Monday, August 3, 2009

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (Michael A. Simpson, 1988)

I don't exactly know what the expression "cinematic comfort food" means (nor do I know the meaning of half the words and phrases I bandy about on a regular basis). But I do know that I felt extremely comfortable while fully immersed in the simplistic glow of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, the second film in the super-terrific summer camp set horror series. I think the main reason I felt so at ease in front of this cabin-based slasher was the fact that the killer was a woman. You see, the idea of a man going around slaughtering people in an idyllic setting always seems to rub and tug me the wrong way. It's almost as if his constant need to stab others is a convoluted metaphor for sexual dysfunction. In other words, he can't stab people the proper way, with his penis (or a store-bought alternative), so he has to express his thrusting self in an irregular sort of way. Which, of course, leads to lots of kindly folks getting dispatched with knives and other stab-friendly accoutrements. On the other hand, the sight of a woman acting all atrocious and stuff has a strangely soothing quality about it. Much the same way wide-eyed strippers soothe the souls of tormented disc jockeys. The mild confusion that surrounded the identity of the killer in the first film is nowhere to found in this particular chapter. In that, we know who the killer is right from the get-go. Meaning, the annoyances that come with having to pay attention to plot points and keeping track of countless clues are virtually nonexistent in this film. This dismantling of all artifice and narrative trickery created a stressless environment in which the orderly murder of campers could be enjoyed on a more primitive level.

The nude work of Valerie Hartman as the uninhibited Ally, and, to a lesser extent, Susan Marie Snyder as Mare (an attention junkie who likes to flash her breasts at people), gave the atmosphere of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers a distinctly sleazy flavour in the early going. And since the majority of the campers at Rolling Hills Summer Camp seemed a tad too old to be spending the summer at camp, the amount of depraved shame I felt as I inadvertently ogled their jiggly infrastructures was repeatedly rendered negligible.

While Valerie's Ally should have technically been killed first (the killer even points this out), director Michael A. Simpson, in a brilliant move, decided to keep the bawdy scamp alive. Just think how less cool this film would have been had she expired at the beginning. The prospect of not seeing her receive an aggressive tonguing from a cunnilingual master (he was actually quite bad at it) in a washroom stall, sport a wetter than normal t-shirt, straddle a piece of man-candy in a forested local (her post-coital verbiage was inspired), and acting overly confident while chitchatting topless would have a been a major tragedy.

I wasn't joking about being at ease with a female serial killer, especially when they kill with a gentle grace. However, it should be said that the bulk of this ease is made possible thanks to the wonderfully insane performance by Pamela Springsteen as Angela, a strict, yet cheerful camp counselor. I was in love the moment she wacked that unruly camper in the face with a log and casually removed her tongue.

Turning the normally repugnant act of murder into an act of pure impishness, Miss Springsteen giddily kills whoever happens to be irritating her at the moment with a chilling nonchalance. The fact that none of the people she is about to stab, choke, immolate, slice, bludgeon, drill (yeah, she's a driller), or drown in fecal-tinged water are aware they're about to be murdered added to the unpleasantness.

I mean, who's gonna be afraid of a comely woman in a light blue t-shirt and beige shorts who sings songs that promote camping for a living? That being said, the sheer kookiness that Pamela brought to the proceedings should not be discounted, as each death is made oddly comical by the alluring actress. I adored the way she smiled while committing heinous crimes against her fellow campers; it was so genial of her.

It's this off-kilter lightheadedness that makes Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers the unique delight that it is. Of course, having Renée Estevez (Heathers) acting all shy and demure was a factor as well. At any rate, with a straightforward plot, gory murders (not too graphic, though), and a loopy killer, I declare this sequel to be a resounding success.

video uploaded by plumerama


  1. This one is my favorite of this series. The next film had some creative kills, but it was nowhere as much fun as part two. As you said, Ally and her assets were among the most memorable aspects of the movie.

