Judge Gordon Sullivan says you can't go back to camp again.
Our reviews of Fright Pack: Campy Classics (published July 26th, 2005), Sleepaway Camp (published September 6th, 2000), Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (published September 4th, 2002), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (published September 4th, 2002), and Sleepaway Camp (1983) (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition (published May 16th, 2014) are also available.
Kids can be so mean!
The original Sleepaway Camp is a fond childhood memory for me. It's one of the few films that actually managed to creep me out (although whether it was the film or the fashions is debatable), and that ending is still a doozy. The other two films are fun little cheesefests that offer some campy performances and above-average kills. Unsurprisingly, I was not the only one with strong attachments to the Sleepaway Camp franchise, and the Internet has nurtured the cult of Angela for many years, initially resulting in the fine Sleepaway Camp set from Anchor Bay. The Internet audience made the franchise seem bankable, so for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film we get a reunion of sorts, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which reunites the original actors who played Angela, Ronnie, and Ricky for a new summer camp adventure. Their hearts were in the right place, but Return to Sleepaway Camp fails on almost every level, as either a good camp slasher (like the original) or as a ridiculous film to laugh at (like Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland).
Facts of the Case
Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo from the original Sleepaway Camp) is a counselor at Camp Manabe. One of his charges includes a young, misunderstood jerk of a boy, Alan (Michael Gibney), who's picked on by everyone for being fat, disgusting, and a total ass. When they're not taunting young Alan, the campers engage in the traditional camp activities of drugs and pranks. In true Sleepaway Camp tradition, kids start dying. Alan is the prime suspect, but Ronnie is convinced that Angela (Felisa Rose instead of Pamela Springsteen) has come back to play.
There are only a few things that a Sleepaway Camp film needs to be successful:
• Campers engaging in naughty activities
• Nasty deaths for said campers
Return to Sleepaway Camp fails two out of the three requirements. Sure, the campers engage in some inappropriate activity, like smoking a little marijuana and skinning a couple of frogs, but there's absolutely no titillation or identification. In the other films, the people who died either deserved it for being jerks (making you cheer for their deaths), or got killed for doing something that most people consider normal—like having sex—so we laugh at Angela's (literal) overkill. In Return to Sleepaway Camp, we get none of that. The people that we really hate don't get killed, and the campers who are killed aren't doing anything interesting enough to warrant Angela's wrath. No sex, no nudity, no interesting pranks, just stupid things like smoking marijuana or throwing eggs.
And speaking of Angela, the last two films worked because of the over the top performance of Pamela Springsteen as the avenging Angela. She made killing teenagers for being teenagers seem funny instead of scary. Return to Sleepaway Camp is seriously lacking the Angela factor. Yes, original Angela Felisa Rose returns, but she is scandalously underused. When the final reveal happens it seems slightly clever, but that reveal isn't good enough to make the 80 Angela-free minutes worthwhile.
Even if it wasn't the best Sleepaway Camp film, Return could have been a decent camp slasher. However, the creative team decided to focus the film on the most annoying character I've seen in a long time, Alan. He's disgusting, stupid, mean, petty, and completely irredeemable. Bill Murray made annoying seem endearing in What About Bob?, but that's not the case here. From the first scene with Alan, I wanted him to die in as graphic a way as possible as soon as possible. Sadly, this was not to be, and I suffered through almost 80 minutes of his poor characterization.
The characterization isn't the only writing flaw this film has. Dialogue is often so bad it's not even funny. Alan's perpetual comeback is "your ass stinks," and that's about the level of the rest of the writing on display here. I don't mind laughing at cheesy dialogue, but there's a point at which it becomes so bad it's not even funny anymore. Return to Sleepaway Camp reaches that level.
I can't lay all of the blame on the dialogue; the actors aren't doing much in the film either. Many of the veterans (Isaac Hayes, Vincent Pastore, Lenny Venito) acquit themselves well, but many of the youngsters are almost unwatchable. Again, not in a bad funny way, but in a "I want to turn this movie off but I have to finish it" kind of way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The makers of Return to Sleepaway Camp got one thing right: The kills are pretty fun. There's hot oil, penile injury, barbed-wire decapitation, and a couple of other choice methods used to dispatch naughty campers and counselors. There's not much blood, but the corpses look pretty good. Sadly, the gore isn't good enough to save the film.
The DVD package is also better than the film deserves. The video quality is a little variable, but considering the film's budget it looks pretty good. Dialogue was pretty well-balanced, which was nice because the only subtitle option was Spanish. The extras are pretty extensive, showing all the nostalgia surrounding the original film. There's a 28-minute "Behind the Scenes" documentary. Much of it is narrated by Jeff Hayes, webmaster of SleepawayCampMovies.com. His voice is not the most pleasing, but the featurette includes loads of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with cast and crew, and a number of shots of the gorgeous countryside in which the film was shot. The bulk of the rest of the extras are interviews with most of the major players in the film, including the actors who played Angel, Ricky, Ronnie, and Alan. The interviews are short, but together they give a good picture of how the film came to be and how everyone got involved. There's also a totally unnecessary Return to Sleepaway Camp song, which plays over some crappy camp footage.
Return to Sleepaway Camp makes Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland look like Shakespeare. A poor script, a total lack of compelling campers, and a too-brief glimpse of Angela all spell trouble for this nostalgic trip back to camp-land. I know that diehard fans of the original film will likely get suckered into watching this, but everyone else should stay far, far away. Fans of the series might want to own this one just for extras, as they provide glimpses of some of the original cast twenty-five years late. But if you go that route, don't pay full price since the film itself isn't worth watching.
I don't care what Angela's gender is: she's guilty, along with this movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• "Behind the Scenes"
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