Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Return to Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 2008)

Where the hell is Aunt Martha? How do you a sequel to the original Sleepaway Camp without her? I mean, what gives, man? Hold on, I don't care for tone I'm currently using. In fact, I'm starting to sound like one of them "dweebs" who complain about trivial nonsense on the internet. And speaking as someone who owns albums by Asmus Tietchens and The Hafler Trio, this is not a good look for me. Rise above it. You're cooler than this. Seriously, though, the reason I'm so concerned about the lack of Aunt Martha in Return to Sleepaway Camp, the long-awaited second feature by Robert Hiltzik, the writer-director of the first chapter in the camp horror saga, is because I was afraid the film wouldn't contain any of the original's off-kilter charm. If you remember correctly, Aunt Martha (played by the luminous Desiree Gould), despite appearing in only two scenes, brought a fair amount of campy weirdness to the first film. Which begs the question: Who's going to step up to the plate and provide me with the uncut campy weirdness I so wantonly crave? Looking over my nonexistent notes, it says here, what the...? This can't be right. What does it say? What does it say? It says here that someone named "Michael Gibney" is this film's saviour when it comes to dolling out the uncut campy weirdness I so wantonly crave. You mean, Alan? The chubby slob who all the other campers refer to as "Fatty" and "Blow Job"? Yep, that's him. You're joking, right? You mean to tell me that the character who prevents Return to Sleepaway Camp from being a complete waste of time was that obnoxious kid who has an annoying habit of informing others that their asses stink whenever he leaves the room? That's exactly what I'm telling you. Why do you look so shocked? It's just not what I expected. Well, what can I say? Your ass stinks!!!!

Don't get me wrong, the film is odd in other places as well–the head camp counselor played by Vincent Pastore is madly in love with his pet cockatoo. However, I think most people will agree that Michael Gibney's ultra-bizarre turn as Alan is the festering cherry sitting atop this crazy ass stink of a movie.

I'll get to the scene where Miles Thompson (Me You and Everyone We Know) lights his own farts as the bespectacled Pee Pee (Paul Iacono) watches while clutching his security blanket in a minute. In the meantime, how about that the theme song, eh? Call me a squirrel with wonky ears, but I thought "Return to Sleepaway Camp" by Goat and Friends was pretty catchy.

Okay, now, where was I? Oh, yeah, lighting farts. A bunch of younger campers at Camp Manabe are spending a quiet evening together lighting their intestinal gas, when all of a sudden, Alan (Michael Gibney), a heavy set fella with low self-esteem, bursts into their cabin demanding that he be allowed to partake in the fart lighting festivities. Noticing that the others aren't too impressed with the amount flame his flatulence produces, Alan grows angry with them. And just as his anger is about to get out of hand, Randy (Brye Cooper), a camp counselor, breaks things up.

It's at this moment when we first hear Alan utter the immortal words: "Your ass stinks!" Or, in this scene's case, "Hey, Randy! Your ass stinks!" Which Alan says as he's exiting the cabin. Keep an eye on Miles Thompson and Paul Iacono near the end of this scene. After Alan leaves, Randy sees that Pee Pee is chewing on his security blanket, so he grabs it away from and throws it toward Miles. No big deal, right? Yeah, but when Randy leaves, Miles gives the blanket back to Pee Pee almost immediately. Question my sanity if you must, but I thought the part where Miles gives Pee Pee back his security blanket was one of the most touching moments in cinema history.

Oh, and, by the way, when I say, "cinema history," I'm referring to the movies I watch on a regular basis.

The following morning, or, it could have been midday (they were, after all, eating chicken), we enter the cafeteria or "mess hall" of Camp Manabe. And it's here where we're introduced to a slew of characters. Everyone I already mentioned is there, including Alan, who seems agitated, as usual, and Frank (Vincent Pastore), the head camp counselor. In addition to them, we meet some of Alan's primary tormentors: The leggy Linda (Jackie Tohn), a camp counselor who fills the shoes of the great Kim Fields (who played the evil, occasionally side-ponytailed Judy in the first film) as the camp's head hosebeast; a take no guff camper named Bella (Shahidah McIntosh), and T.C. (Christopher Shand), who is your typical bully. Meaning, he's got plenty of spineless sycophants, one's with names like, Spaz (Jake O'Connor) and Chooch (Lucas Blondheim),  to back him up. Oh, crap. I almost forgot. Even Alan's stepbrother, Michael (Michael Werner), is one of his tormentors.

On top of meeting his tormentors, we're also introduced to the alluring Alex (Ashley Carin), or "Doll," as Frank likes to call her.  It should be noted that Alex knows how to make a room full of unruly campers shut their traps and looks amazing in a red, Baywatch-style one-piece bathing suit (which makes perfect sense, as she's the camp lifeguard). A couple of Alan's defenders make their first appearance as well. The plucky Petey (Kate Simses), a camp counselor who repeatedly sticks up for Alan, and Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo), a camp counselor who you might remember from the first film. The great thing about Ronnie is the fact that he is still wearing shorts. Wait, that doesn't make any sense. Let me try again: The great thing about Ronnie is that his shorts are the same length they were back in 1983. And I liked how none of the other characters ever called attention to the profound shortness of his shorts.

