The Burning (1981) (Video Nasty review #9)

The Burning posterDirector: Tony Maylam

Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander

“They never found his body, but he survived. He lives on whatever he can catch. Eats them raw, alive. No longer human. Right now, he’s out there. Watching, waiting. Don’t look: he’ll see you. Don’t move: he’ll hear you. Don’t breathe: you’re dead!” (Todd, The Burning)

Although there were a number of slasher films before Friday The 13th (most notably Halloween and Black Christmas), it was that film’s success which led to the birth of a sub-genre that was by far the most oft-imitated during the ’80s: the camp slasher.

(Obviously, by that I mean slasher films set in a summer camp, as opposed to films where a killer prances around going “oo-er missus” before stabbing someone.)

One of the earliest imitations – and one of the best, actually – was The Burning, a film written and produced by the then-indie Weinstein brothers and their small studio Miramax. Continue reading “The Burning (1981) (Video Nasty review #9)”

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) review

Sleepaway Camp III posterDirector: Michael A Simpson

Starring: Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith, Michael J Pollard, Mark Oliver

CINDY – “Why are you doing this to me?”

ANGELA – “Because you’re a cheerleader, a fornicator, a drug taker, a nasty snotty bigot… and besides that, you’re real nice.”

Here’s some advice. If you’re ever at a pub quiz and one of the questions is “what do Sleepaway Camp and Back To The Future have in common?”, your response should be two sentences.

The first: “That’s a pretty fucking obscure film to be bringing up in a pub quiz, considering the public in general aren’t familiar with the Sleepaway Camp series.”

The second: “Nevertheless, the answer to your niche question is that both had their second and third movies shot back-to-back.” Continue reading “Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) review”

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) review

Sleepaway Camp 2 posterDirector: Michael A Simpson

Starring: Pamela Springsteen, Renee Estevez, Tony Higgins

Also known as: Nightmare Vacation II (UK VHS)

ANGELA – “I did my time. Two years of therapy, electroshock, was on every pill you ever heard of, plus an operation. I’m completely cured. If I wasn’t they wouldn’t have let me out. How do you know so much about me?”

SEAN – “My dad’s a cop. He helped arrest you. You should have heard him the day you got out.”

ANGELA – “That’s too bad. Wait until he hears what’s happened to you.”

Warning: The following review spoils the identity of the killer in the original Sleepaway Camp. However, it does not spoil its big twist ending, so if you don’t mind knowing who the killer was you can feel free to read on, safe in the knowledge you’re still in for a shock when you watch the original. Which you really should, you know.

Sleepaway Camp caused something of a dilemma. When you end a film in such a shocking, outrageous manner, how exactly can you follow that up? Sleepaway Camp II decided the answer was to give the original’s killer a completely different personality.

Years after butchering a load of kids in Camp Arawak all those years ago, Angela Baker has gone through extensive electro-shock therapy and psychiatric treatment. She decides the best thing to do is get a job as a counsellor at a new summer camp, seeing as everything went so well the last time. Continue reading “Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) review”

Return To Sleepaway Camp (2008)

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Paul DeAngelo, Vincent Pastore, Isaac Hayes, Michael Gibney

RANDY: “Are you really that stupid?”

ALAN: “Not as stupid as you, you big penis!”

Although the cult classic horror Sleepaway Camp has had a couple of sequels, neither were really seen as true spiritual successors since none of the original cast and crew were involved. With the first film’s director, writer and key cast members making a comeback for Return To Sleepaway Camp though, it could probably be considered the first ‘canon’ sequel to the original movie.

(Heads up – there are some spoilers for the original Sleepaway Camp below)

Isaac Hayes quit as Chef in South Park, then played a chef in this instead. D’oh

Taking place 25 years after Sleepaway Camp, Return is set in Camp Manabe, a new summer camp part-run by Ronnie, the head counselor in the original film’s Camp Arawak. Ronnie (played once again by Paul DeAngelo, who seemingly hasn’t learned any new acting tricks in the past two and a half decades) gets suspicious when kids at the camp start dying in gruesome ways, just like they did back at Camp Arawak.

Ronnie’s certain that Angela is to blame for the killings, even though her cousin Ricky (who is also played by the original actor, now in his mid-30s and more camp than Butlins) assures them that she’s still locked up in an asylum and has been since her rather awkward public display of nudity.

This police guy looks and sounds a bit weird. Wonder why…

This makes the prime suspect Alan – a big fat simple lad who’s constantly bullied by the other campers. Throughout the film this gets to Alan and he snaps on a regular basis, often screaming at his bullies and sometimes even pointing a knife at them. But is Alan upset enough to actually kill anyone? That’d be telling.

