I was thinking about doing a list of the greatest queer villains for today's Queer Film Blogathon - for my previous pro-queer-villain rant click here; just know, unsurprisingly, that I love me the Evil Gays - but as my brain bounced around from Catherine Tramell to Bruno Anthony over this past weekend I kept coming back to one figure. One figure that I love unconditionally, even though it represents one of the nadirs of queer representation in film. I say "even though" but I might as well be honest and admit that it's probably 3/4's of the reason why I love this character so; the fact that it is such an "irresponsible" portrait. That it's so offensive on so many levels that... well, I'm helpless in my admiration.
This figure is sweet little Angela from Sleepaway Camp.
If you're unfamiliar with this 1983 summer-camp-slasher gem, let's just say... Angela's different from the other kids at camp. She gets taunted a lot for being so timid, but somehow, horrible things befall these cruel souls who taunt poor Angela...
I'm not going to get too in depth with the kills in Sleepaway Camp because they're wonderfully gruesome and some of my all-time favorites and will one day soon make their way into my Thursday Kills series, but let's just say that Angela - yes, spoiler! Angela's the killer - is one ingenious lil' minx. I'm especially partial to the curling iron scene...
No, I'm not exactly sure what Angela does with that curling iron, but... well, I suppose we can allow our imaginations to do the talking. But Judy's a total bitch!
She totally had it coming. Anyway, the stupid-offensive idea behind Sleepaway Camp is this: In the opening scene we see a hot guy -
- with his son and daughter playing on a small sailboat. It tips over, they fall in the water, and an out-of-control speedboat runs them over. Hot Dad is killed, as well as one of the children, while a man we learn later on was Hot Dad's boyfriend, aka Other Dad, watches from the shore. We think the sibling who dies is the little boy, leaving the little girl to grow up to be Angela, but we learn later on that Angela is really the little boy grown up, and it was his/her sister who died, but Other Dad went insane and made the little boy into a little girl, i.e. Angela, as well as turning himself into a woman:
It all makes more sense - totally offensive sense - when viewing the film; I'm realizing that trying to describe this convoluted pronoun-aplaooza in words is coming off horribly... well, convoluted. If you've seen the film you get it; if not, just know Angela's really a boy and her parents' Hysterical Gayness leads to a little boy-girl with serious issues. Like making with the serious hack-slash-stab.
You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more ridiculous take on queer issues than Sleepaway Camp - gay parenting is presented as The Most Terrifying Prospect Ever, with all the flashback scenes set in some black-stage purgatory where the camera swirls around in madness -
Gay men are presented as so unstable that a death of their loved ones causes them to lose all sense of identity or sanity and not only turn themselves into freaks but force such identity-issues onto the children oh-so-woefully within their care... yet, despite myself, it's just this totally silliness that I embrace about the film. It spins so far over-the-top not just in its homophobia but in its everything that 25 years later it's still a blast to watch, and political-correctness be damned - the final shot revealing Angela's little "secret" still gives me the willies (ahem) every time.
There's so much wrong (in the Uncanny sense) with that moment - it's (supposed) adolescent nudity for one, but Angela's unmoving open-mouth smile-scream, and the fact that it's really a naked man (due to laws about showing, well, an actual naked adolescent) with a prop Angela-head on... it continues to add up to a bundle of creepiness.
So yes, makes no bones about it, Sleepaway Camp is wholly reckless in its portrayal of queerness: it's something to be feared, something that veers in an instant into madness. But then, to be fair, the film isn't exactly loving in its representation of the heterosexual bunch - the camp-cook tries to molest Angela, and Judy the Teenage Vixen is a conniving sexually-predatory bitch. And the teenage boy who romances Angela - much to his eventual beheaded chagrin - is horny to the point of cartoonishness, eventually helping to push our little Angela right over the edge.
But in the end I certainly can't defend the film as progressive in its politics, except for the fact that it was addressing fears that were out there while nobody else was. In a disturbingly homophobic manner, sure, but it never takes itself too terribly seriously either. Hell, it doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. So it might not be right then, but it is okay. If okay equals a hoot. And oh does it ever.
Plus: Greatest Worst Fake Mustache Ever!!!