The hostesses with the mostestest Kate McEdwards and Daphne Gardner of the Ladies Horror Night podcast presented the very first Terror Tuesday I attended at Alamo Drafthouse NYC. So I’m glad to say that the second screening they presented last night was sold out! The crowd was absolutely psyched to get a chance to see SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS on the big screen in 35mm. I know I was.
In my opinion, the Sleepaway Camp franchise was always the most punk rock out of all the 80s slasher films. The kids in it are certainly much more like real teenagers than in some of the Freddy or Jason offerings, and the killer has no need to hide behind a mask when her creepy yet soothing smile will certainly suffice.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS stars Pamela Springsteen (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland) as Angela Johnson (formerly Angela Baker), a hyper-enthusiastic camp counselor at Camp Rolling Hills. She’s a stickler for the rules, hates anything amoral, and quickly she becomes the worst nightmare of every teen at the camp.
Something that is great about most of the Sleepaway Camp movies is that there’s almost zero mystery to us as viewers as to who the killer is. The first death of the movie occurs within the first five minutes, right after a group of campers and one of the counselors TC (Brian Patrick Clark; General Hospital, The Bold and the Beautiful) were telling a “ghost story” about said killer. The first victim is Phoebe (Atlanta native Heather Binion in her only film role), who seemed to know a lot about a young camper at another camp, Cam Arowak, who went crazy and killed everyone in the camp and was put in a mental institution.
One of the campers, Sean Whitmore (Tony Higgins; In the Heat of the Night [tv show], Lunker Lake) is the son of a police officer who arrested the killer, who was a boy whose aunt dressed up as a girl for her entire life. The boy’s name was Peter, but Sean can’t remember what her name as a girl was. A quick comment on Sean and some of the other campers; most of these people are supposed to be playing high school students and Tony Higgins was easily in his mid/late twenties at this point. This is not a rarity, if anyone has seen the original Beverly Hills 90210, you can attest to that fact. I just have always found it incredibly hilarious when they put in these “hunky” “guys and “hot” girls who are clearly not the age they are playing to up the sex appeal of a project…legally.
Anyway, the next day, after Phoebe bites the dust after being hit in the face with a log, no one suspects anything has gone awry because Angela tells the campers that Phoebe was “sent home”. That same day, at breakfast, Angela is crowned “Counselor of the Week”. Afterwards, she invited up two other campers from her cabin to sing with her; Ally (Valerie Hartman; whose only other acting jobs were an episode of Cheers and a movie called Intimate Obsession which looks and sounds like a Cinemax softcore porn) and Molly (Renee Estevez, daughter of Martin Sheen, sister to Emilio Estevez and Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen; Heathers, The West Wing). The two campers perfectly fill the (admittedly tired AF) female archetypes of “The Virgin” (Molly) and “The (I hate this word but I”m using it for context, forgive me) Whore” (Ally). Angela looooves Molly; in her mind, Molly is the perfect camper. She’s polite, she doesn’t use bad language, and she doesn’t sleep around. In Angela’s mind, Molly is just like her. Ally, however, is the antithesis of all that. Ally sleeps without a shirt on, likes to have sex, curses all the time, and does whatever the fuck she wants. She’s also a bully, which is probably the biggest reason that Angela hates her so much deep down.
Angela doesn’t rest on her “Best Counselor” laurels. She keeps busy sending home almost her entire cabin except for Molly. Some of the boys have been sent home, too. Uncle John (Walter Gotell; Moonraker, Octopussy), the owner of the camp, doesn’t appreciate when Angela sends people home without consulting him first, and warns Angela to stop. Angela really can’t help herself, however. At all.
There are some subplots to SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: HAPPY CAMPERS, which focus on Ally sleeping with whichever guy she can on the campground, when she really just wants to be with Sean Whitmore. Sean, however, only has eyes for Molly. Angela is on Molly’s side in this situation, and Ally meets a rather shitty end because of it. The real good stuff in this movie comes in the death scenes however. There is an especially ingenious nod to all the 80’s slasher films where two campers dress up like Freddy and Jason in an attempt to scare Angela, but she’s always two steps ahead, and meets them in the woods, dressed as Leatherface, to show them who’s really the scariest.
Angela, of course, is the kid from Camp Arowak who the campers are talking about at the beginning. None of the kids she “sent home” really went anywhere, except for an abandoned cabin a mile away from the camp. She underwent a sex-change surgery after being arrested at her first camp, and years of therapy and jail. She came out “fully recovered” though, and changed her last name from Johnson to Baker.
As was mentioned by Daphne and Katie, this film is extremely dated. There is a good amount of trans and homophobia on full display, but at the same time, I feel as though the overall message is to express that because Angela was never allowed to make her own choices about her identity, she went insane as a result. The way that Michael A. Simpson, director of this film and its sequel Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland, and Fritz Gordon who wrote the screenplay for this film and it’s sequel (and nothing else) chose to tell the story was probably perfectly fine for a 1988 audience. However, there are some language and set pieces in this film that are sexist, homophobic, transphobic and totally cringy. For the most part, though, SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: HAPPY CAMPERS is hilarious and a great follow-up to the original, butin no way surpasses its greatness.
Thanks to Katie and Daphne of LADIES HORROR NIGHT for hosting another fun movie. Please check out their podcast, it’s awesome! Also, thanks to everyone who sold out the screening. Alamo Drafthouse NYC really does have some great repertory film screenings, especially on Terror Tuesdays and Weird Wednesdays, so make a point to try and come out to one if you’re ever in the NYC area.