director Michael A. Simpson
I arguably have done a lot of questionable things in my lifetime. I don’t know where playing Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers for my kids on the eve of my 11 year old daughter leaving for her first summer camp might on the surface seem a dubious choice. For a myriad of reasons. But both of the kids were pretty keen on it.
I don’t know that I ever saw the original Sleepaway Camp (1983) but I am familiar with the movie poster, the tennis shoe skewered by a bloody butcher knife. I’ve been rather sporadically investigating the slasher film over the past year or two, but this might actually be the first official slasher that my kids had ever seen, certainly the first that we’d watched together.
And it’s a serious oddity in the genre.
Apparently the first Sleepaway Camp involved a cross-dressing serial killer. By Sleepaway Camp II, the cross-dressing killer has gone and received a sex change operation, been released from the psychiatric facility, and has gone back to work for a new summer camp, not far from the one at which all the shenanigans had occurred prior.
In this case, the very feminine Pamela Springsteeen plays Angela, the post-op female, back to killing all unworthy campers and counselors in a variety of ways and means. It’s less that she’s essentially a transsexual and more that she’s an unmasked female openly killing everyone that makes it such an oddity on the slasher front. This is no deathless, faceless, male presence hunting nubile teens and young people, but a young girl meting out deathly punishment to all who fornicate or drink or take drugs or do anything untoward in her rather conservative views of proper camp etiquette.
The campers and counselors are almost indistinguishable from one another except for a handful of very youthful-looking kids. But Angela is pretty consummate. She kills everybody.
It’s an odd and pretty lame film overall, sometimes verging on parody more than sincerity (though its tone is hard to pinpoint entirely), offering nods to other slashers of note like Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and maybe even Halloween (1978). What’s most amazing about it is that it somehow engendered three additional sequels over time.
I don’t think that the kids were terrified in any way, shape, or form. But I did feel that we needed to watch a more traditional slasher for orientation somewhere down the line.