Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) d. Michael A. Simpson (USA)
Five years after the tragic events of the first film, Angela Baker, er, Johnson (Pamela Springsteen) is back in action, having finally been released from the mental asylum where she was committed for her crimes. With her new identity (and a rumored sex change), she is enjoying her first summer of freedom by becoming an uber-positive counselor at Camp Rolling Hills (located just down the road from Camp Arawak). Angela thrives on healthy, wholesome pursuits like crafting and nature trails, and is disappointed when her fellow Rollers decide they’d rather engage in sex, drugs, sex, trash talk, sex, and sex. Hoping to keep her woodland sanctuary clean and pure, she sunnily dispenses with the deviants with a smile on her face, the “I’m a Happy Camper” song in her heart, and a variety of sharp implements in hand.
As detailed in last summer’s review for Sleepaway Camp (1983), I wasn’t much of a fan of the first film on first viewing, and as such, I was in no hurry to track down its progeny. However, being the shameless completist that I am (and with my buddy Adam Rockoff having charged me with watching his DVD collection for the duration of his tender offspring’s more impressionable years), I found myself with the sequels within arm’s reach and a free night on the couch. I figured what the hell, tossed in SC2, and was quite pleasantly surprised at how much more entertaining a movie it was than its predecessor.
Much of the credit goes to director Simpson and screenwriter Fritz Gordon (the two SC sequels being his only credits), who decided that, rather than cranking out another tired slasher sequel, they would send up the entire subgenre with (deliberately) paper-thin characters and an outrageous variety of creative kills. Shot in two weeks at an abandoned YMCA Camp (Camp Waco) outside Atlanta, Springsteen (yes, Bruce’s little sister) does in her victims with power drills, chainsaws, Krueger razor-gloves, guitar strings, lighter fluid, battery acid, pit toilets, knives, and when all else fails, she conks ’em on the head with a nearby stick or log. These varied offings are gruesomely detailed, with Bill “Splat” Johnson’s bloody effects taking center stage as intended, all done with a jovial spirit and energy.
It also helps that Simpson and Gordon put their “don’t take this seriously” cards on the table early, with a string of disposable supporting characters all named after youngish 1980s celebrities, Brat Pack and beyond: Molly (Ringwald), Sean (Penn), Ally (Sheedy), Mare (Winningham), Rob (Lowe), Demi (Moore), Lea (Thompson), Brooke (Shields), Jodie (Foster), Anthony (Michael Hall), Judd (Nelson), Charlie (Sheen), Phoebe (Cates), Emilio (Estevez), Diane (Lane), Tom “TC” (Cruise) , and “Uncle John” (Hughes). In an interesting stroke of casting, Terry Hobbs as “Rob” looks an awful lot like Anthony Michael Hall, and Renee Estevez is the younger sister of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
|"A brain, a jock, a stoner, a basket case..."|
The script isn’t inherently fulla yuks, but the tone is kept light and the performers all commit fully to their archetypes such that we immediately identify and enjoy them to varying degrees. (Brian Patrick Clarke sports an amaaaaaaaaazing mullet as our head counselor TC.)
There are also a welcome number of topless shenanigans, with an appreciable amount of skin shown by both sexes (with top-popping honors going to Valerie Hartman as the salacious Ally), and veteran character actor and regular 007 film staple Walter Gotell plays the camp’s taciturn owner with many a wandering accent (New Yawk, British, Southern).
But it is Springsteen who is the key to the film’s success, her buoyant characterization yielding a psycho with a smile, one eager to please and quick to pass moral judgment.
For Shout! Factory's new Collector's Edition Blu-ray release, the commentary by Gordon, Simpson, and UK lad John Klyza, the webmaster of sleepawaycampfilms.com was originally recorded for Anchor Bay's Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit release in 2002 (tipped off by Simpson’s offhand comment about Estevez being “currently on The West Wing,” which ended its run in 2006). Gordon and Klyza trade off the comic repartee, with Simpson playing straight man throughout.
However, Klyza is full of worthy information, as befits his vocation, often offering info rather than trying to elicit it from his on-mike partners. He might come off as a little bit of a know-it-all, with his shotgun joke approach and a lot of throwaway comments, but I’d rather have the info than not. At times, he pokes a little deeper than is comfortable for his cohorts, and occasionally there is pushback and/or Fifth Amendment pleading, but more often than not, he comes up with the gold. SALUTE!
“A Tale of Two Sequels: Part One” is a 30-min. making-of retrospective courtesy of Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures (not sure why the elaborate VHS format intro, but it’s fun… I guess), with Jeff Hayes of sleepawaycampmovies.com, Simpson, editor John David Allen, DP Bill Mills, art director Frank Galline, makeup man Bill “Splat” Johnson, along with behind-the-scenes footage, and Amy Fields (Jodi Schote, who played the younger of the film’s trashy “Shote Sisters”) reminiscing warmly about their time in the woods together.
The satisfyingly self-explanatory “Abandoned: The Filming Locations of Sleepaway Camp II and III” with Adam the Woo (of adamthewoo.com) does its thing for those who are into said thing, but my personal tastes lean more toward the 13 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage with Simpson providing chatty if not exactly revelatory commentary.
There’s also the movie’s home video trailer (technically a promotional trailer for video store owners), a still gallery, and a one-minute short film, “Whatever Happened to Molly?” produced by Klyza, and directed by Dustin Ferguson, which actually might provide a chuckle for those in a generous mood.
The package is literally wrapped up by Nathan Thomas Milliner’s cartoonish new artwork, which is a slight improvement upon the original VHS box art, featuring a cover model who isn’t Springsteen and doesn’t appear in the movie!
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE: