Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Sleepaway Camp II (1988)
Ah, the slasher sequel. So often the bane of the horror reviewer's existence, because, half of the time, the sequel has almost nothing to do with its predecessor. The other half, the sequel is such a perfect carbon copy that you might as well reprint your review of the original, with a few minor tweaks. Of course, every once in a while you get a movie like Sleepaway Camp II, which follows the events of Sleepaway Camp without repeating them. Sadly, however, this does not make the film all that interesting.
Please be warned -- the following review contains a massive spoiler for the first Sleepaway Camp movie. By continuing, you acknowledge that you have seen that film or that just don't give a fig.
A group of summer campers gather around the campfire telling each other spooky stories, but the spookiest of all is the one about Camp Arowak and the murders perpetrated by transsexual Angela Baker five years earlier. Rumor has it that Angela was given a sex change by the state and has escaped... but that's ludicrous right? Counselor Angela Johnson (Pamela "Bruce's Sister" Springsteen) doesn't think so -- especially since she is Angela Baker. Angela has changed in the intervening years; she's more outgoing, responsible, and a willing participant in all camp activities. She still has that nasty killing problem, though, but she really only kills immoral people, so it's all good, right?
Sleepaway Camp II's big asset is that it never takes itself seriously. Springsteen's Angela is a curiously polite killer, treating murder as a job that has to be done and done right. She's like that peppy office worker who constantly asks you if you're having a "Name-of-Company-Here" kind of day, and finds joy in the most unpleasant of tasks. That extra bit of chipper is useful for getting through some pretty pedestrian killing scenes.
Murder sequences are the bread and butter of the slasher genre -- the more creative the better and damn the plot. If you don't kill well, you might as well not kill at all. Sleepaway Camp II might as well not kill at all. Although the specific methods are gruesome on paper -- electric drill to the head, slashed throats, human barbeque -- the execution (pardon the pun) leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the action is flat and lacks a sense of impact. Most of Angela's murders seem to be on display, distanced and disconnected from the viewer. The death by chainsaw in the middle of the film is an excellent example. It's meant to be a tribute to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it feels like a chainsaw entering a sack of meat that happens to be a person. The visceral "oomph" just isn't there, and that's a death warrant for a slasher movie.
But hey, Springsteen is bright and perky. That should overcome some of the flaws in the formula, right? Alas, a cheery performance is not always a good one. Sometimes Springsteen hits the mark dead-on, but more often her line readings are uninspired and disrupt the suspension of disbelief. The same goes for the rest of the cast -- few of them seem to get past the fact that they are in a movie.
I will say this -- some of the gore effects are impressive. Most of them are on display during the "abandoned cabin" sequence in the last third of the film. Angela keeps the bodies of her victims sitting next to each other as some sort of sick monument to her handiwork, so we get to relive the effects of all the murders at once. While this is largely superfluous (especially since director Michael A. Simpson runs us through a montage of the corpses twice), it is a nice showcase for makeup designer Bill "Splat" Johnson and I hope he has it on his demo reel.
The older I get and more accepting I become, the more willing I am to acknowledge that the slasher film has a place in the horror genre and should be dealt with on its own terms. Unfortunately, aesthetically incompetent movies that cannot even meet the very basic requirements of the subgenre don't really help me with that policy of open-mindedness. Sleepaway Camp II is a blot on the good name of its predecessor and should be forgotten if at all possible.