The reason Alex needed to quiet the campers so abruptly was so that Sheriff Jerry could address the kids in order to tell them about the dangers of smoking. Forced to speak via an electrolarynx thanks to laryngeal cancer, Sheriff Jerry is made fun of for the way he speaks. However, he seems to take it in stride. Someone who takes nothing in stride is Alan, who gets in another fight with Randy over a piece of chicken. Which, as you might have guessed, ends with Petey coming to the rescue and Alan telling Randy that his ass stinks.

When Alan goes to the kitchen to get something else to eat (Ronnie said it was okay), he is welcomed with open arms by the camp's chef (Isaac Hayes). The chef's assistant, Mickey (Lenny Venito), on the other hand, is not-so welcoming. In fact, he's downright hostile towards Alan. After Mickey throws a few eggs at him, Alan heads over to his secret hiding spot in the woods to commune with his friends. And by "friends" I mean a bunch of frogs.

Purple nurples, nose flicking, pelted with eggs and spit balls, verbally abused, shot with paintballs, beaten with a croquet mallet, wedgied over a lake, tricked into smoking a joint made from cow shit, public humiliation, intense crotch grabbing, the sheer amount of pain and suffering Alan is put through in Return to Sleepaway Camp is off the charts in terms of physical and emotional abuse.

Granted, Alan can be a bit of a bully himself at times; Alan is constantly picking on Pee Pee and the adorable Toby (Lindsey Hiltzik); I dig those glasses, girlfriend. But still, I've never seen a character endure so much anguish over the course of a single camp-based horror film.

You would think that Alan's crush on a top heavy camper named Karen (Erin Broderick) would bring the tubby lad a silver of solace. But even his crushes seem to lead to more torment, as T.C. and the gang use his infatuation with Karen to degrade him in front of the entire camp.

Just when I thought the film was turning onto a depressing exercise in adolescent cruelty, other campers and staff start getting killed in ways that can best be described as gruesome. Flayed, deep dried, set ablaze, penetrated by household items (weaponized broomsticks and bunk beds), eaten by rats, castrated with fishing line attached to jeeps, strangled by barbed wire, and crushed by cars, the quality of the kills in this film is a marked improvement over the kills featured in the first film.

Suspecting that Angela (Felissa Rose), the killer from the original Sleepaway Camp, is the one behind the latest spate of summer camp murders, Ronnie grows increasingly paranoid. So much so that he accuses Petey of being Angela (she's always helping Alan). Hell, even Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), Angela's brother, is tracked down at one point.

Including the three instances where Matilda, Frank's cockatoo, says it, the line, "You ass stinks," is uttered a total of seven times over the course of the film. And according to my research, Frank's ass stinks the most, as Alan and Matilda both tell him that his ass stinks three times. (When Matilda says the line, Franks starts yelling, "You corrupted my bird" over and over again. I think I might have made several laughing sounds during this particular scene.) Next in the your ass stinks sweepstakes is Randy, who is told twice that his ass stinks. Rounding out the bottom of the list are Bella, who becomes aware that her ass stinks during a croquet match, and Ronnie and Jenny (Jaime Radow) are informed by Matilda during the film's bloody finale.

Maybe my brain ain't hooked up right, but I had no idea who the killer was right up until the big reveal. I'll admit, my mind was mostly elsewhere as watched this film (obviously counting the amount of times "Your ass stinks" was said aloud and trying to picture Ashley Carin in her red, Baywatch-style one-piece bathing suit). But I was genuinely surprised by the ending. Sure, it's nowhere as shocking as the original film's ending. Yet, I thought it was pretty a tongue and cheek sort of way. It's hard to believe, but Robert Hiltzik has somehow managed to recreate the exceedingly strange atmosphere that made the first film so memorable. Oh, and make sure to stay to the end of the credits, as there's a cool bonus scene. If you don't, well, your ass clearly stinks.


  1. When will anyone learn (especially Hollywood) that some things just can't be remade, everything has it's time and season and for whatever reason it was, they captured something special in the first Sleepaway, call it the sum of it's parts, call it movie magic, call it whatever you want to call it but that was it's time. Thank God (or the Devil) we have the original to enjoy, everything that came after was just a mindless venture.

  2. Like the other sequels, this one takes on a more comedic approach. I wanted to kick that guy with the frogs, total pain in the ass, and he was filthy! Angela grew into quite a hottie. I find this one amusing but, nothing tops the first for me. I own them all on dvd and plan to go through them for Halloween possibly. Great review, I'm glad the ending surprised you. I'm more glad the gym teachers shorts weren't nut huggers like in the first film.

  3. @Tommy Ross: Well put.

    So much so that I have this strange hankering to watch the original Sleepaway Camp.

    @Grimm: Felissa Rose is a babe.

    "Nut huggers." Hee.

  4. At the beginning, this movie looks 2000s, the clothes and stuff, but slowly turns into a 80s film by the third act.