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Sleepaway Camp II and III (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Michael A. Simpson
Writers: Fritz Gordon
Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez, Tony Higgins, Tracy Griffith, Michael J. Pollard
Year: 1988/1989
Length: 80 min
Rating: R
Region: A
Disks: 2/2
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date:  June 8, 2015

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • A Tale of Two Sequels – Part One and Two: Behind-the-scenes/documentary featurette featuring interviews with cast and crew members.
  • Abandoned: The Locations of Sleepaway Camp II and III
  • Behind the Scenes Footage: with Audio Commentary by Michael A. Simpson
  • Home Video Trailers
  • Full Uncut Working Print of Sleepaway Camp III
  • Deleted Scenes (Sleepaway Camp III)
  • Short Films: Whatever Happened to Molly? and Tony Lives!
  • Still Galleries
  • Audio Commentaries with director Michael A. Simpson and writer Fritz Gordon

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In 1983, a young man fresh out of NYU film school made what was to become a shocking midnight-slasher favorite. It was a dark film that was at times incoherent, and at other times unintentionally hilarious, campy. In the film’s final shot, however, this man, who’s only goal was to break into Hollywood, would — unbeknownst to him for nearly two decades — seal the film’s fate. Anyone reading this knows that the film was Sleepaway Camp and the man was Robert Hiltzik. Following the success of the first film, Hiltzik was geared up and ready to take the franchise to the next level. The promise of a larger budget meant that he could build from the original, making something darker and more engaging. When he did complete the script, however, his financiers found it too dark. Wanting to see the franchise turn towards comedy, the rights for Sleepaway Camp were purchased from Hiltzik — who after numerous stalled projects found himself back in law school. Director Michael A. Simpson and writer Fritz Gordon were enlisted to see this new vision through, and the result was two deranged, absurd, yet charming horror-comedies Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland.

The Films

I often think that it really is too bad that Hiltzik’s sequel was not given a chance. The original film is wickedly entertaining and it would seem that given a somewhat larger budget and cast he could have really pushed the boundaries with a sequel. On the flipside though, Simpson’s two sequels are, in their own right, fun little flicks. Plus, Hiltzik is the first to admit that he wasn’t drawn to horror because of love but because he saw an opportunity to strike success in the film world, stating in an interview did with us for the Scream Factory Blu-Ray release, “I was a movie fan. I loved action movies. [Horror] was really a production choice, a market choice. I can’t particularly say I was a horror movie fan.” So maybe Hiltzik’s second installment would have been nothing more than a cash grab. We won’t know — and it doesn’t appear that his script has since surfaced, so maybe we never will. All we have are Simpson and Gordon’s films…things could be a lot worse.

Sleepaway Camp II opens around a campfire, with a group of mostly male campers recounting scary stories to each other. It’s not long before the subject of a certain Angela Baker arises. Their camp, Camp Rolling Hills, is located in the vicinity of the original murders, so Angela’s story is well known. Her fate, however, is contested. Amid the legends being shared among each other, a figure emerges in the distance. As it approaches, it becomes clear that the shadowy figure is a scrawny female counselor, who has arrived to scold the single female member of the group for breaking camp rules. However, once she has the camper out of eye’s reach from the rest of the campers, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary counselor. Bashing the camper over the head and cutting out her tongue, Angela’s return to cinema may not be as disturbing but it is nearly as memorable as her prior departure.

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

The opening of the film sets up the tone of the sequels from the start. The first film is mythologized around the campfire. We learn that Angela has now undergone a full sex change and has been released. The first film becomes the myth onto which the second will build. Other than that, Simpson’s films are utterly different in almost everywhere. First off, the sex-change means that the questionable sexual politics of the first film are almost rendered null and void. Beyond a quick mention, Simpson does not seem interested in Angela as a gender-confused victim turned murderer. She is now just a manic murderer. Additionally, Simpson is clearly aware of what came off as humorous with the first film and, along with Gordon, has ramped up these elements to produce an intentionally campy film (no pun intended). This is both effective and detrimental for the film. Overall, the comedy works but sometimes it is too broad or too on the nose and as a result falls short.

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

In both films the plot is bare bones. For the second installment, Angela has managed to find herself a job as a counselor and while it seems like she has good intentions, the miscreant campers’ attitudes bring out the worst in her and she is forced back into her homicidal tactics. The third installment sees Angela enrolling at Camp New Horizons (formerly Rolling Hills) under a false name and identity. New Horizons goal is to force upper and lower class kids together – a government sponsored social experiment run for profit by the two eccentric owners. The third film is noticeably more rushed than the second. They shot the films back-to-back, so perhaps the steam of the filmmakers had run out – it looks as if the budget certainly did. While there is pretty unique special effects work by Bill “Splat” Johnson in the second film, they are less than impressive in the third film; almost as if Johnson had left the project.

Really the (literal and figurative) star of the films is Pamela Springsteen. The younger sister of Bruce really does put in quite a performance in both films. Its not to say great acting, but she has good comedic timing and brings a sense of authenticity to an otherwise inauthentic film by design. Without Pamela it is uncertain whether the films would work at all. Simpson is a competent director but he is more of a workhorse than an artist, the sound design is lackluster, the cinematography serviceable, the plot (as mentioned) sparse, and the script is thin. Pamela finds a way to make it work, and because of her these films are very fun. What is interesting is that Angela is arguably the hero of both films. She becomes the only really identifiable character, among a sea of completely one-dimensional, unlikeable campers.

