In Angel Heart, Parker develops a steamy, lurid atmosphere as we follow private dick Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke) through the bowels of New Orleans in search of information on crooner Johnny Favorite.

Rourke’s performance is key to the film’s unseemly feel. A sinner – never a traditional hero – still, Angel’s sympathetic and full of a disheveled charm. You’re sorry for him even as you know he’s outmatched and probably undeserving of your pity. He knows it, too, and that’s what makes the performance so strong.

That, and the sheer diabolical presence of an unsettlingly understated Robert DeNiro. That hard boiled egg thing! Love!!

Bloodshed on the bayou – languid and unseemly.

Frailty (2001)

In 2001, actor Bill “We’re toast! Game over!” Paxton took a stab at directing the quietly disturbing supernatural thriller Frailty.

Paxton stars as a widowed dad awakened one night by an angel – or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever – he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Whatever its flaws – too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe – Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes nostalgic familiarity, and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

The Others (2001)

Co-writer/director Alejandro Amenabar casts a spell that recalls The Innocents in his 2001 ghost story The Others. It’s 1945 on a small isle off Britain, and the brittle mistress of the house (Nicole Kidman) wakes screaming. She has reason to be weary. Her husband has still not returned from the war, her servants have up and vanished, and her two children, Anna and Nicholas, have a deathly photosensitivity: sunlight or bright light could kill them.

What unspools is a beautifully constructed film using slow reveal techniques to upend traditional ghost story tropes, unveiling the mystery in a unique and moving way.

Kidman’s performance is spot-on, and she’s aided by both the youngsters (Alakina Mann and James Bentley). Bentley’s tenderness and Mann’s willfulness, combined with their pasty luster (no sun, you know), heighten the creepiness.

With the help of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and supporting actress Fionnula Flanagan, Amenabar introduces seemingly sinister elements bit by bit. It all amounts to a satisfying twist on the old ghost story tale that leaves you feeling as much a cowdy custard as little Nicholas.


The Sixth Sense (1999)

h, you totally didn’t figure it out. Don’t even start.

A troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) treats a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) carrying a terrible burden. The execution—basically, seeing ghosts in every corner of Philadelphia—could have become a bit of a joke, but writer/director M. Night Shyamalan delivers a tense, eerie product.

With his 1999 breakout, Shyamalan painted himself into a corner he found it tough to get out of: the spooky surprise ending. And though this would nearly be his undoing as a filmmaker, it started off brilliantly.

Part of the success of the film depends on the heart-wrenching performances: Toni Collette’s buoyant but terrified mother, Willis’s concerned therapist, and Osment’s tortured little boy. Between Shyamalan’s cleverly spooky script, a slate of strong performances and more than a few genuinely terrifying moments, this is one scary-ass PG-13.

Fright Club: So Bad it’s …. Good?

Here’s an unusual list, not because it’s out of the ordinary to ironically appreciate bad horror movies, but because Madd and Wolf disagree so vehemently about a) the movies on this list, and b) the entertainment value in bad movies. So just know that, though there are bones of contention aplenty, we’re still happy with the final six. How about you?

6. House (Hausu) (1977)

If Takashi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris were to marry Pee-wee’s Playhouse, this would be their offspring.

A spoof of sorts, Hausu tells the story of six uniform-clad high school girls named Gorgeous, Fantasy, Sweet, Melody, Kung Fu, and Mac. The nomenclature alone should clue you in on the film’s lunacy. The giggling sextet spend spring break at an aunt’s spooky house – or, in fact, a cheaply made set of an aunt’s spooky house. Not a single thing that follows makes sense, nor is it really meant to.

Expect puppets, random musical sequences, remarkably bad backdrops, slapstick humor, and an amazingly sunny disposition given the sheer volume of human dismemberment. The trippy nonsense wears a bit thin eventually. Luckily director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film clocks in at under 90 minutes, so the screen goes dark before the novelty wears off.

Score: Hope does not consider this a bad movie in any respect. George considers it so bad it’s just bad.

5. Motel Hell (1980)

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters, so swingers looking for a cheap motel in which to swing – be warned! Fifties heartthrob Rory Calhoun plays Farmer Vincent, who, along with his sister Ida (a super creepy Nancy Parsons) rid the world of human filth while serving the righteous some tasty viddles. Just don’t look under those wiggling, gurgling sacks out behind the butcherin’ barn!

Motel Hell is a deeply disturbed, inspired little low budget jewel. A dark comedy, the film nonetheless offers some unsettling images, not to mention sounds. Sure, less admiring eyes may see only that super-cheese director Kevin Connor teamed up with Parsons and Calhoun – as well as Elaine Joyce and John Ratzenberger – for a quick buck. But in reality, they teamed up to create one of the best bad horror films ever made.

So gloriously bad!

Score: Hope and George agree completely on the absolutely entertaining badness afoot in this one.

4. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher.

It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.

It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.

Score: Once again, George and Hope are in total agreement. This one’s a keeper.

3. Squirm (1976)

Writer/director Jeff Lieberman drops us off in rural Georgia, where small town hottie Geri (unrepentant ginger Patricia Pearcy) receives a visit from big city pal and possible boyfriend Mick (Don Scardino). Natch, the down home folk don’t take kindly to this city slicker – especially Roger, a menacing rube who wants Geri for his own.

So, the low budget gem creates a little of that Deliverance dread, but the payoff is, of course, the worms brought out by the pantload via voltage from a downed power line.

Lieberman does a fantastic job with the worms. They are everywhere, they’re nasty, they make that gross gummy noise as they squirm around on top of each other, and they may not only eat you but bore right into your face to turn you into a monster. That’s what happens to poor, lovelorn Rog, and it is awesome!

The acting and writing entertain, if ironically, but the movie offers a few real freakout moments and it goes in unexpected directions more than once. It’s weird, start to finish, and that’s always welcome.

Score: George does not care for Squirm, ironically or otherwise. Hope’s still smiling with joy just thinking about this movie.

2. Slugs: The Movie (1988)

Mike Brady (Michael Garfield) must save himself, his town, and his lustrous waves from the menace of man-eating slugs– acting ability or no! And if Sherriff Reese and Mayor Eaton can’t get their heads out of their asses, then dammit, Mike Brady will take care of this himself!

Once it’s discovered that the entire population of mutant slugs is in a single area, Mike Brady makes the level-headed, finely coiffured decision to literally explode the entire town from beneath. Why not dose their hive with salt, you ask? What are you, a wuss?!

But that’s beside the point because Mike Brady has a town to save! He’s getting scant help from the Brit chem teacher who can’t even lift a manhole cover. Weak limey! Do Mike Brady and his hair have to do everything?

The epic saga finishes with a hearty embrace. Mike Brady squeezes his puffy-coat wearing wife, and we all ignore the untold damage he’s just done to the town he singlehandedly blew to pieces. People were killed, certainly. Perhaps an arrest was more in order than a hug. But Mike Brady doesn’t do arrested.

Score: George really hates this movie and considers it an almost criminal waste of his time. Slugs: The Movie fills hope with glee and she’d gladly watch it again right now.

1. The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972)

Oh my God.

This one has to be seen to be believed. It moves at a dreamlike pace, as chopper pilot/monk/playboy/cat lover Hugo (Hugo Stiglitz!) flies his helicopter menacingly close to sexy women lounging poolside, and they act like that’s not weird at all. He mouths flirtations toward them as their towels and lawn furniture blow hither and yon. Eventually they find this dangerous harassment charming enough to be wooed.

Oh, you trusting, slutty ladies.

But things don’t always go smoothly for the handsomely wooden Hugo – as flashbacks to Head in the Jar #2 attest. It’s a deeply weird movie full of cannibalism, bad parenting, questionable facial hair decisions, and a blatant disregard for the dangers of sun damage. Plus, a thousand cats.

I know. Bad movies are often just not worth it. This one is. I swear it.

Score: Even George has to admit that the awe-inspiring incompetence of this film begs for your viewing.

Listen to the whole conversation on the FRIGHT CLUB podcast.

Fright Club: Gay Themes in Horror

Senior Gay Correspondent Jon Theiss joins us this week to talk through our five favorite horror films with gay themes. To narrow down, first we threw out all films with girl-on-girl action intended to titillate a heterosexual male audience. We could dedicate an entire show to the female vampire and her ripe bosoms. We’re not going to, though.

What were we looking for? Films that – whether intentionally or not – seemed preoccupied with homosexual themes. In some cases, gay characters get to be actual characters and not just props for vilification or comedy. In others, teenage boys pretend to date Jami Gertz just to be closer to Kiefer Sutherland.

5. The Lost Boys (1987)

Out and proud Hollywood director Joel Schumacher spins a yarn of Santa Carla, a town with a perpetual coastal carnival and the nation’s highest murder rate. A roving band of cycle-riding vampires haunts the carnival and accounts for the carnage, until Diane Weist moves her family to town. While hottie Michael (Jason Patric) is being seduced into the demon brethren, younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) teams up with local goofballs the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to stake all bloodsuckers.

Sure, Schumacher finds sex appeal in the vampire tale – who doesn’t, though?

What’s interesting is that he finds sexuality that swings. This would certainly become somewhat standard fare in later works (the image of an evil, blond vampire seducing an introverted brunette innocent certainly informed the 1994 Tom Cruise v Brad Pitt bite-off Interview with a Vampire). But back in ‘87, The Lost Boys was sort of the Top Gun of vampire films. (Oh, like that movie wasn’t gay!)