  2. I have seen surprisingly few '80s slasher films. I will have to give this one a try.

  3. Here's an interesting bit of trivia I learned from the extras on the Sleepaway Camp box set that came out a few years ago in re: Valerie Hartman's energetic and memorable sex scene by the log in the woods. The reason you don't see her love partner in a lot of the shots is that the male actor was in fact underage (17, I think they said), and so they had to have a stand-in (lie-in?) for those shots.

    She's definitely one of my favorite things about the movie, though. Not only hot and uninhibited but also so gleefully nasty and hateful. Just what I look for in a woman.

    You're right about Springsteen's winning portrayal here too. For me Part 3 suffered from diminishing returns, but 1 and 2 are just great fun slashers.

    Also--is it this one or part 3 that has the lead counselor guy with the truly amazing curled mullet? Worth the price of admission. :)

  4. venoms5: Assessing assets isn't my strong suit. But I have to admit, Ally's were quite easy to assess.

    Darius: I see you like Danielle Fishel. Very interesting. Anyway, yeah, give it a try. Nudity. Kills. Bruce Springsteen's sister... it's got it all.

    The Vicar of VHS: I own that box set; got it as a Christmas (Annual Gift Day) present. So, yeah, I'm down with that little nugget of Unhappy Camper trivia.

    Lie-in sounds about right. You know, considering he wasn't doing any straddling.

    Gleefully nasty is one of my favourite qualities as well.

    Yeah, part 3 is a tad harder to love, but I'm sure I'll find something to obsess about.

    A skillfully sculptured mullet if I ever saw one.

  5. Oddly, I never watched "Boy Meets World" but call her "Topanga" anyway. Hmm.

  6. As usual, I'll comment more when I have time, but I thought you'd enjoy this news:

  7. You mean the Ben's reign of terror is finally over? It's about freaking time.

    Oh, and I'm sure you're pleased to hear that A.O. Scott has been named as one of the replacements.

  8. I love this movie!! Parts 2 and 3 are BY FAR the best SLEEPAWAY CAMP movies. Those movies kept famous people's siblings working when no one else would!

    Thanks for posting on this movie. I loved the review.


  9. I thought about you (and your love of Some Kind of Wonderful) when I read the sad news of John Hughes' death. :(

    Speaking of great 80s soundtracks, Pamela Springsteen was in Reckless.

  10. Tower Farm: Thanks, JM.

    Yeah, Tracy Griffith, Melanie's half-sister, is in the third Sleepaway Camp flick.

    Karim: I was shocked when I heard the news that John Hughes had died. His movies were an integral part of my adolescence.

    A Reckless DVD is available at the Warner Brothers online store.

  11. Holy crap, Yums! I had no idea! How did this news escape me?

    On a related (awesome!) note, Warner Archives is releasing Urgh! A Music War.

  12. Great writeup on this film. I loved this movie. I watched it again not that long ago. I still enjoyed it. Definitely one of my favorite of the slasher movies of the 80's.

  13. Our local vid store only had Sleepaway Camp I. Decided I'll give it a try.

  14. Kamir: Well whattaya know, Urgh! is on DVD. Weird, wild stuff.

    Keith: Thanks, Keith.

    Darius: I hope you enjoy it.

  15. This movie was just...gross. I hated the characters...I was grossed out by the kills...

    In general, this would be a good thing...but somehow this one just rubbed me the wrong way. Can't really explain why. Maybe it was just my mood. The outhouse kill and the cullingus scene are the only two I really remember.

    Oh, and some song about "...I like to drink and fuck, and if you give me money on my titties you can suck."

  16. How can you hate Angela? Unless you mean everyone except Angela. ;)

  17. Pamela Springstein's freakishisly chipper performance is one of my favorite elements of the movie. I really dug the original Sleepaway Camp, and, as a sequel, I don't really think this flick works. But as a movie, on its own, unconnected to the original, I think it stands on its own two feet in a very enjoyable way.

  18. Try as I might, I just couldn't get through this one. Just okay but doesn't light a candle in my opinion to the first one. The casting choice of the original Angela is hard to beat.