Sleepaway Slasher is the result of an experiment by actor/director James Franco (The Disaster Artist, Pineapple Express). He formed the Studio 4 Acting & Film School in order to let the participants get experience in making a feature film. The result, shot under the title Horror Time, is a strange fusion of anthology and feature film with nine directors and eleven writers relating events surrounding a deadly film contest.
Thirty years after the death of director Norman Von Ness (William Sumsky) his son Peter (Peter Angelinas) holds a festival on the location of his unfinished last film The Devil’s Fire. A film that took the life of its female lead Carly Skye (Raleigh Cain, Man Camp).
The filmmakers and performers invited to take part throw themselves into their projects. But enthusiasm turns to mistrust when an actress, Kelly (Kimberley Aria Peterson, Damage Control) is injured in an accident with similarities to the one that killed Carly. And then to fear when one of the filmmakers, Simon (Conor William Wright) goes missing.
Perhaps the best way to lead into a discussion of Sleepaway Slasher is with a timeline. Franco formed the Studio4 Acting & Film School in 2016. He closed it down in 2017. The film that they made is being released in 2020 under a new name that has nothing to do with the plot. And, Franco’s name is nowhere to be found on it. He didn’t even take his name off of Future World.
Sleepaway Slasher runs an hour and forty one minutes, presumably to fit in contributions from all of the writers and directors in. Unfortunately the film struggles to come up with ninety minutes worth of story. Almost the entire first hour is people bickering with each other and making catty comments about each other’s projects. An accurate depiction of indie film circles maybe, but hardly entertaining.
Once Peter screens the previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage of Carly being burnt to death things pick up a little. But not by much, and there’s still way more infighting than frightening. It’s only in the last twenty or so minutes that Sleepaway Slasher finally goes full out with the horror. And it doesn’t do a good job of it as it bounces around between multiple plot threads that vary from dull to almost laughable.
At one point one of the characters is burnt at the stake as others stand there horrified. Do they try to stop it? Do they rush the guy who did it and try to save her? No, they stand there and watch. And then somehow the victim manages to get back to camp providing the film with its one good effect.
With so many writers and directors, Sleepaway Slasher had to have been made by committee, and it shows. Especially in the last act as the apparent explanation for what is going on changes constantly. It’s as if everyone’s idea had to get put up on the screen. Multiple plot twists aren’t unusual, but these come so fast and with no explanations. Ghosts conjured up by a Ouija Board? Possession? Devil Worshippers? Witches? Snuff film? Any and/or all of the above? By the end, I had no clue and didn’t care either.
Maybe if they had ditched half an hour or so of squabbling and gotten to the point sooner, Sleepaway Slasher might have made sense. And then it would at least have had a chance to be entertaining. Instead I found myself fighting to stay awake through most of it.
Sleepaway Slasher is available to stream via Indie Rights. You can check out the film’s Facebook page for more details.