Halloween Top 13: The Sequel #9- Sleepaway Camp II:Unhappy Campers (1988)
A couple of months back I got a chance to go see Bruce Springsteen in concert. It was a great show, but next time I must be closer to the stage. Not because I really have the need to see every bead of sweat that comes off The Boss or bask in the glow of Clarence “Big Man” Clemmons’ cool, but because the people up front all seemed to bring signs. Some of them asked for certain songs to be played, a few thanked him for coming to our little town, and one or two made no sense at all. Mine would probably fit into the last category for most people at the show, but as a massive horror fan, I want to represent with a piece of poster board emblazoned with the slogan, “I Want to Be Killed by Pamela Springsteen.”
I love me some Sleepaway Camp films, but for very different reasons. I love the first one because it’s pretty funny while still paying off with a real shocker of an ending. The second one gets my vote by taking the sequel to a different place. Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers plays the whole slasher vein for camp value (pun intended). From the opening scene where the kids recount the story of Angela and Camp Ararak by the light of a campfire, you can tell this is going to be a different kind of slasher. Of course, Angela is a very different kind of killer. I’m trying to think of another that’s undergone a sex change, but unless you count the travesty that is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, I think she’s on her own. A different kind of killer required a different kind of actress, and with Felicia Rose, the original Angela busy in college, the part went to The Boss’ sister, Pamela.
As Unhappy Campers opens, it’s been a number of years since the killings at Camp Arawak, and Angela has been sexually reassigned, rehabilitated, and released from the mental institution. Now she’s got a job as a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills, and she’s going to make sure everyone stays in line this summer. If not, she’s more than willing to send people home, and by home, Angela means she might set you on fire, dispatch you with a drill, drown you in an outhouse, or cut your tongue out. As the rousing morning song reminds us, “I’m a happy camper. I love the clear blue sky, and with the grace of God, I’ll camp until I die.”
Director Michael Simpson definitely brought a different vision to this film than Sleepaway Camp director Robert Hiltzik. Where the first film had some dark humor to it, Simpson and screenwriter Fritz Gordon (who also scripted Sleepaway III) gave the sequel a tongue in cheek feeling that predicted the self referential horror of Kevin Williamson’s Scream movies by about eight years. While Simpson’s movie did not revel in the minutia of the slasher genre nearly as much, it definitely wasn’t afraid to shy away from referencing its contemporaries. The best example has to be when two campers plan to scare Angela by dressing up as Freddy and Jason, but she turns the tables on them when she gets the drop on them wearing the face of one of her previous victims Leatherface style. If you strip away the pop culture references, it still works as a scene, and that’s really the best thing about Sleepaway Camp II. While it definitely the sly, knowing humor about itself and its genre, it never loses sight of the fact that it’s a sequel to the first film.
Much of the credit for how much his film works has to go to the cast. While Michael Simpson is competent behind the camera, there is nothing about the look of the film that is particularly interesting or innovative. Sleepaway Camp II is all about the characters, and I would be remiss if I did not mention Ms. Springsteen first. She gives this perfectly off kilter performance that makes you wonder why no one suspected that Angela had some serious problems. Since the Sleepaway Camp sequels, Pamela has put acting aside and now pursues a career as a still photographer. Her photos have graced the covers of several high profile albums including releases from Rosanne Cash, Allison Krauss, and (most impressively to me) the cover to Ice Cube’s album The Predator.
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers also features a performance from another famous sister, Renee Estevez. Renee is the sister of Charlie Sheen and Emilo Estevez, and the two young campers who are obsessed with getting topless photos of girls are named after her famous siblings. Estevez plays good girl Molly, and her fresh faced look really sold the character where her acting might have been a tad weak. She would go on to supporting parts in Heathers and working with her father, Martin Sheen, on 43 episodes of The West Wing. The film also features great performances from Brian Patrick Clarke as often ignored head counselor T.C and Walter Gotell, best known as General Gogol in the Roger Moore era James Bond films, who puts in a fine performance as camp director Uncle John.
Like I said, as far as the film making goes, this is a pretty standard affair, but it never detracts. In a film like this, all you really need is to light the shot well, don’t get the boom mic in the shot, and make sure the special effects shots sell the deaths. Sleepaway Camp II does all of this in spades. It gives you a few good laughs, some tame, but well orchestrated gore, and all wrapped up in a solid production. What brought this sequel up the list to me is the way it extended on the original, but Simpson was unafraid to put his own stamp on it as well. While the third film, which was shot consecutively, doesn’t come off nearly as well, Sleepaway Camp II should join the first installment as a must watch for any fan of the ‘80’s slasher.
Now onto a reader submitted sequels list. Today's list comes to us by way of Brittany Jade from Day of the Woman. I'm sure she's got some goodies in store for us:
Evil Dead II: Easily the best film in the series and in my opinion, the most fun. It is the absolute PERFECT combination of terror and humor and Bruce Campbell delivers badass killing talent and one-liners like no one else can.
Halloween 4: I don't care what anyone says, this film is a gem. Danielle Harris is one of the best child actors in the business and watching Michael terrorize a 9 year old just showcases how evil he truly is.
The Rage: Carrie 2: Now this film isn't as oscar worthy as its predecessor, but the film has some of the most interesting kills I've ever seen, and actually does a pretty good job at tying int he first story.
Oh, and Zombi 2 because it's technically a sequel ;)
As usual, BJ-C is a gal of singular opinions, and so far she's the singular person who's listed Carrie 2. Interesting choice. I've never seen it myself, but I must admit its piqued my interest now. That's all for today folks, and I hope you'll join us back here tomorrow when we roll on to Number 8.