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Video

Like the original, Scream Factory is the first to even give the series a chance to thrive in a high definition format. Whereas the picture quality on the first release was pretty stunning, these subsequent releases are not quite up to the same values. Neither II or III are necessarily poor but both feature a rather average restoration, about par for the course on what you’d expect of the films. Neither sequels received the acclaim of the first so perhaps no one has bothered to really do a remarkable restoration. Either way we get what we get, and that is not to say that these Blu-Rays are offputting. Overall, all shots that occur in broad daylight or with a lot of lighting look great, with a natural amount of film grain and proper color balance and warmth. Luckily, a great deal of the film — especially the Teenage Wasteland — occur in this kind of setting, so the problems implicit in the prints are less noticeable. During dark and/or night scenes though there appears to be hefty amount of grain that has an almost digital look to it. I am not sure if this is a problem in compression or really something that is in existence in the original print, but it would appear as if others have made note of this problem. There is one instance about 40 minutes into Teenage Wasteland where a more than ordinary amount of scratches are noticeable in the print, but they aren’t too distracting. While certainly more effort could have been utilized to maximize the restoration it doesn’t seem like a great deal of DNR has been used, so at least we have a mostly natural, if somewhat lackluster, restoration.

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Audio

Both discs come equipped with only a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. While overall both tracks are adequate, there are a bit of issues with hiss and sibilance that can be heard at select times. While this is a minor nuisance it is nowhere near as bad as the problems that plagued the Body Bags release, so don’t let it be a deterrent. Other than this, the tracks are finely kept and are without any other signs of distortion or decay.

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Extras

While neither collection is ‘packed to the brim’ with new features, it is safe to say that they both offer quite a nice spread of features, definitely worthy of the Scream Factory reputation. The best piece is a two-part featurette (part one on Unhappy Campers, and the second appearing on the Teenage Wasteland disc), A Tale of Two Sequels. In this featurette, produced again by the lovely folks at Red Shirt Productions, they are able to round up a great deal of the crew and a few cast members to reminisce about the short, low-budget shoots. While only around an hour combined, both featurettes provide a great deal of information and will be welcome additions for both fanatics as well as newcomers to the series. You get a sense of what it was like on the set — which seems like great fun — and you also get a feel for the aspects that make and break the films. On the first disc there is a return to the filming locations segment ported over from a series shot and edited by “Adamthewoo” youtube user. The piece is somewhat amusing but becomes grating, even in its short run length. There are two short films envisioned and originally released on the fan site https://www.sleepawaycampfilms.com but both of these are a bit underwhelming and will probably not warrant more than a single viewing. One really great feature is the inclusion of the work print for Teenage Wasteland. While not complete with audio beds and not restored, the feature gives the viewer a sense of the original gore planned for the film that had to be cut. There will be those that complain about a “cut” film, so hopefully this will be enough to satisfy certain members of that community. Finally, there are audio commentaries on both discs that have been ported over from the previous DVD release. The commentaries are fine additions and do offer the only appearance of Fritz Gordon on either disc but they have a tendency to become a tad monotonous. Further, the moderator, John Klyza of Sleepawaycampfilms.com admin, can be a irksome at times injecting ‘humor’ that falls short of being funny.

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

In the end, both discs fall about right where you’d expect them. Anyone coming to these releases expecting a similar job as was performed on the original film is being naïve. Scream has provided a more than adequate release, and it’s hard to imagine that either film will be privy to anything better in the near future. Both discs offer a nice upgrade from the previous Anchor Bay release and fit with matching artwork make for nice companions to Scream’s prior release.

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

Michael A. Simpson’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) [click to enlarge]

 

 

 

Details Director: Michael A. Simpson Writers: Fritz Gordon Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez, Tony Higgins, Tracy Griffith, Michael J. Pollard Year: 1988/1989 Length: 80 min Rating: R Region: A Disks: 2/2 Label: Scream Factory Release Date:  June 8, 2015 Video Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Resolution: 1080p Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Type: Color Audio Audio:  English: DTS-HD 2.0 Subtitles: English SDH Extras A Tale of Two Sequels - Part One and Two: Behind-the-scenes/documentary featurette featuring interviews with cast and crew members. Abandoned: The Locations of Sleepaway Camp II and III Behind the Scenes Footage: with Audio Commentary by Michael A. Simpson Home Video Trailers Full…

Review Overview

The Film: Sleepaway Camp II
The Film: Sleepaway Camp III
Video
Audio
Extras

Bottom Line

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

2 comments

  1. I actually liked the third film better than the second. The jump from the original to the sequel threw me. The majority of Angela’s kills in Teenage Wasteland seemed a bit more justified than they did in the second title. Teenage Wasteland also had that hilarious ending with the two survivors.

    • They are both good fun, I think that by III the joke is worn a bit thin and that the production value has really suffered b/c the back-to-back schedule, but I do genuinely like both.

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