Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008, Robert Hiltzik)

Every 25 years Robert Hiltzik rises from total obscurity to make a Sleepaway Camp movie. What circumstances kept Hiltzik's only further brush with cinema to his turn as "Fred Myers" in the 2002 horror short Grandma's Secret Recipe? As other horror aisle creeps had, I'd seen the Pamela Springsteen adorned cover of the official 1988 horror-comedy sequel and watched it first...

Before seeing the original 1983 slasher classic I'd written the 2003 announcement of production off as the type of cash-in only made possible by the internet. Like a Mortal Kombat vs Batman video game. Instead I was struck by the raw dumb power of doom tone poetry and authentic Summer Camp experiences relived, proving once again that most Friday the 13th ripoffs are better than the originals. The twist ending has also become an internet/pop culture punchline, look for it soon on Family Guy and Jimmy Kimmel.

Return to Sleepaway Camp is unique to any horror sequel of its kind. Hiltzik has reappeared out of the mist to make a slasher movie the way he would've if this were still 1983. The teens and adolescents don't use cell phones. Hell, even the counsellors aren't using cell phones once the shit hits the fan. There's no attempts at modern slang and the only pop culture reference is to The Beastie Boys' 1998 single Intergalactic. Every character is basically the archetype they need to be, from mean jocks to sassy black girls to scrawny nerdlings.

Shockingly several members of the 1983 original have returned, to almost no consequence. They're there to be the only ones who could know what's going on when the killings begin. They also know that since the original film's killer has billing in the opening titles, it's probably her again. And it is, or is it? (It is.) The real question is why anyone from the original would be working anywhere near that damn camp.

The structure is not vintage, on the other hand. The second murder doesn't even happen until the third act. This is a more logical choice plot-wise than the original, which peppered the murders throughout each act while the camp stays open and no kids are sent home despite a murderer being on the loose. Here, the first killing looks like an accident and is written off as such, sealing some more kids' fates. Hiltzik admirably retains one of the more shocking aspects of the original, that kids under 16 could get snuffed. No one is safe! He also sometimes reuses the original's frequent choice to show only the aftermath of murders, as gruesome special effects still life.

All of these aspects are quirky and delicious and secondary only to introducing - and he does get an "introducing" opening credit, how old school is that - Michael Gibney as Alan, the fat kid whom everyone hates. Killings aside, this film is his one note story.

Summer Camp is trial by fire. The herding of children and teenagers into single areas untouched (at least until cell phones and Internet) by suburban niceties is a daily liberation full of danger and romance; only unguarded prisoners and the worlds they have made.

In this jungle there is invariably one kid who's kind of nuts, kind of out there. Universally despised by the staff and other kids, his life becomes a daily hell punctuated by outbursts and even a moment of violence that might send you home...only Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camps make the fine point of turning such angst into a slasher flick. Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th or for that matter Cropsy (who gets a shout-out) of The Burning are the campfire boogeymen of Summer Camp. And then there's that poster for Unhappy Campers...

Angela Baker was the picked upon outcast of the original who was revealed to be the killer. It was who you thought it was and not the red herring who had his own subplot. Here the subplot is the main plot and the fact Angela returns to kill is robbed of some of its surprise in the by the sado-comic Hiltzik-less .

While this movie may not be as openly sado-comic as those, you will at some point be giggling at the nonstop torment of fat annoying victimized Alan. It's nowhere near as subtle as Felissa Rose's touchingly shy portrayal of Angela and her burgeoning first crush. The ending tries so hard but don't expect anything as full frontal as the original...

Kids can be so mean
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1 comment:

alanrichard said...

I always felt bad that a master movie write & directer, Robert Hiltzik, never got the acclaim he richly deserves. In 1983 the Oscar went to Kramer vs. Kramer and Sleepaway Camp was snubbed!
It's shocking how a cinema masterpiece that's on par with Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind, and Casablanca never received the accolades it merits.
Sleepaway Camp had the greatest ending of all time and hopefully Return will be reccognized for the masterpiece that it is.
I could only imagine what heights Robert Hiltzik would achieve as a writer and director if he had the budget of the mainstream movie makers of today!!!