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3/25/09

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The original Sleepaway Camp is one of my favorite 80's slasher flicks. I'd put it right up there with the original Halloween and Friday the 13th. It has the best ending of the genre; if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about, and if not, rent the movie now. It inevitably had some crappy sequels, part 2 Unhappy Campers & part 3 Teenage Wastland, both made in the 80's, both instantly forgettable. I hadn't heard a thing about the third sequel Return to Sleepaway Camp until I ran across it at Redbox and figured it was worth a buck rental. I thought it would be nearly intolerable and I'd end up fast-forwarding to the lame death scenes, before turning it off early. So it's easy to say that my expectations were low.

I was pleasantly surprised when the movie started and it actually showed some promise. It looks like it was shot on film, or at least some high quality video; I was expecting some low budget camcorder crap. The set design made it look like a real film, not somebody shooting at their friend's house and the lighting, while too bright most of the time, at least looks professional. The acting, eh, it's passable for a horror film. The lead kid of Alan convincingly plays a real asshole. The opening of the film was actually able to suck me into the story, instead of having me thinking about the technical issue. Although that became more of a problem as the film went on.

Everybody's picking on Alan, and it's easy to understand why, he's mean, fat, ugly, stupid and utterly annoying. I don't think we're supposed to identify with him, because he's impossible to like. You'd like to feel sorry for him, but he's such a prick to everyone around him, you don't care that he's constantly attacked. In the original Sleepaway Camp, it was much easier to like Angela, she was simply quiet and shy, she didn't deserve the abuse. Alan brings it on himself. If this constant teasing had been the opening act, and the film had gone on to other things, it would have been better for it. But Alan's ridicule takes up the majority of the film, I got quite sick of him being teased mercilessly, then running away in anger, coming back to attack everybody with his brutish nature, before being teased into running away again. The cycle is only broken up with a few kills, by an unseen psycho in black pants and work boots. The first two kills are the most inspired, the cook gets his head dipped into the deep fryer and then a stoner gets filled with gasoline and lit ablaze. After that they're more run of the mill, the only other decent one being a guy getting his junk pulled off by a Jeep, but the scene is ruined by dragging on for too long.

So what started out as being better than expected, slowly got pretty boring. If it had made a plot turn at the start of the 2nd act, or introduced some characters to root for, it would have been better. But it runs with the same idea for 75 of the 90 minutes, finally turning into a typical slasher-in-the-woods ending, with everybody running around scared, and a couple of the characters trying to bring it all to an end. The highlight of the film, is that they bring back three of the main actors to portray their characters from the first film; Ronnie the head councilor is now an owner of the camp, Ricky, Angela's cousin and only friend, is now grown up and comes back to camp once the murders start to pile up, and Angela herself makes a reappearance. The only mystery is who she's hiding out as, although the first time I saw her other character, I was 95% sure of who it was.

Robert Hiltzik the writer/director of the original is back at the helm, and the series is much better off for it. He completely ignores the middle two sequels and simply skips decades into the future. It's the first film he's directed in the 25 years since the original, I'm not sure where he went, but it seems like a waste that he wasn't around creating more cinematic mayhem, as his first effort was one of the greats of the genre. If you're a fan of the original,
Return to Sleepaway Camp is well worth seeing, if just for the return of the core group of characters; if not, you can safely skip it. - Grade: C





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