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Sleepaway Camp by BJ and Harmony Colangelo

Sleepaway Camp by BJ and Harmony Colangelo

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Initially considered "just another slasher film" during its 1983 release, Sleepaway Camp has since emerged as a cult classic due to its talented young cast, remarkable practical effects, and notorious ending. But although the queer themes explored in its memorable final moments were initially intended to shock and unsettle audiences, Sleepaway Camp's empathetic portrayal of its unlikely killer sets it apart from other "trans panic" films of its time. 

Together, BJ & Harmony Colangelo assess where Sleepaway Camp falls in the slasher canon and do a deep dive on the film's themes and legacy, exploring how changing attitudes towards the LGBT community has led to both a reclamation and necessary critique of the film by modern audiences. 

Sleepaway Camp's divisive reputation has inspired a decades-long debate that changes alongside the attitudes and culture of its viewers. Through historical context, personal memoir, and film history, the Wives Colangelo explain what's kept audiences talking about Angela Baker and Camp Arawak after all these years. 

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  • Amazed and feeling so lucky that our little film continues to inspire analysis and conversation, and that Sleepaway Camp has the most dedicated and wonderful fans! In their new book, BJ and Harmony Colangelo delve into history, politics, and culture, share personal insights and reflections, and of great significance, they clearly communicate the importance of allowing people to express their gender identity!

    — Karen Fields, "Judy" from Sleepaway Camp 
  • "The history of horror cinema is the history of provocation, and yet for even the most determined genre critic Sleepaway Camp is one movie frequently condemned to the 'too hard' basket. Individually, BJ and Harmony Colangelo are profound and concise thinkers, but together in their co-authored book on this movie they are nothing less than formidable. As smart as it is kind, this is the book they were meant to write. We are lucky to have it — and them."

    — Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, film critic & columnist at Fangoria 

Excerpt from Sleepaway Camp by BJ and Harmony Colangelo

Loving a Film That Doesn't Love You Back

Click to read an excerpt from the chapter

To say that Sleepaway Camp is problematic would be a bit of an understatement, but accepting that this film is awful trans representation is only telling half the story. 

Let’s be honest, you bought a book about this movie, and that alone means you want to know more about it than what the basic opinion has been for the last four decades. The significance of this film as a standard bearer in gender expression only works in hindsight and outside of the context in which the film was made. To make it visible, we must violently cut this film open and take a look at its blood and guts from more than one angle.

The intended goal of Sleepaway Camp was to get a reaction out of you. If you feel nothing when watching a horror movie, then something went wrong somewhere along the line. Ideally, this genre wants to scare, shock, or make you uneasy, and Sleepaway Camp attempts to do that with the time (dis)honored tradition of exploiting gay and trans panic. 

There is a distinct feeling lingering over the film that recalls “they walk among us” rhetoric: a fear that “the gays” are here to infiltrate straight spaces. At sleepovers, lock-ins, and summer camps, boys and girls are separated by their sexes to supposedly prevent any premarital nookie from taking place. But if the queers are there, then who knows what kind of trouble they could get into?

Next thing you know, the girls in cabin #3 will start experimenting with each other by sticking fingers and curling irons where they don’t belong. This perceived threat to America’s youth by the “homosexual menace” was a distinct part of the intended horror of Sleepaway Camp in 1983.

With the immeasurable progress that has been made for trans and queer perception over the last 40 years, it is very easy to look at Sleepaway Camp and write it off as a poorly aged product of its time. However, the root problem has never been with Angela Baker. The problem is and always will be the world and the circumstances that surround her.

Photo of authors BJ and Harmony Colangelo

BJ and Harmony Colangelo are writers and film analysts from Los Angeles by way of Cleveland, Ohio. Their work, individually and collectively, has been published in Fangoria magazine, The AV Club,, Autostraddle, Vulture, Shudder, Bloody Disgusting, Daily Dead, Dread Central, Certified Forgotten, /Film, and The Daily Dot. BJ has been featured in the books Hidden Horror 101, When Animals Attack, Evil Seeds, and Creepy Bitches, while Harmony is the author of the book A Year of Queer Cocktails. BJ has also been featured as a panelist on El Rey Network's "Top 5," and spoke at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019 on the "Queer Fear" legacy panel discussion of LGBTQ+ themes in horror. The wives host the popular podcast This Ends At Prom, which analyzes coming-of-age themes for young women across all film genres, and can both be seen in the Queer for Fear documentary series on Shudder.