Much like the original, everything in Return To Sleepaway Camp is pleasantly bad. The acting remains as abysmal as ever, the dramatic music blares over scenes of standard dialogue for no reason at all, the script is atrocious (check the example above to see what I mean) and while the inevitable “twist” ending was clearly never going to match the original in terms of shock value, it should still please some fans of the first film.

This was the worst telescope Duncan had ever used

A slasher film generally lives and dies by the inventiveness of its death scenes, and Return To Sleepaway Camp makes a decent attempt at it. Whether it’s the wince-inducing scene involving a length of wire tied to both the manhood of a poor chap tied to a tree and a truck set to drive off, or the will-they-won’t-they moment where two kids keep looking through a hole in the ground where they can see a sharpened a broom handle lying under their cabin, the kill scenes are fun enough to keep you watching even if they’re not amazingly well-executed (pun very much intended).

Return To Sleepaway Camp isn’t trying to be the greatest film ever made, it’s a fun and sometimes tongue-in-cheek love letter to fans of the first film who continue to keep its legend alive. For this reason I’d recommend watching the original first, and only giving this a shot if you decide you want more of the same.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields

Also known as: Nightmare Vacation (UK VHS)

BILL: “Eat shit and die, Ricky!”
RICKY: “Eat shit and live, Bill.”

My first encounter with Sleepaway Camp was an unassuming purchase at a second-hand DVD shop in a Glasgow market. I was a member of a horror forum at the time and I vaguely remembered it being a part of someone’s list of horror films that were worth checking out. I had slight recollections that there was a reason it was such essential viewing but for the life of me I couldn’t remember why.

This (wo)man is guilty of the worst acting ever committed to celluloid

I took it home and there it sat for a few weeks, until eventually I watched it with my brother late one night. We were used to watching cheesy ’80s camp slashers and for the first 80 minutes of its 84-minute duration Sleepaway Camp is a prime example of this, with its hilariously bad acting and inventive, gruesome deaths. And then the ending came, with an image that will forever be burnt into the minds of my brother and I for the rest of our lives.

Angela and her cousin Ricky… but who’s the killer?

The general plot seems fairly run-of-the-mill. After a man and one of his children die in a horrible boat accident, the man’s sister takes in the other, orphaned child and raises it as one of her own. Fast-forward to ten years later and the child, Angela, heads off to summer camp with her cousin Ricky. As you’d expect, shit starts to go down at the camp and people start dropping off in gruesome ways, but who’s behind the killings?

The new series of Bullseye had started horribly wrong

Sleepaway Camp feels like a real labour of love. Despite the sub-standard acting which ranges from wooden (most of the counsellors are as one-dimensional as an x-axis) to ridiculously over-the-top (the actress – at least, I think it’s a woman – playing Angela’s aunt really has to be seen to be believed), it’s clear that everyone’s having a ball making this film and this comes across in the relationships with the children. Sure, they can’t act, but you find yourself not really caring.

Without even taking the ending into account (I’ll get to that later… no spoilers though, of course), Sleepaway Camp is littered with scenes that are surprisingly dark and grisly for a standard slasher film, especially considering most of the victims aren’t the older teen camp counsellors we’re used to in this sort of film, but actually the children attending the camp.

You’ll squirm as one of the girls gets hair curlers thrust into an unmentionable area, wince as a young lad is stung to death by bees, cheer as the paedophile chef (yes, really) gets what’s coming to him and gasp as you see a brief glimpse of a group of mutilated eight-year-olds. Yes, it might be cheesy and low-budget, but Sleepaway Camp isn’t fucking around.

Genuine dialogue: “She’s a real carpenter’s dream… flat as a board and needs a screw”

And then there’s the ending (which I refuse to even hint at). It’s a true shock becomes it comes completely out of nowhere, yet still makes sense in the context of the story. The film lulls you into a false sense of superiority as you’re more or less certain to guess the killer within the film’s first 25 minutes. It’s so obvious it’s almost laughable, and you sit patiently waiting for the ‘shock’ reveal when they’re exposed as the perpetrator. But then it throws a curveball at the last minute by revealing that the killer’s identity was never supposed to be the big twist, it was always meant to be something entirely different and far more shocking.

I urge you to track down Sleepaway Camp. It’s 80 minutes of fun, cheesy camp slasher gold, topped off with what’s genuinely one of the most memorable endings in cinematic history. You will not get that final image out of your head, I guarantee it.