Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Sleepaway Camp and Sleepaway Camp 2

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Sleepaway Camp

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“But of course, when my husband left… Oh, well, that’s only water under the bridges, I always say. Water under the bridge! But it certainly will be a nice little surprise when Richard comes home to find a little girl in the house. Yes, I’ve always dreamed of a little girl just like you.”

No it fucking won’t be. You fucking lunatic.

This is the first of the low rent slasher movies that I’ll be doing, and I say now that if you have any interest whatsoever in seeing this film, then don’t read on. Seriously, I normally don’t give a monkey’s about spoiling films, but with I saw this one “clean” and I suggest that for the full deranged impact of the final reel you do the same. It isn’t that the twist ending reveals an unexpected killer (it doesn’t), but that it is so off the wall insane that if you know it is coming then you will either spend half the film waiting for it, or it will not shock and therefore diminish the film as a whole. It’s an awesome little film, but mostly because of that final reel.

I’m not joking about this, if you read on after this point then be warned.

Sleepaway Camp is one of the countless Friday 13th knock off’s that were made in the 70’s and early 80’s. Therefore, we all know the formula with this, or should do by now as it’s become cliché, but just in case someone hasn’t been paying attention at the back this is how they work (and they’re all the same):

Person dies/ is horribly maimed at camp as a result of either an accident or bullying. Camp closes. Years later camp re-opens and new set of soon-to-be corpses arrive. Camp is split into nerdy kids and cool kids. Councilors engage in illicit alcohol and underage sex. Body count starts to rise. One virtuous councilor/ camper makes it to the end to reveal horribly mutilated/ zombie/ lunatic killer and defeats him/ her. Everyone lives happily ever after, but room is left open for a sequel.

This holds true for every single one of these films, be it The Burning (excellent little film with Holly Hunter that I’ll be coming to later), Sleepaway Camp or Friday 13th itself. However, the better examples of the subgenre manage the slaughter with no little flair, and manage to throw in a few subtleties to distinguish themselves.

Sleepaway Camp follows the formula to the letter. It opens with a tragic boat accident leaving one survivor. 8 Years later Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and Angela (Felissa Rose) go to camp, people die messily, everyone thinks it’s Ricky responsible until the final act reveals killer. It’s easy when you know how, eh?

The bad aspects of this film are hard to put my finger on. It isn’t perfect by any means, there’s a strange sense of dislocation that is disorienting on first watch. Something just doesn’t feel right with it. The acting, score, cinematography, editing and the rest all contribute to an almost dreamy feeling that does detract from a proper horror atmosphere. For example, when the children are sent off to camp, they deliberately break the fourth wall, which is disconcerting, but the performance from Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha appears to be stunningly bad. It isn’t, it’s actually pitch perfect and fucking good, but if unspoilt appears cheesy and almost phoned in. The lighting and score of this scene is the same- it’s soft focus and, well damn it, weird.

This is typical of the film, there is a sense of wrongness and whimsy until the final sequence when everything comes jarringly into focus, and the sensation of detachment and the somnolent quality hardens and clarifies.

Secondly, the script is fucking dismal. Some of the shit that Paul, the walking erection who is trying to fuck Angela, spouts is embarrassing (“flat as a board and easy to screw!”) and not helped by a diabolically awful performance. The dialogue between the councilors is terrible bollocks, and the leaps of faith that we’re asked to make- would the most attractive councilor really be trying to fuck the owner (who has a face like a melted wellington boot), pursuing him to the point of a restraining order?

I don’t understand Americans. I really don’t. What’s the attraction with Summer Camp? The media has been telling me for almost my entire life that parental units dispatch horrible spawn to less than perfect care every summer. As someone that has never experienced this, I am therefore not particularly qualified to discuss the Camp itself, but in this version, it lacks verisimilitude. If they are actually like this, then I apologise, but it strikes me as complete shit that a camp in 1983 would resemble the perfect summer destination for Richie Cunningham.

Finally, it doesn’t take a fucking genius to work out who the killer is. It’s Angela.

So given that on the surface this appears to be an unremarkable camp slasher, why on earth would I recommend it?

Firstly, the kills themselves are gruesome and entertaining. A paedophile cook receives a scalding, other people die through bees, knifings and most memorably a curling iron (ouch). All of them are well handled, and gruesome enough to induce a squirm without crossing the line into torture porn.

Secondly, the sexual nature of the camp is brilliantly handled, if a little bit, well, icky. The film is stuffed with dialogue like “Where I come from, we call ’em baldies” or “Artie, they’re too young to even understand what’s on your mind.” The sense of pubescent sexuality permeates every scene at the camp. It’s convincingly drawn and as everyone was at school in their teens, completely recognisable.

This is the final warning regarding spoilers- if you have the slightest inclination to watch this film, and have not seen it before, then stop reading now.

