Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit
By: Drexl on August 1, 2003  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Simitar (Australia - US Import) All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Dolby Digital Mono. 84, 79, 80 Minutes
The Movie
Director: Robert Hiltzik (Pt.1), Michael A.Simpson (Pts. 2+3)
Starring: Mike Kellin, Felissa Rose, Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith, Renee Estevez.
Screenplay: Robert Hiltzik (Pt.1), Fritz Gordon (Pts. 2+3)
Music: Edward Bolous (Pt.1), James Oliverio (Pts. 2+3)
Tagline:'Camp Can Be Murder.'
Country: USA
AKA: 'Nightmare Vacation I, II, III'
After a moderately successful cinema run, and an even more successful word-of-mouth fuelled spell as a video rental title, it was inevitable that 1983's Sleepaway Camp would find itself blessed with a sequel or two, albeit five years down the line. Now, courtesy of those good folks at Anchor Bay, all three movies have received the special edition treatment and are available, bundled together, in one neat little boxset.

So, if I were to tell you that Sleepaway Camp opened with a scene that set up the familiar revenge scenario and then cut to a summer camp where the campers, and the councillors, are being offed by an unidentified assassin, would you believe that the first episode in this trilogy was anything other than your run-of-the-mill slasher? Nope, I suppose not. What if I said that the kill scenes were just a touch more imaginative than usual? Death by bee-stings? A nasty use for a set of curling tongs? (Ouch - poor girl!) You're still not convinced are you? I can't say I blame you, as on paper at least, Sleepaway Camp must sound as unimaginative as any other '80's slasher flick. While watching though, you do get the impression that something isn't quite as it seems, and you would be quite right. The atmosphere is a touch on the sleazy side and the film is pretty creepy throughout, building up to a shocker of a finale. It would be fair to say that most, if not all, slasher flicks have a shock or twist of some sort at the end of the movie, but they are mostly confined to the killer rising up for one last swing of the machete before being despatched (again.) The ending of Sleepaway Camp, (to which, it must be said, this movie owes a fair chunk of it's success), is something a little different, (OK, a lot different), but that's all I'm saying - spoil the fun I will not, although the clues that are scattered throughout the film will lead to a fair few viewers figuring it out for themselves. (It's still a shocker though, even for those who spotted it coming a long time before it's on-screen arrival.) Ending aside, the film is still good fun; the special effects are well done, the kill scenes are spread evenly throughout the film, therefore keeping things ticking along nicely, and the whole thing looks better than it should, considering it's low budget origins. Bad things to say about this film? Nothing really. Anyone who thoroughly despises the slasher subgenre will have already scratched this one from their 'wants list', but those who take the plunge will be rewarded with a film that offers something just a little different from the usual, but stays close enough to home to avoid disappointing the more undemanding slasher fanatics out there.

The sequels, Unhappy Campers and Teenage Wasteland, were shot back-to-back in 1988 with Pamela (sister of Bruce) Springsteen in the lead role, clearing the camp of 'bad campers' using a variety of creatively painful methods. Pamela plays a camp counsellor in part two, messily offing any camper who swears too much, smokes pot, has casual sex or does anything else to offend her sense of decency, while part three finds her returning as a camper to continue her killing spree - no twists or surprise endings here, just 80-or-so minutes of death scenes and gratuitous nudity in time-honoured slasher movie fashion. The methods of despatching the victims are equally unusual here as well; one victim has a fire-cracker shoved in their face with predictably messy results and another has a fatal encounter with an out-house toilet, (I kid you not.) The creators of the sequels, while wisely not attempting to outdo the ending of the original, keep things fresh by adding a sprinkling of black humour and 'in-jokes' for fans of the first flick - pre-dating the antics of Kevin Williamson by some eight years. The proceedings are helped along no end by two great performances from Pamela Springsteen - she really is good fun as she grins and wise-cracks her way through the carnage. Unfortunately, she does strap on a guitar and knock out a tune or two, proving that musical talent most definitely does not run in the family. A couple of other actors with famous relatives show up in the sequels as well - Estevez and Griffith ring any bells? While you are at it, have a look at the character names and see if you can guess the inspiration behind them, (answers on the commentary tracks if you can't figure it out.) Again, the sequels look great, especially when the low budget and back-to-back shooting schedule is taken into account, plus the short running times help no end. Put simply; the sequels are funny, entertaining splatter pics., nothing more, nothing less although, as with part one, those with a real hatred of slasher pics. and all their associated clichés should approach with caution.

