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Review Bites Franchise Frenzy: Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

The original Sleepaway Camp made a big splash when it was first released. That was mostly because of its infamous twist ending which rivals the conclusion of Hitchcock’s Psycho and is still very much talked about today. It is difficult to discuss the film in detail without revealing the big surprise but let’s just say the film has received a bad rap because of that ending. What we will say is that the surprise itself is not the reason, the spark or the catalyst of why the killer decides to go on a rampage slicing and dicing the occupants of Camp Arawak. We will leave things at that.

Sleepaway Camp is what would happen if the legendary filmmaker John Waters would have been hired to shoot Friday The 13th and not Sean S. Cunningham. Yes, the acting and characterizations are all over-the-top. That’s because they were supposed to be.

Sleepaway Camp is not just your average Friday The 13th clone. It stands on its own by fashioning Camp Arawak into its own world, its own reality where some very despicable adults who, along with a killer, are also preying on the teens and children. There’s pedophile head cook Artie (Owen Hughes) who as the campers arrive sputters: “There ain’t no such thing as being too young. You’re just too old.” Yikes!

Then, there is the camp’s owner and resident slimeball Mel (Mike Kellin) who creeps on one of his own counselors who is old enough to be his granddaughter. He also turns a blind eye to Artie’s behaviour and the dead bodies too as they begin stacking up. Double yikes!

At the center of all this brutal mayhem and vile behaviour are the campers themselves, most notably Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Angela’s withdrawn, quiet nature makes her the perfect target for the camp’s resident bullies. Ricky takes on the role of Angela’s sworn protector. That gets him into a lot of trouble because in the twisted world of Camp Arawak, bullies and sexual predators thrive out in the open until vengeance comes for them.

The kills themselves aren’t Friday The 13th worthy though except for the imaginative use of a curling iron and a pot of boiling water by the psychopath. Just a bunch of routine stabbings, drownings and an occasional arrow to the throat. If it weren’t for its shocker of an ending and its bizarre backdrop Sleepaway Camp would have been indistinguishable from all the other routine direct-to-video slasher movies released in the eighties and nineties.

Watch on: Dark side of the internet, Peacock, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

We usually post the trailers with our reviews but since they reveal too much, spoil too much for those who haven’t seen the original film, we are not including some of them with this edition of Franchise Frenzy.

Angela returns but this time she is played by Pamela Springsteen, the sister of rocker Bruce Springsteen. Five years have passed since the Arawak killings and Angela is working as a counselor at another camp. Angela isn’t the demure wallflower any more. She’s positively passionate and very serious about her job and the camp rules, regulations. It isn’t too long though before campers start dying in nasty ways and disappearing into thin air.

The kills are more inventive with Unhappy Campers. There is a chainsaw attack, someone is drowned in a stinky, gross outhouse and there’s an electric drill slaying. The thrill and scares are gone though as the killer takes on that wise-cracking slasher persona that was popular in the eighties and nineties. The one that turns what should be gruesome kills into just another Dad joke punchline.

Watch on: The dark side of the internet, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

The Sleepaway Camp series hits rock bottom so hard that another sequel wasn’t made until 19 years later. That should tell you all you need to know but…

They weren’t kidding when they sub-titled the film Teenage Wasteland as that is exactly what this sequel is. It is a vapid, deserted wasteland devoid of not only any creativity. That’s saying a lot considering how much milage and fun the first two films got out of their meager budgets and talent. They weren’t that bad at all.

There is hardly any time spent in any of the camp facilities in this film. Camping is camping for the most part. It is just tents and campfires in a forest. The killer literally goes from one camp site to the other burning, axing, stabbing people. I guess the producers didn’t have the funds to rent an actual camp for very long. The only creative kill occurs when someone has their head runover by a lawn mower.

Sleepaway Camp? More like Sleepaway Crap.

Watch on: Tubi, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, dark side of the internet.

Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)

There have been some really annoying characters in the history of horror. Some infamous ones are buzzkill Franklin Hardesty from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, kung-fu fighting Freddie Harris from Halloween Resurrection, the annoying Stuart Macher from Scream and the entire cast of The Blair Witch Project and Midsommar. If you have had to endure any or all of these insufferable celluloid idiots, you know what I am talking about.

Still, you haven’t seen anything yet until you’ve checked out 2008’s Return to Sleepaway Camp and its lead Alan played by Michael Gibney. We think the idea was for Alan to be a sympathetic character. He’s an overweight, awkward kid who is bullied by the other campers and even some of the counselors. The problem is Alan is a crude, mean, nasty bully himself. He rips food out of people’s hands, pulls on a girl’s hair until she gives up her place in line, intimidates and assaults those weaker than him. So, when he gets some of what he dishes out we don’t have any sympathy at all for him. In all honesty, I chuckled when Alan received some payback but that was my only source of entertainment throughout Return, that and the fact that South Park’s Isaac Hayes plays the camp’s resident chef. Paul DeAngelo returns as counselor Ronnie from the first film as does Jonathan Tiersten as Richard “Ricky” Thomas. Return to Sleepaway Camp is a direct sequel to the original movie ignoring Unhappy Campers and Teenage Wasteland.

If you are able to suffer through all that is the irritating, annoying Alan as the lead what you are left with is a miserable slasher film that does have some fun kills some of which include a character suffering a Saw-like fate as his head is locked in a birdcage filled with hungry rats and someone has their penis torn off by a speeding jeep. There is some good gore and kills here, however, we have to sit through, endure Alan’s nonsense to get to it. There is another big twist ending but anyone with a keen eye can predict it a mile away.

Watch on: Disc, Dark side of the internet.

Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor (2012)

Don’t even bother. I am serious.

The plug was pulled on the original film leaving it unfinished, barely started. Filmmaker Dustin Ferguson and John Klyza of acquired the footage, shot like 30 minutes of their own, edited in a bunch of archive footage from the first three films and called it a movie. Most of the original footage is of the main character – Allison Kramer (Carrie Chambers) – sunbathing at what is supposed to be Camp Arawak as she narrates the film. Kramer is a survivor of the original film. She has been suffering nightmares ever since. Her shrink advises her to return to the camp and face her fears.

Unless you want to watch a Best of Sleepaway highlight reel, there is nothing to be gained by viewing this mess.

Watch on: Disc, Dark side of the internet.

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