Alan, a clumsy, overweight and slightly-retarded camper at Camp Manabe, is constantly picked on by the popular kids. Soon just about everyone who has victimised him begins to turn up dead in terrible ways. Camp counsellor Ronnie, who survived a bloodbath at Camp Arawak years earlier, is convinced that the killer, Angela has returned. Or is a copycat killer on the loose?
Robert Hiltzik wrote and directed the infamous 1983 summer camp slasher film Sleepaway Camp, a film which featured one of the most unforgettable endings I’ve ever seen (go and watch it if you don’t know what happened – even Tarantino loves it) and which went on to become a cult horror hit. A couple of sequels followed, neither of which had anything to do with Hiltzik and which starred a new actress as the gender-confused killer, Angela. A third sequel went into production in 1992 but that was canned when the production company went under. But with the dawn of the internet age, Hiltzik realised that there was a demand out there for a direct sequel to the original and, not having directed a film since the original, decided to make the sequel that everyone wanted. It took him five years and numerous re-cuts and re-shoots but finally he managed to create Return to Sleepaway Camp, a 2000s slasher which for all intents and purposes looks like it was made back in the mid-80s.
In some ways you wish he’d never bothered. Return to Sleepaway Camp is a poorly acted, haphazardly edited (what’s with the constant fade-to-black screens after every scene?) and rather humdrum slasher which was obviously hindered by its drawn out production. But on the flip side, Hiltzik has captured the look of the 80s summer camp slasher down to a tee, so much so that I had to double check the date to make sure that it wasn’t a lost film that had been uncovered. Shot in 2003, it was finally released in 2008, hence the reason why the late Isaac Hayes is able to make a cameo (a pointless two-minute role which no doubt got him a decent pay cheque). Perhaps it’s the nostalgia weighing heavy but the film’s low budget 80s-style charm is the precisely the reason why this works way better than it has any right to.
Fans were on board from the get-go with the announcement that some of the surviving characters from the original would return alongside the same actors who played them. On a continuity note this is great for a sequel. But the returning actors seem to have learnt little in their years between summer camp stints. Paul DeAngelo reprises his role as Ronnie, one of the counsellors from the original who decided to stay in the summer camp business. He’s all muscle and no acting chops. Like seriously, this guy could be one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen. His delivery and timing is terrible. Equally as bad is Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky, Angela’s cousin who survived the original, but has since decked himself out like some boy band wannabe. Neither man brings anything to the table except that linking value to the original and what they were able to get away with (i.e. lack of talent) in the 80s is brazenly exposed in today’s market.
It’s the new stars who are the most inept and this is aimed squarely at Michael Gibney who plays Alan. He is quite simply the most irritating person ever to grace a slasher film. There’s no way he’d have any friends at a place like this. He acts like a total asshole to everyone, picks on kids less fortunate than him but then whines and cries like mad when the older kids pick on him. Gibney completely overplays the role, shouting and raising his voice during every sentence and having this constantly gormless look on his face. I don’t know how Hiltzik can expect us to sympathise with him, in fact it’s the opposite and you wish him a slow and agonising death from the very first scene. “Your ass stinks” is his favourite catchphrase and it’s a phrase which is repeated time and time again.
Slashers live and die by their metaphorical swords so at least Return to Sleepaway Camp delivers plenty of the sub-genre’s required inventive death scenes. One poor guy has his penis attached to a length of wire which is also attached to the bumper of a car – guess what happens. A stoner is downed with petrol and then burnt to death. Another one has a sharpened broom handle rammed through their eye. Someone is crushed underneath a mattress of spikes. And so forth. The kills are creative, mean-spirited, and above all gory. I can’t say that they’re anything amazing but the whole 80s feel to the proceedings gives them a slightly more grimy edge.
Return to Sleepaway Camp also sees fit to throw in a blatant plot-twist right at the very end. I don’t like using quotes like this for obvious reasons but the fact is that even the likes of Stevie Wonder could see the twist coming! The shock sight of naked ‘Angela’ actually being naked Peter in the original is replaced by a token surprise which will barely register on your radar because you sussed it out in the first time the ending is set-up earlier in the film. It’s a twist for twist’s sake and not a very good one.
Return to Sleepaway Camp is strictly one for series fans only: the original was unforgettable; this direct sequel is immediately forgettable. It wasn’t worth the twenty five year wait and the other sequels do a far better job of providing similar scares and slash with a dash of charm and self-awareness. It runs purely on nostalgia but the fumes aren’t enough to keep it going for long.