I must admit to being a sucker for slasher movies, I just love 'em for the dumb, undemanding entertainment that they are - I can even drag some entertainment value out of the very worst that this particular sub-genre has to offer, so give me a roaming POV shot in a spooky forest, add a creepy soundtrack and some blood-soaked death scenes and I'm as happy as can be. As I'd never seen any of these films before, I did expect the Sleepaway movies to be just another collection of by-the-numbers slasher flicks but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they offered something just a tiny bit different to the usual slasher fare, especially the first episode, and there really isn't anything bad I can find to say about them. Sleepaway Camp and it's sequels have attracted something of a cult following over the last few years and, after viewing this boxset, it's not difficult to see why.

Upon release, all three episodes (most notably part three) ran into trouble with the MPAA, requiring cuts to secure that all-important 'R' rating in the USA. Unfortunately, Anchor Bay has seen fit to use these censored prints for this boxset, which is a slight disappointment. Luckily, the material trimmed from parts two and three can be found in the bonus materials included on their respective discs - the head-chopping scene trimmed from the end of part two can be found in a behind-the-scenes segment, while part three has a whole twenty-ish minutes of deleted gore footage. The footage missing from the original is nowhere to be found in the set. Sleepaway Camp received an uncut VHS release in Australia (K-Tel Video) so Australian fans of the original movie, with a dislike of cut releases, must consider themselves forewarned. (An uncut DVD release of the original episode has surfaced in Europe, so those desiring a complete print can scour their favourite European e-tailers - happy hunting!)
All three movies look great considering their low-budget origins. The prints used are in good shape and the transfers are nice and colourful although a very occasional loss of detail can be spotted in darker scenes, but that's merely nit-picking. I don't think we will ever see these films looking better than the transfers on offer here.
Dolby Digital Mono tracks for all three films, which are thankfully clear and free of unwelcome noise.
Extra Features
Anchor Bay have served up a good selection of bonus materials for Sleepaway fans. First up are the commentary tracks - one for each film. Anchor Bay have taken the unusual, and welcome, step of adding fans of the movies to the commentary teams. Two guys who run tribute websites have been added to the usual cast and crew teams to moderate the commentary tracks. It's interesting to hear the views of people who really love the films being discussed, alongside the usual background information shared by the people involved in making the things. More of this please.

As mentioned above, discs two and three carry some behind-the-scenes footage and deleted scenes which give viewers a peek at the stuff the MPAA removed, as well as some on-set material.

The usual theatrical trailers and stills galleries are also to be found for all three movies. The menus are animated and scored, although a little tricky to navigate upon first viewing.

The set also comes complete with a little booklet, written by the two chaps who contributed to the commentary tracks, which is an interesting read and the whole thing is packaged in a heavy cardboard slipcase which looks really neat on the shelf. (It carries the revised cover-art, not the original, recalled, release.)

When this boxset was first released in the USA, a four-disc set was available as a limited edition. The extra disc contained footage from the unfinished fourth film in the series, (The Survivor.) As this edition was limited to one US store, the fourth disc is, unfortunately, not included in this set.

Finally, an Easter egg can be found on disc three - just highlight Pamela's shirt on the 'extras' menu to check it out.
The Verdict
Three thoroughly entertaining slasher flicks given an excellent DVD release from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Part one is required viewing for genre fans simply because it is a little different from your run-of-the-mill splatter flick and, of course, has that much talked about finale, (is your curiosity getting the better of you yet?) The sequels avoid being mindless re-hashes of the original, which can only be a good thing, and stand comfortably on their own as very entertaining comedy-horrors but they also have enough 'in-jokes' to add continuity to the series. A good selection of extra features and the neat packaging only makes this boxset all the more worthwhile, with the only grumble being the fact that the prints used are incomplete but, besides that, this release comes highly recommended.

As an added bonus for Australian residents, those good people at Simitar have added this boxset to their ever-expanding list of imported titles, therefore avoiding the need to order from overseas - just click on the link below!

A word of warning is required before I sign off. Anyone viewing these movies for the first time should avoid reading the blurbs on the back of the slip-case and the DVD cases themselves, as they all contain major spoilers with regard to the first episode. Needless to say, the accompanying booklet should also be left untouched until all the films have been viewed. You have been warned!
Movie Score
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