Though it’s Michael and David (Kiefer Sutherland) who do the “will he or won’t he?” dance, it’s Corey Haim’s character that puts this over the top. The androgyny, the shoulder pads! Is that a Rob Lowe poster?


4. Night Warning (1982)

Here’s a weird one. And convoluted, too. Orphaned Billy (Jimmy McNichol) lives with his horny Aunt (Susan Tyrrell), plays basketball, and necks with his girlfriend Julia (Julia Duffy). Aunt Cheryl kills the TV repairman, claiming he was trying to rape her. When police realize the TV repairman was actually the longtime lover of Billy’s basketball coach, an evenhanded treatment of homophobia arises – surprising, given the time period. Not that it’s the point of the film, but it is the biggest surprise.

No one is really trying to unravel the murder mysteries piling up here. Aunt Cheryl is too busy trying to keep Billy to herself while small town cop Joe Carlson (go-to bigoted cop figure throughout the 70s and 80s, Bo Svenson) just wants to know whether or not Billy’s gay.

This is very definitely a low budget, early Eighties horror flick. Don’t get your hopes up. But it is such a peculiar movie. Everyone – the cop, the girlfriend, the aunt – seems to want to have sex with Billy, except his coach, who loses his job over the fear that he might want to. Longtime character actor Steve Eastin offers a commendably layered performance, given the film itself. His Coach Landers is the only genuinely decent adult in the entire movie, which really says a lot for the film.

Susan Tyrrell is fascinatingly unhinged and so, so creepy that you cannot look away, and if you’re up for one hot mess of a movie, this is an especially absorbing time waster.


3. Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher.

It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.

It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. Let’s take the honest to god awesome Aunt Martha – I have looked and looked, and I can find no evidence in real life that Desiree Gould is a drag queen. Aside from the obvious evidence of this particular film.

The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard for me to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.

2. May (2002)

How about a tale of a wallflower, the blossom of new love, and the efficient use of veterinary surgical equipment and a good-sized freezer? Few horror films are as touching, funny, heartbreaking or bloody as May.

As the title character, Angela Bettis inhabits this painfully gawky, socially awkward wallflower with utter perfection. Director Lucky McKee’s screenplay is as darkly funny as it is genuinely touching, and we’re given the opportunity to care about the characters: fragile May, laid back love interest Adam (a faultless Jeremy Sisto), hot and horny Polly (a wonderful Anna Faris).

By day Polly flirts with a confused but needy May during their workday as veterinary assistants, and by night May pines for her tragically hip and beloved Adam. May just really wants somebody who will love her.

McKee’s film pulls no punches, mining awkward moments until they’re almost unendurable and spilling plenty of blood when the time is right. He deftly leads us from the sunny “anything could happen” first act through a darker, edgier coming of age middle, and finally to a carnage-laden climax that feels sad, satisfying and somehow inevitable.

1. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

That’s right – it’s Calvaire again. We come up with topics just so we can talk about this movie.

The backwoods horror subgenre is often driven by a rape hysteria – either those giant, illiterate, inbred freaks are going to rape our women, or they like the look of Ned Beatty’s purty mouth. It is not homophobia, exactly – more of a fear of losing our place atop the food chain. So, why put Calvaire atop this list?

Because writer/director Fabrice du Welz takes a somewhat familiar idea and infuses it with so much fascinating, subversive, unexplained insanity – and he examines sexual identity, love, longing, masculinity, femininity, and dance while he’s at it.

Delicate Marc (an absolutely perfect Laurent Lucas) performs as a semi-amateur, highly bedazzled crooner. We open during a show at a retirement home, where the elderly women swoon and one nurse does more. Marc is compassionate but uninterested.

Later his van breaks down well off the beaten path and we learn that basically everyone is sweet on Marc.

The unanswered questions in this film create the most bizarrely mysterious environment – there’s a backstory here that you just feel sure you don’t really want to know. What we do know is that, somehow, there’s not one human female for miles. How the men of the area have compensated is a deeply peculiar tale to unravel, and it’s the absence of the feminine that makes Marc’s presence so volatile.

Whether Marc is gay or straight is beside the point, but the fact that his own sexuality is unclear helps du Welz sidestep the patriarchal, mainstream dread usually generated by this type of film. Lucas’s delicate, supremely compassionate performance and du Welz’s use of darkest humor give the entire film a “what next?” quality that is absolutely unshakable. It may not be the gayest movie on this list, but it is absolutely the best.


Listen to the whole conversation at FRIGHT CLUB.

Your Scary-Movie-a-Day Guide to October. Day 13: Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Yes, this is a bad film. It certainly falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, but it’s actually more than that. A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher. It’s also wildly entertaining.

It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.

It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. Aunt Martha – what kind of mad genius is this? The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.

There are sequels. They are worth skipping, although the first two boast the casting of Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela as the chipper sadist hatcheting her way through campers. So at least you have that.