Seriously, almost everything discussed from this point on will spoil this film irreparably.

The performances themselves (with the exception of aforementioned walking hormone) are brilliant. Felissa Rose delivers an exceptional performance as the traumatised Angela, her performance is all subtle looks and gestures, soft mannerisms and palpable sense of victimhood. She evokes sympathy, pity and when she is unmasked as the killer it’s shocking because it’s plausible. The bitches (every camp’s gotta have them) are hilariously nasty, and the Tiersten is good as the Ricky who appears to be the killer (least subtle red herring ever). He’s spunky, pugnacious and just enough of a tool to be believable.

FINAL WARNING. GIANT PIG SIZED SPOILER AHEAD.

However, the prize performance is given by Desiree Gould. Did you ever wonder what Mrs. Bates was like? I did, and having seen this, I will take a bet that she was something like this. What first appears disjointed and even mildly irritating, as discussed above, is transformed by the context of the finale into a lunatic Stepford wife performance and I find it amazingly easy to believe that a woman so far from the grip of sanity as this one could produce a twisted serial killer. Nurture overcoming nature, and all that.

Then there’s the ending itself. I don’t know what sort of shit you’d have to be ingesting to think this up, but please remind me to avoid it. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, and Angela really is the underdog’s underdog. The final sequence opens with her finally becoming sexually active and dragging the hapless boner, Paul, off into the woods. He thinks he’s getting his dick wet, silly boy. In the meantime, Ricky is pinned down and blamed for the killings. Anyhoo, one thing leads to another and the cops and councillors follow the trail to find Angela standing butt naked and blood splattered in the woods. They all stand agog staring at her. There’s a flashback with Auntie, and the film ends with a final shot of the hissing Angela (not screaming- hissing) over the sound of Auntie singing a lullaby. Doesn’t sound like much does it? What elevates it above the herd is that butt naked Angela is actually male, and the flashback revealing the psychosis is a monologue from Aunt Martha that scarred me just listening to it. The final shot of his face with the lullaby soundtrack is genuinely nightmare inducing.

The film doesn’t drop any hints that Angela is male- it goes out of it’s way to portray her as sex object. It doesn’t drop any hints that Auntie is a nut job- instead it looks like a bad performance and you don’t see her again until the flashback. Angela’s transformation into sexual predator and murderer is shocking, unexpected (to a degree), and wholly convincing. It’s especially good, because she appears on the surface to be the classic survivor girl (if you don’t know what that is, then go and watch Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, but it should be pretty fucking obvious), and it blows away the fuzzy atmosphere that the film had been wallowing in.

Overall, would I recommend this? Unquestionably yes. Interestingly, almost all the people that hate it on IMDB (I always read these to find people to savage when I’m reviewing films- it’s astounding how many people seem to miss the point by referring to Aunt Martha as “the mother”) seem to hate it because it’s “gay” or “homosexual”. I suppose that the Eighties’ style shorts that the boys wear contributes to this sense of homosexuality, which makes me think that they’re submorons. Nevertheless, to describe Sleepaway Camp as “the gayest horror film ever made” is clearly bollocks, and I wonder how secure those people are in their own sexuality. I’m certain that this only occurs to them in the context of the ending, which I think reinforces the fact that it is brilliantly subversive.

Apart from one cretin who disliked the film because of the “gross unnecessary ending”. There really is no hope for some people.

However, during my research (in an attempt to sum up my feeling of the wrongness of this film) I read a huge amount of crap comparing it to Psycho. This is obvious bullshit. Anyone that makes such a comparison is a fucking donut and needs a good kicking. Psycho is the prototype slasher movie with an endlessly parodied twist ending, this isn’t anywhere near that level. I assume that they make the link because of the transvestite nature of the killer, which is a superficial reading that does Psycho a particular disservice. Technically, Psycho is about a schizophrenic with a severe Oedipus complex. Angela is not schizophrenic, nor does she have mother issues. She’s psychotic, but there is no pretense at a psycho-sexual disorder. The flashback emphasises that she has to keep her secret hidden but she’s basically Aunt Martha’s human doll. Sleepaway Camp owes no debt to Psycho, but rather it is a superior, and probably the best, Friday 13th clone out there.

Highly recommended, but consider yourselves warned.

Sleepaway Camp 2

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“Ooooh, I’m a happy camper, I love the clear blue sky, and with the grace of God, I’ll camp until I die”

The first sequel to the bizarre original obviously had to plough a new furrow. We know full well that Angela is the killer and we know full well that she is a he. Therefore, to bring her/ him back they had to find a plausible explanation. If you haven’t seen the first movie, you can pretty much jump straight into this, and you won’t be missing anything.

The film opens with a group of horny kids sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, which, in the best tradition of fireside tales, suck. Until one lad decides to regale his audience with the true story of the original Sleepaway Camp. This is excellent, it turns out that Angela has had a sex-change properly and is now actually a woman. With consummate timing, a camp councillor turns up to break up the party and escort one of her girls back to camp. Well, they set out in the right direction, but the trip is curtailed by homicide. This strikes me as a bit harsh for a minor offence, but there can be no doubt that she won’t do it again.

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Cut to next morning and it turns out that Angela, the camp councillor, has a hut full of, for want of a better expression, slags. This is clearly great news for your average schlock viewer as excessive nudity in this kind of film is never a bad thing. The film trundles along quite nicely, with Angela knocking off her campers one by one until the virginal heroine and her boyfriend are left.

It’s a standard slasher movie, really. It does not even attempt to deviate from the beaten path that all these films tread. To be 100% honest, if you have seen any camp set slasher movie, then you really know the plot of all of them.

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Given the above, why would I watch this. I know what’s coming, I know how it will work and it appears to be pretty unoriginal. What could possibly distinguish it?

Slashers as a rule live or die based on atmosphere and inventiveness. If the atmosphere is wrong then they automatically suck. You need either a good dose of tension or a good dose of comedy to make them work. This film, unlike it’s far superior predecessor, relies on comedy.

However, having said that, it is actually quite funny. Angela’s irony-laden rendition of Happy Campers at the beginning is priceless, and the girls are suitably slutty. It’s highly entertaining stuff watching them, and Angela’s demented slaughter is never less than amusing. For example, when she kills the Ally, chief slut for (I suppose) being a slut she drowns her in the cess pit under an abandoned toilet. This is funny by definition. The obvious homage to horror classics, cheekily including Friday 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, are well handled and worth a chuckle, as is Angela’s frankly deranged sense of morality.

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Following the golden rule of horror sequels closely (make it bigger, brasher and messier), the gore itself is good, with a decapitation really standing out, and Angela’s “cabin of horrors” is a cracking piece of design. All her victims are displayed, even if you can see some of them still breathing (great job, idiots), in a grisly line up for the express purpose of grossing out the virginal survivor girl. The leech covered Ally is especially grotesque.

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Also following that golden rule, the atmosphere at the camp is even more sexually charged than in the original, which had a kind of innocence. They clearly all wanted to get laid, but were damned if it was even on the cards. In Sleepaway Camp 2, the girls are far more aggressive and sex is not only a possibility it’s almost a certainty- they fuck in the toilets, in the woods wherever, with Ally in particular keen to get laid at any cost. This is surprisingly jarring, because it is invariably juxtaposed with much more innocent activities such as panty raids. The more “modern” sexual appetite and scene is really disconcerting following on, as it does, from the 1950’s stylised activity. But hey, I’m never going to complain about gratuitous nudity. That would be foolish.

This is, unsurprisingly, not a perfect film. The acting is pretty dismal all things considered, with a special doofus award going to Brian Patrick Clarke for a performance of such staggering ineptitude that it beggars belief. Amazingly, much like Nicholas Cage, he’s out acted by his own hair, sporting as he does the most ludicrous mullet that I’ve seen in a long time. Pamela Stephenson is passable as Angela, and Renee Estevez ditto as Molly. In all honesty, though, the acting is pretty much as you would expect in a film like this.

The big complaint I have about this film, though, is that every character other than Angela is a complete fucking imbecile. Despite knowing the story of the original Sleepaway Camp, and despite Angela saying things such as “My aunt always said” the characters fail to see the obvious serial killer in their midst. As if that is not stupid enough, Molly’s idiotic boyfriend keeps saying “my father is a cop, and he arrested her” and still the dipshit doesn’t recognise the murderer amongst them. It’s maddening. When you factor in that nobody even bats an eyelid at the students disappearing, taking Angela’s “I sent her home” as gospel, you have to think that she’s only helping out evolution preventing these submorons from polluting the gene pool. This stupidity is relentlessly annoying and really gets on my nerves after a while.

Nevertheless, despite it’s limitations, there are worse ways to pass the time than watching this. It’s an entertaining little movie, with more than a few chuckles to be had. It bounces along quite happily never once letting things like realism or continuity interfere. There’s nakedness aplenty, for those that like that kind of thing, with the girls more than happy to get their tits out at the slightest provocation. The killings are all reasonably amusing, and the ending is, fittingly, hilarious. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is- an entertaining slasher film.

Overall, would I recommend it? I have to say yes. It can be a bit annoying, but at the end of the day it is a good, fun little film. It reminds me of a happier time in Horror films when unmitigated misery and torture weren’t paramount. This is film full of shocks and giggles. It isn’t trying to make the audience wince, and it has no designs above its station. Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers is not a classic, but it is a film to  have a laugh with, and there’s far worse things than that.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

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