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Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: (or depending on your tastes)

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/3/2008

In the middle part of the 20th century, horror films took place in fairly predictable locales. Filmmakers used places such as old houses, ancient castles, cemeteries, and foggy landscapes as backdrops to their stories. In 1980, a little movie called Friday the 13th introduced the idea of summer camps and the forest in general as being a scary place. Low-budget filmmakers jumped on this idea, as there are few places cheaper to shoot than the woods. Due to this, the 80s saw a slew of movies set at camps and amongst the trees. As far a quality goes, Sleepaway Camp was near the bottom of that group, but the film's notorious twist ending quickly earned a reputation. Thus, 25 years later, the series continues with Return to Sleepaway Camp.

Return to Sleepaway Camp is set at Camp Manabe. Here, fat obnoxious Alan (Michael Gibney) is constantly tormented by his fellow campers...probably because he's always insulting them and he never changes his shirt. Even the counselors are mean to Alan. Alan's older brother, Michael (Michael Werner), can't decide if he should help Alan or join the others. Well, before you can say "What's this movie about?", those who have persecuted Alan begin to die in horrible ways. Of course, that means that the entire camp is in danger, but everyone takes it in stride. Especially Alan, who continues to bother everyone. Eventually, people begin to take notice of the dead bodies and assume that Alan must be the killer, but no one decides that leaving the camp would be a good idea. Camp director Frank (Vincent Pastore) only cares about talking to his bird, and counselor Ronnie's (Paul DeAngelo) clothes keep getting smaller and smaller.

I'm not usually a fan of the "so bad it's good" type of film. This idea is counter-intuitive. We would never say this about food. But, Return to Sleepaway Camp is the exception to the rule. This movie is so mind-numbingly awful that it's actually entertaining...if you're the kind of person who can move beyond what a film's genre is supposed to be and see if from a different perspective. Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a horror movie, but aside from the gore, one would never know that.

You know when the best that the DVD box can muster is "Featuring Original Character and Cast Members!" that you are in trouble. (It's a sequel. Shouldn't hit have original characters and cast members.) This is just a hint of how cheap and bad this movie is. OK, where do I begin? How about the story? There isn't one. The movie simply begins with no introduction of characters or explanation of the situation. While I didn't want the movie to explain "summer camp" to me, I would have liked to have known who the people were. But, nope, the movie simply opens with the other campers hating Alan. Why does he act that way? Why do they torment him? Why won't he change his shirt? No, seriously, why won't he change his shirt? In most movies, we would feel sorry for Alan, but we can't here, as he constantly spoils everyone's fun and then yells "Your ass stinks!" (Which, if you think about it, is a stupid insult.) When he's not doing that, he's talking to the dozens of frogs by the lake. (Why are there so many frogs? Is a Biblical curse taking place?) The adults never try to control the campers and simply wander around. Where does Isaac Hayes go after the first act? Did he die while this was being filmed, or simply sneak away?

We know from the title that Return to Sleepaway Camp is a sequel, but it takes it a while to act like one. It's not until halfway through the film that someone mentions the story of Angela, the antagonist from the first movie. And even then, only Ronnie acts as if that's a big deal. The movie can't seem to decide if it wants to assume that you've seen Sleepaway Camp. Those who haven't will have no idea what is happening (there are no clips from the first film and the story is sort of glossed over) and those who have will spot the killer right away. Or at least they should. Unless you're watching the movie on a 1-inch screen, the killer should jump out at you the first time that they are on-screen.

None of this is helped by the film's cheap look and sluggish pacing. Director Robert Hiltzik hasn't helmed a movie since the 1983 original and it shows. The movie's 86-minute running time is padded by scenes where next-to-nothing happens. There's a difference between shock, suspense, and "I'm going to make a sandwich. Let me know when this murder actually begins." The killer here uses the kind of elaborate devices which belong in a giallo, but it takes way too long for them to begin to work. The scene in which a character is tied to a tree in the woods goes on and on before the "suspenseful" part even begins, and then it becomes a driver's ed. movie. We are also treated to some questionable sets, especially Frank's house, whose seashell curtains give it the feel of a Florida beach house and a not a camp counselor's shack. And I'm sure that you're familiar with movies which are shot "day for night". There is a scene here which I think was shot "day for next Thursday" as it goes from day to night back to day.

Someone please get Mike Nelson on the phone. Return to Sleepaway Camp is a terrible mess of a movie. And yet, I couldn't stop watching it. The film offers us a group of angry, stupid, unlikable characters who are constantly doing things which don't make any sense...while murders take place around them. The whole thing is so ludicrous that it's actually funny. Was I supposed to take this movie seriously? I honestly have no answer to that question, as from scene-to-scene, I never knew how I was supposed to feel about anything that was happening. What I do know is that I laughed...a lot. If you're in the mood for a movie to watch with a group of friends for the sole purpose of razzing it, then Return to Sleepaway Camp is the movie for you.

Return to Sleepaway Camp has gianormous sweat stains on DVD courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, as it shows only mild grain. However, there are nearly constant white specks on the image, presumably from the source material. The colors are surprisingly good here, especially the reds and greens. The image is fairly well-balanced, although some scenes are a bit dark. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. (Except for some scenes in the first act where the music is louder than the dialogue.) For a film of this caliber, there are some good audio effects here. The stereo effects are notably good at times, and there are scenes where a character will leave camera and their voice comes from the appropriate speaker (right or left). The paintball scene offers very good surround sound, and it gets my "My cat thought that there were fireworks outside" award of the week.

The Return to Sleepaway Camp DVD has a few extras. "Behind the Scenes" (28 minutes) contains narration by Producer Jeff Hayes and actress Felissa Rose accompanied by a slew of on-set footage. There are on-camera comments from the cast and crew. We see prosthetic make-up being applied, animal wrangling, and general clowning around. Unfortunately, a lot of this is simply "fly-on-the-wall" footage with no structure. Next up is a series of thirteen "Interviews" with actors Michael Gibney, Ashley Corin, Felissa Rose, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tiersten, Kate Simses, Adam Wylie, Jaime Radow, Jackie Tohn, Michael Werner, Paul Iacono, Samantha Hahn, Chris Shand, Lucas Blondheim, and Jake O'Conner. These average about 2 minutes each, and are very simple "Tell us about your character..." type things. The DVD contains a PHOTO GALLERY and the final extras is the "Return to Sleepaway Camp Song", performed by Goat and Friends. This isn't a music video, as we only watch a semi-static screen while the song plays.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long