Friday, 5 June 2015

Franchise Corner Entry: SLEEPAWAY CAMP




SLEEPAWAY CAMP **** USA 1983 84 mins

At the Crystal Lake-ish Camp Arawak, a grinning, leering paedo-cook unhooks his belt as he leches over an underage girl, complimenting “You’re a sweet-looking little cupcake…” Shy, sweet, largely silent Angela (Felissa Rose) suffers a persecution similar to Carrie White (including being described as “a carpenter’s dream : flat as a board and in need of a good screw”) by perhaps Slasher Cinema’s bitchiest bitch. A mystery-killer offs numerous cast members by unusually inventive and gruesome means, employing hair straighteners, bees, deep fat fryers and the like.

Despite at least three “Oh! It’s you…!” moments and a shower-stabbing, this well remembered slasher downplays the sub-genre’s usual exploitation ingredients: there are more shirtless men than girls. The killings mute stalk-and-slash in favour of lingering aftermath shots of worm ridden corpses, horrific burns, gruesome bee stings and even – uniquely – a fleeting shot of the mutilated cadavers of kid-campers. Mostly set in bright sunlight, it’s enhanced rather than ruined by some eccentric supporting performances, notably the surrealistically OTT Desiree Gould as Angela’s auntie. Young Felissa Rose is unforgettable in a relatively subtle portrayal of one of the genre’s most disturbing characters, her true identity unveiled via a stunning freeze-frame full-frontal final shot that still packs a punch after all these years.


SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS *** USA 1988 84 mins

At “Camp Rolling Hills”, 60 miles from Arawak, Angela is the stuff of campfire urban legend, with persistent rumours suggesting she had a sex change back to female and fled to Hollywood to play the dark haired girl in “Facts of Life”. In fact, she’s masquerading as a relentlessly cheery counsellor, enthusiastically offing sinning campers while delivering appropriately naff one-liners (e.g. “Say no to drugs” as she sets fire to a girl caught smoking a joint). With mullets and bare boobs from the get-go, this knowing sequel to the mostly straight-faced SLEEPAWAY CAMP has overt references to the big rival slashers of the day (Freddy, Jason and Leatherface are ticked off in one lawsuit-skirting sequence) and an entire cast of characters named after prominent 80’s teen heartthrobs (Charlie, Demi, Rob, Ally, Molly, Sean, Mare, etc.). In the absence of Felissa Rose, Pamela Springsteen has some amusing moments as a still-murderous but far less sombre Angela, though her one-note presence does make you wish the original actress had stayed on board. Still, the regular killings - involving electric drills, leeches, bees, acid, et al – are inventive as ever and the magnificent Valerie Hartman, who spends her entire screen time either topless or having sex, is surely one of the hottest victims of 80’s slasher cinema. Someone less attractive moans “Nice girls don’t have to show it off”, but who can say no to the kind of gal who sleeps nude in the dorms?


SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3: TEENAGE WASTELAND *** USA 1989 80 mins

Shot back to back with part II, this slower, drier third chapter is set at a multi-ethnic “Camp New Horizons” owned by the characteristically twitchy Michael J Pollard and promoted as “an experience in sharing”, albeit an experience with limited range in meals (“Fish, mostly”). Sporting a bad wig and a new identity, Angela masquerades as a counsellor and the kids are a broad range of stereotypes including angry Asian girls, black dudes with flick knives, a party dude in a leather jacket and an Italian guy named Tony (what else?) who was in a gang “back home”. Stricter MPAA regulations meant that the gory pay-offs from most of the deaths only survive as deleted scenes on the DVD, but you still get a bravura firecracker-up-the-nose gore gag that ranks as the highlight of the regular offings. As ever, Angela takes on drug takers, bigots and fornicators while making gags about saggy tits and other hot-button topics. Pollard, playing his usual slightly retarded man-child, gets a memorable love scene with a ridiculously sexy, busty “rich skank”, and the movie generally has the best boobs of the whole franchise if that’s what floats your boat. It has more longeurs than either of the previous films, but it’s still fun, and the dialogue is sometimes witty: someone with a straight face says “I like movies that make America look good – like RAMBO III”.


RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP *** USA 2008 84 mins

Reuniting the original film’s director Robert Hiltzik with various key cast members, this long-delayed sequel is dominated by references to the 1983 flick, from a seedy cook drowned in boiling oil in his kitchen to the character combination of early adolescents and the more familiar standard-age teens. The first half is largely standard teen comedy hijinks, with immature pranks sharing screen time with the sustained bullying of an overweight doofus. Angela’s cousin is present to confirm she has been locked away for two decades, but just who is committing the series of brutal murders and why is that unusually short and slender Sheriff (with a post-cancer voice box) so peculiar? Sharing the low production values of its preceding sequels, this movie nonetheless has some of the most inventively nasty deaths of the whole series, with the atypical approach bringing it closer in tone to the DR PHIBES movie than your regular slasher. A stoner is force-fed petrol and puffs on a joint until he explodes; somebody has a bird cage stuck on their head and a hungry rat let loose within; there’s a neat, extended castration set piece and a bravura eyeball poking with a pointy stake. And, after the fairly sedate and jokey previous sequels, it ends on a great, if very predictable, reveal that at least approaches the hysteria of the first film’s freeze-frame twist…and makes you wish a certain person was in the other sequels, too.


SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV: THE SURVIVOR * USA 2012 Dir: Jim Markovic. 70 mins

A text narration provides a long-winded explanation of this faux-sequel’s set up. Amnesiac survivor girl Allison (Carrie Chambers) suffers nightmares about her experience at Camp Arawak, while an awkward voiceover accompanies sparse new footage three new amateur actors shoehorned around horribly edited footage from the three earlier films. This film was shelved when the funding ran out, and when it did appear promoted itself as a “lost” sequel reconstructed from archival footage. In effect, it’s a shoddy clip-show, which does mean we get to see some of the best deaths and nudity from the real SLEEPAWAY CAMP films (including a boob-groping Michael J Pollard and that comedy aunt from the original) but this just reminds us we would rather be watching those films rather than this shameless cash-in. The conceit fails too since Angela is played by two physically different actresses (Felissa Rose, Pamela Springsteen) in the flashback footage. 


Reviews By Steven West


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