When I saw the first Sleepaway Camp, which was a blind buy in college after hearing its reputation, I didn’t really have the option of seeing the sequels. They were out of print, but I did want to see them badly. I caught glimpses of the third in the series on Chiller, but that wasn’t enough for me. I knew perfectly well that if I was going to sit down and watch Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, I wasn’t going to watch it edited. I needed to see the real thing.
I got my chance a few years ago when both the second and third films were added to Netflix. I had seen Return to Sleepaway Camp, but the less said about that experience the better. Rediscovering a franchise from the video era is an important thing for me. It reminds me that even as I continue to develop and get older, there will always be treasures I missed that I can go back and uncover as long as I know my way around the map. Like the first Sleepaway Camp, I was not a twelve year old who had just walked home from the video store when I sat down to watch the sequel, but I might as well have been. As great as Blu-Ray can be—and we’ll get to that—a good movie, and even a bad one, can grab you by the shoulders and take you out of reality as long as all the elements come together. They don’t need to be good elements. Citizen Kane is engrossing on a totally different level. Sometimes it just needs the right amount of cheese, stupid one-liners and mullets to remind you of the things you used to watch all the time and why you loved them so much. I’m a kid when I watch these, I just am. If they have the right feeling, then even if I didn’t first see them as a kid, I feel the same way watching them now as I did then. It’s a kind of secondhand nostalgia.
As fun as the original Sleepaway Camp is, it’s also really disturbing. There is a lot of dark shit in that movie that people forget about. It’s just sleazy. That’s part of its charm, but as goofy as it is there’s some stuff in there that is really hard to have fun with. But it works in terms of shock value.
Sleepaway Camp II feels just as, well, campy but it is sillier at the same time. There’s some commentary in it on where slashers were at by that point in the 1980’s. It’s not great commentary and it’s not even particularly well thought-out, but it is still neat to see. The most obvious bit of commentary and, for me, the least fun part is that Angela has taken on a bit of a puritanical stance on some issues. She’s against kids doing drugs and having sex, as all counselors in charge of those kids probably should be, but to such an extreme that she will kill them for their wrongdoings. Moral majority Angela is harder to get behind than the picked-on preteen of the original, but after a while it’s kind of hard not to like her. Watching Angela go to work in the sequels is kind of like watching Fox News. Yeah, she’s a babbling train wreck, but it’s kind of hard to look away.
More than anything else, Sleepaway Camp II should be rediscovered because it’s a lot of fun. It’s insanely low budget but incredibly ambitious at the same time. Everything is bigger and badder this time around and Angela is quick to make good use of all the slasher tropes. She really puts herself right in there with the big leagues in this sequel, donning a hockey mask at one point and killing people with both a Freddy glove and a chainsaw.
But it’s her moments of originality that shine best. This is still a slasher and much of the fun in that kind of feature is seeing how people are going to get picked off, who is going to survive and how the villain is going to get it in the end. Sleepaway Camp invites the audience to partake in all of these things, rooting for the villain and wanting her to go down at the same time. People who roll their eyes at Sleepaway Camp II because of Angela’s operation between the two films really need to look up how the whole transgender thing works. Angela is still a trans person in the sequel, it’s not discredited just because she’s post-op. And her status as a trans woman doesn’t make her any less of an interesting female villain, either.
Angela Baker is one of the most underrated of the ‘80’s antagonists, a character who really changes from movie to movie, whether it’s intentional or not. The easiest reason to say Sleepaway Camp II should be embraced now of all times is because of the great new Scream Factory Blu-Ray. That should definitely be a catalyst to get people to check it out. But in truth, Unhappy Campers should be rediscovered because it’s simply good, stupid, nostalgic fun.