Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: June 9th, 2015
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Sleepaway Camp II clearly had the major slasher franchises on its mind. Between its cover art and a sequence where two goofballs dress up in dime store Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees costumes, it’s obvious that Michael A. Simpson and company had no qualms about riding the coattails of the 80s slasher boom right to video store shelves everywhere. Perhaps this franchise also had a little bit of penis envy, if you will, because it wasn’t just enough to produce one follow-up to the 1983 camp classic—no, Angela Baker needed to play catch-up, so two sequels were produced back-to-back, and the second, Teenage Wasteland, is a fine example for the law of diminishing returns.
Set a year after the previous film, it picks up with Angela (Pamela Springsteen) taking care of business in short order, as she splatters a teenage brat with a commandeered garbage truck before disposing of her body in the compactor. She then assumes the girl’s identity and hops on a bus destined for Camp New Horizons, a soon-to-be ill-fated venture by a couple looking to run a sort of social experiment that mixes campers from disparate socio-economic backgrounds. An “experiment in sharing” quickly becomes Angela’s reunion tour, as she returns to her old stomping grounds to resume her homicidal quest for the perfect camp experience.
Teenage Wasteland also makes a good case for the existence of movie magic. While the first sequel doesn’t exactly thrive on its technical acumen, it has a certain je ne sais quoi that’s missing here. Slasher movies are often alchemic productions that almost impossibly spin gold out of the straw of crude production values, stiff acting, and thin scripts, and Unhappy Campers is almost like a sorcerer’s blend. Teenage Wasteland isn’t exactly missing any of the same elements and practically shares the same recipe as its predecessor, but it’s just slightly undercooked.
One of the most important ingredients is obviously in short supply, as much of the gore was trimmed by the MPAA, making this a rather watered-down Sleepaway Camp entry. It’s not exactly the hack job that neutered some of the later Friday the 13th sequels, but it has a similar effect: you can’t help but watch the film with the knowledge that the main attraction was shooed off the stage before it even had a chance to present itself. What a shame, too, because Angela fashions murder weapons out of Ajax cleanser, lawnmowers, and even flag poles. In an effort to elude the usual slash-and-stalk climax, she devises a twisted camp game where the losers literally get the axe. Never let anyone tell you the slasher genre lacks imagination.
Even the story—thin though it may be—isn’t exactly a retread. Rather than simply have Angela retrace her steps through another summer camp, this sequel introduces a different dynamic with Camp New Horizons, a fall retreat that casts an even wider net for clichés than the first two films. Typical camp stereotypes yield to broader caricatures: gangster rap wannabes, racist snobs, and even a young Neocon type whose outgoing, personable demeanor conceals Yuppie ambitions and a kinky sexual appetite. There are, of course, two nice campers that emerge, though they’re set in a predictably bland mold (I jest about Renee Estevez and Tony Higgins’s prefab characters in Part II, but these two are downright disposable).
Part III is also a direct continuation from the second film, as one of the camp’s volunteers is the cop dad of one of Angela’s previous victims. He’s not exactly expecting to confront Angela, but he also makes it clear that he would killer if he were to come across her. This sets up an obvious dramatic irony that the film somehow never quite capitalizes on since Angela spends most of her time hacking up counselors from two other groups before quickly outing herself to the cop once she gets around to his group.
Then again, I’m not sure you can expect the film to not hold a certain contempt for conventional storytelling since it ostensibly takes the perspective of a mass murderer. A more centered (but likely much less interesting) film would frame this as a tale of a father seeking retribution for his son. Sleepaway Camp III doesn’t really give a shit about that. Once again, this is another chapter in Angela’s eternal, blood-soaked quest to mete out justice to naughty campers. Springsteen is once again delightful a slasher villain your dear old mom might identify with—we often talk about “dad jokes,” but the one-liners Angela fires off here are total mom jokes.
In the course of two movies, Springsteen twisted Angela Baker into a righteous slasher icon, and she’s the brightest spot in this sequel, even when the script shows even less interest in her private moments (Part II at least cared enough to capture a psychotic breakdown). She rides into a wasteland of degenerates with an unflinching conviction in a moral crusade to eradicate sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (plus hip hop). She’d make for a good parody of Reagan-era conservatism if the film didn’t insist that many of her victims deserve their gruesome fates: both Lily and Herman are lazy slobs with a false sense of altruism, while some of the campers—particularly the racists and the phonies—are fairly awful human beings. It’s sort of interesting that the film has the more despicable characters hail from privileged backgrounds, while those from the wrong side of the tracks are generally more sympathetic.
Sleepaway Camp III almost makes for a great bit of satire: here’s a film with a psychotic killer (a transgender one whose mind has been warped by regressive, transphobic shock “therapy” to boot) carrying out conservative values to their most homicidal extreme that would never be watched by anyone sharing the same values, nor would they particularly appreciate their some of their own ilk being exposed as morally corrupt if they did condescend to check it out. This might be the least of the Sleepaway Camp trilogy*, but it’s not without some intriguing quirks that compensate somewhat for its meager gore.
It’s not enough to completely save Teenage Wasteland, a film that feels too familiar even for this genre, perhaps even more so considering its close proximity to the second entry. Whatever magic Simpson conjured there is all but dried up, save for the occasional flourish (Angela’s own rap effort hints that she may have had the hottest late 80s slasher mixtape—eat your heart out, Fat Boys). It simultaneously confirms and resists the frequent, superficial criticism that this genre is full of trashy Xeroxes: yes, Sleepaway Camp III is more of the same, but it’s also a lesser, second-generation copy that proves capturing lightning in a bottle isn’t as easy as it looks in this genre.
*Let’s just all agree that Return to Sleepaway Camp was a bad dream, yes?
Granted, part of the reason the film has trouble living up to its predecessors’ standards is the excised gore. For years, it was as fabled as any slasher movie footage imaginable until Anchor Bay recovered it for their DVD release. All of this footage, plus much more is retained for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray Collector’s Edition. How much more? How about the entire workprint version of the film presented as a supplement? Sure, it’s in a rough VHS form that’s missing a score and a lot of dialogue, but it at least offers more of a glimpse of what the film was meant to be. Any Sleepaway Camp enthusiast should appreciate it as a cool artifact.
Other supplements here are a bit more conventional but no less informative, with a commentary with Simpson and writer Fritz Gordon and “A Tale of Two Sequels: Part Two” proving to be the meatiest. The latter is the second half of a newly-produced Red Shirt retrospective with the cast and crew; running a little over 25 minutes long, it has the cast and crew looking back on the film’s quick and dirty production before discussing the legacy of the two sequels in general. “Tony Lives!” provides a quick, in-character update of one of the film’s survivors, while vintage behind-the-scenes footage, a trailer, and a stills gallery complete the extra features.
Scream Factory’s commitment to their trade is most evident here: even though Sleepaway Camp III isn’t the most fondly considered, it’s arguably received the more impressive Collector’s Edition. Short of actually reinserting the missing gore into the main feature (which isn’t really a viable option considering its video source), I can’t imagine what more could have been done to give this film its due. I’m not sure the missing gore would be enough to elevate it anywhere near the first two films, but at least we now have a more than ample opportunity to see what should have been. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: