MARCH 21, 2009
I remember seeing the box art for Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (on a format known as VHS) back in the day and thinking it was cool: a girl with a bag full of other 80s horror movie staples, Jason’s mask, Freddy’s glove, Leatherface’s (or Lefty’s) chainsaw*... but for some reason it didn’t appeal to me otherwise. Not having seen the original didn’t help, but that didn’t stop me for the other series, I think Chain Saw is the only major horror franchise where I saw the first one before any of the sequels (and, for the record, I saw Chain Saw before part 2 even hit video).
So what do I think about it, now that I've finally given it a chance? Eh. I like the out of the box approach - not too many 80s slashers focus mainly on the killer (an unmasked one at that), and was a rather unique way of more or less remaking the original film (someone even dies in a bathroom stall again) while giving it its own identity. Rather than have a mystery killer, you just have Angela (now really a girl) killing folks at her leisure.
Unfortunately, that’s also what’s wrong with the movie: there’s nothing to it. You don’t root for any of the other counselors, because you never really spend any time with them away from Angela. There isn’t any story to speak of (even for a slasher movie), the movie ends once Angela has run out of people to kill. Sure, there’s a final girl (played by Emilio Estevez’ sister Renee), but her role is ceremonial at best. The final 10 minutes involve characters we just met or have long since forgotten about (a rather attractive counselor who only appeared in two shots prior to the “finale” is the focus of Angela’s final attack on the camp), and even with that obvious bit of padding, the movie clocks in at 78 minutes, including credits that run at about half-speed (and a lengthy dream sequence in which Angela dreams about all of the murders she committed earlier in the movie).
It’s also distressingly cheap. The few kids at the camp completely disappear after a while (not a plot point, trust me), and a number of the kills occur offscreen. It’s one thing for Dimension to toss out a cheapo Children of the Corn sequel by the time part 5 or 6 rolls around, it’s another to shoot the franchise in the foot almost instantly. And Simpson is a pretty lousy director; there is absolutely no build up to any of the kill scenes, nor do the scenes themselves carry much weight. It’s something of a joke that Angela is pretty laid back about killing people, but that joke gets old after a half hour. As a result, the movie has no rhythm to the movie at all; the deaths just happen whenever the movie feels like getting around to it.
What I DID like, however, is how laid back and utterly reprehensible most of these people are. When Angela tells the final girl the story of the first movie, the girl barely blinks an eye when Angela confesses to drowning someone. And a sex scene is capped off by the girl asking “You don’t have AIDS or anything, do you?” Awesome. We also have a pair of young lads who take nudie photos (and also get killed - a moment this “Nature Trail To Hell” fan really appreciated). And one of the characters listens to Flotsam And Jetsam.
And while it got a bit distracting, the idea of naming just about every character after a Brat Packer is kind of funny. Some are a bit obscure (T.C. = Tom Cruise, who made movies with Emilio but otherwise was not really a member), but it’s a fun sort of little game to play. It’s not often you have a Demi in a movie.
The DVD has 13 minutes of behind the scenes footage, which is narrated by director Michael Simpson, which is something I wish I saw more often. The nuts and bolts stuff is fare more interesting than actor EPK-ready interviews, but you don’t want to just listen to the source audio (which is mostly people talking inaudibly in the background). There’s also a commentary with Simpson, screenwriter Fritz Gordon, and the Australian guy who runs one of the two Sleepaway fansites. He’s annoying as hell, but Simpson and Gordon are pretty informative, pointing out odd bits like the reason for the “party hats” line, which was a sub for “nips”, a line the labor people objected to due to the presence of a minor in the scene. While the movie isn’t nearly as good, it’s a far better commentary than the one on the original movie (which I couldn’t even finish - Felissa Rose was like nails on a chalkboard), so there’s something.
Oh, before anyone bitches: yeah, it’s Bruce Springsteen’s sister.
What say you?
*Michael Myers is represented in the film’s end credits, which copy the font from the original Halloween. It’s depressing that I recognize this.