The Sleepaway Camp series of films are silly, gory, and unapologetically cheap knockoffs of superior “camp slashers” like “The Burning” and, of course, “Friday the 13th”, but it’s for those very reasons that I hold this series near and dear. The first film’s novel twist – which I won’t reveal save to say that it certainly wasn’t anything I saw coming – and oddball assortment of characters made it a cult-classic, and, while the sequels never quite lived up to the original, the three entries in the series (well, three and a ½ if you count the unfinished Sleepaway Camp IV, which is available as a bonus disc of random scenes in the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set) have become fan favorites. Finally, the long-awaited sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp, comes to DVD courtesy of Magnolia’s Magnet Films.
It’s been over twenty years since the brutal murders at Camp Arawak, and the camp has reopened under a new name, Camp Manabe. While the name may have changed, however, very little else has. The counselors are still sex-crazed idiots, the popular campers are still a bunch of cruel jerks, and the outcast is still the butt of all of the jokes. The outcast in this film is Alan; a socially retarded loudmouth whose tired antics and general uncouthness rile both his fellow campers and the counselors.
Alan is also something of a loose cannon, and, when he’s pushed to the brink, flees the camp in a rage, leading to a series of brutal murders that reminds Head Counselor, Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo), of his blood-soaked Arawak days. Ronnie is convinced that the murders are being carried out by Angela, the killer from the first three films, but the camp’s new owner, Frank (Vincent Pastore), doesn’t buy it, and is convinced that Alan is the culprit. One by one, Alan’s tormenters fall victim to the mysterious killer, leaving it up to Ronnie, the local sheriff, and Angela’s cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) to find out who’s behind this latest killing spree.
Return to Sleepaway Camp could have very well been dug up in a time capsule buried since 1986. The film looks, feels, and sounds so completely 80’s that, were it not for the presence of Pastore, I could easily see this thing sitting on the shelf of a video store twenty-some-odd years ago, alongside such fare as “Cutting Class” and “Truth or Dare”. It’s edited like an After School Special, features hilariously unconvincing special effects, and boasts a screenplay in which the most intelligent (and oft repeated) line is “Your Ass Smells.” It’s crass, cruel, dumb, poorly acted, and incompetently made, and I loved every stinking minute of it.
Yes, as aesthetically unpleasant and technically challenged as Return to Sleepaway Camp is, I still found myself laughing out loud (when I was supposed to), rooting on the demise of the despicable villains, and having a grand old time waiting for pay-off in the film’s way-too-obvious twist ending. Robert Hiltzik (who helmed every film in the series) delivers one of the best guilty pleasure slasher flicks to come along since Reagan was in office, devoid of any sense of logic, morals, or any of the other weighty stuff that’s somehow pervaded the genre over the last two decades. This is just good old fashioned killing for killing’s sake, done with tongue firmly in cheek, and served up with a greasy side order of me-decade cheese. The only things missing are Member’s Only jackets, leg warmers, and headbands.
Magnet Films brings Return to Sleepaway Camp to DVD with a healthy selection of extras, including several interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a stills gallery, and the film’s title song.