Like a lot of mid-to-late ’80s horror fare, Sleepaway Camp II had purely commercial origins. Producer Jerry Silva bought the rights from creator Robert Hiltzik with the intention of taking things in the comedy horror direction that was becoming popular at the time. The result he created with director Michael Simpson and writer Fritz Gordon is as much a teen sex comedy as it is a slasher movie – but what really makes it interesting is a thread of self-referential humor that anticipates what Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven would do almost a decade later with Scream.
Sleepaway Camp II begins with campers debating whatever happened to gender-bent killer Angela Baker from the first film. What they don’t know is that Angela (Pamela Springsteen) is right under their nose – she’s gotten sexual reassignment surgery, changed her last name and has transitioned from camper to counselor. She does her best to enforce the rules for camp owner Uncle John (Walter Gotell) but her moralistic streak fuels her homicidal rage, causing her to bump off campers in darkly comic ways. The only hope for the dwindling camper ranks are budding final girl Molly (Renee Estevez) and nice-guy counselor T.C. (Brian Patrick Clarke) – but Angela is as wily as she is creative with the kills.
Time has been kind to Sleepaway Camp II. Some wrote it off as direct-to-video dreck at the time but it has acquired a kind of cult following thanks to its brisk, efficient approach to teasing the humor out of slasher movie tropes. It effectively skewers the “have sex and die” moralism of lesser slasher flicks by giving the viewer an interesting female antihero who cheerfully espouses that theme while doling out the killings. The filmmakers also bring in a bit of fun self-referential humor in a scene where two campers disguised as Jason and Freddy Krueger get knocked off by Angela, who is dressed up as Leatherface.
Sleepaway Camp II also benefits from the exploitation film-savvy approach of its writing/directing team. Simpson and Gordon offset the obligatory kills with plenty of cheesecake and sex comedy-inspired raunchy humor, including two pubescent campers who collect topless snapshots of the female counselors and a man-eating queen bee, played with lusty (and frequently topless) abandon by Valerie Hartman. Genuinely funny performances are a bonus, with Springsteen being a lot of fun as the deadpan, cheerfully dorky killer, Clarke showing good comic timing and Estevez making for a sweet, genuinely likeable final girl.
In short, Sleepaway Camp II is a solid programmer from the dying days of the slasher, made by people smart enough to mix some comedy into the subgenre’s stale formula. At 80 minutes, it’s a fun little quickie whose knowing satire of the slasher would prove to be prophetic.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just reissued this title in a blu-ray/DVD combo set. An MGM provided HD transfer looks decent: there’s not a big HD “wow” factor here but the elements used were in pretty good shape and there’s a small but noticeable uptick in image quality. A lossless mono soundtrack accompanies this transfer and offers a solid, basic blend of dialogue, effects and music without distortion.
The set also includes an array of special features. A commentary track is carried over from the old DVD release that features Simpson, Gordon and moderator/superfan John Klyza. Simpson and Gordon are game participants but Klyza’s moderation is a bit heavy-handed, with a lot of bad jokes and a tendency to step on the participant’s responses. That said, there’s a decent amount of trivia in there for hardcore fans.
More impressive is a new featurette, “A Tale Of Two Sequels, Part 1.” Simpson and Gordon return with several key crew members to discuss the film’s history. You learn about the deal that led to back-to-back sequels, why the comic tone was chosen and an explanation for the film’s eccentric dream sequence. There is also some interesting material from makeup designer Bill Johnson about tackling the many FX as a first-timer in the business.
Elsewhere, there is a 15-minute segment that shows how the locations look today: it’s surprisingly creepy as most of the buildings are gone and everything is overgrown with greenery. Simpson narrates 13 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that includes some interesting looks at the makeup FX. A vintage home video trailer is as profane as the film itself and “What Happened To Molly” is a minute-long illustration of an alternate fate for this character. A nice still gallery rounds things out, offering over 80 images of stills, behind-the-scenes photos and other memorabilia.
In short, slasher fans will appreciate the effort that Scream Factory has put in here, particularly with the extras.