Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983). Writer/director: Robert Hiltzik.
RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008). Writer/director: Robert Hiltzik.

With its obvious model being the original Friday the 13th, this slasher film makes its camp's victims both counselors and kids. The opening depicts a boating accident in which Angela (Felissa Rose) loses her family and is taken in by her weird Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould, who turns her character into a ludicrous caricature). Angela and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierstein) attend the festivities at Camp Arawak, where Angela is bullied because of her habit of giving everyone the silent treatment. A boy named Paul (Christopher Collet) is attracted to Angela and helps bring her out of her shell, but still there's something amiss. Then the murders start, with one pedophile cook being boiled in oil, and assorted bullies getting set on fire, stung by bees (that, incredibly, seem to eat human flesh), and so on. The "shock" ending packs a decided wallop -- until you think about how far-fetched and rather silly it is; it is also similar to the ending of The Incubus. Mike Kellin gives a lousy performance as the owner of the camp, but both Rose and Tierstein give effective performances, as does Karen Fields as the bitchy Judy. Most of the victims in this, aside from three little boys, are so obnoxious that their deaths are almost welcome. The make up effects are good and the film holds the attention.

Sleepaway Camp was followed by two campy sequels in which Pamela Springsteen, the younger sister of "the Boss," plays Angela. Then Robert Hiltzik, the writer and director of the original film, came out with his own sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp, that ignores the two films made in between, hiring a few of the actors from the first movie. Frank (Vincent Pastore) is the owner of Camp Manabe, where Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo), who used to work at Camp Arawak, is head counselor. Alan (Michael Gibney) is a obese camper who is as bullying as he is bullied. When a new series of murders begin, Sheriff Jerry goes looking for Ricky (Jonathan Fierstein), who tells him that, as far as he knows, his cousin Angela (Felissa Rose) is in an institution. Or is she? Return to Sleepaway Camp begins on a note of hysteria and maintains it throughout the whole shrill movie. The characters are almost universally unlikable, the victims so totally obnoxious that, as in the first film, their deaths are welcome, and the bullying aspects are, frankly, pretty hard to take at times. One death scene involving a man tied to a tree trunk with a loop of wire around his penis goes on for an excruciatingly long time. Fierstein, who was so good in the original film as a boy actor, is pretty terrible as the adult Ricky in this. Michael Gibney is effective as Alan, but one has to wonder how Isaac Hayes wound up as a cook in this picture, appearing for only a couple of minutes. Gross and graphic, the movie, like the first film, holds the attention, but is hardly a classic.  Robert Hiltzik only directed these two films, the second of which was direct-to-video.

Verdict: Sleepaway Camp. **1/2.
              Return to Sleepaway Camp. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

I remember the original Sleepaway Camp, which was not nearly as original and shocking as the first Friday the 13th. These formulaic movies are riveting, though, because you watch them not to find out what is going to happen (which is obvious) but how the story unfolds and is told...I have always liked slasher films for this reason.

William said...

Excellent point, Chris. One's always hoping a slasher movie may have, along with the gory murders, some style or other elements that will lift them above the others.