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The Not-So-Male Gaze in Sleepaway Camp

by Jesse Kapp



In the film, an unknown killer murders several campers and camp staff. The audience is often treated to the typical slasher flick POV shots that, taken on their own, offer nothing unusual. Closer scrutiny reveals the unique way in which the film upholds the specific cinematic and horror genre conventions of the gaze for the purpose of inverting them. The scene in which the then unidentified killer stabs the girl in the shower is certainly presented in what Mulvey outlines as the classic Hollywood fashion. The girl is displayed as the sexual object of the gaze. The gaze is aligned with the audience through the use of the POV shot, and the slasher film genre conventions (well established by 1983, the time of this film’s release) tell us that the gaze is coming from a male perspective. The lingering of the gaze on the girl in the shower would seem to halt the narrative in a moment of scopophilia. This final scene of the film here, in which it is revealed that Angela is both the killer and a male, adds new depth to the earlier shower kill and add a new layer of narrative depth that changes the meaning of the scene.


This changed reading then presents a new dilemma. When viewing the shower kill earlier in the film, the audience is presented with Mulvey’s outline of the traditional male gaze and spectacle of the body of the woman. Without the knowledge of the killer’s identity and gender, the scene cannot logically be read in a way that contradicts Mulvey’s assessment. However, when presented with the gender-bending twist at the end of the film, the audience can then go back in their own mind (or rewatch the film) to reevaluate the meaning of the film’s apparent scopophilia. This reassessment would reveal that the shower scene was not, in fact, the narrative pause for the traditional male gaze that we had previously thought, but instead achieves new narrative meaning with the understanding that the gaze, though technically male, is generated by a male that was raised as a female from a young age.

Sleepaway Camp - Final Scene

Angela is revealed as the killer in the gender-bending twist ending of Sleepaway Camp.

from Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Creator: Robert Hiltzik
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media