Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (aka Nightmare Vacation 2) (1988)

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (aka Nightmare Vacation 2) first published by Movie Gazette

Warning: contains spoilers about the first Sleepaway Camp film

In the cinema of the 1980s, teenagers had one of two predefined rôles. Either they charmed, emoted and, let’s face it, annoyed their way through comedy dramas about love, class and young angst, typically directed by John Hughes – or they were killed off one by one in slasher franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The genius of Michael A. Simpson’s low-budget horror comedy Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is that it brings both genres together, setting Hughes-style teens, armed only with their own whining idiocy, against a versatile killer with a low tolerance for adolescent antics.

At Camp Rolling Hills, all the teenage campers just happen to share their forenames with the leading bratpackers of the day. There is Sean (Penn), Ally (Sheedy), Rob (Lowe), Demi (Moore), Lea (Thompson), Brooke (Shields), Anthony (Michael Hall), Judd (Nelson), Charlie (Sheen), Phoebe (Cates), and Emilio (Estevez), the head counsellor is named T.C. (after Tom Cruise), the owner of the camp is called Uncle John (in homage to John Hughes himself), while the heroine Molly (Ringwald) is played by Renée Estevez, real-life sister to Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. Since the first Sleepaway Camp film, cross-dressing psychotic killer Angela, here played by Pamela (sister of Bruce) Springsteen, has undergone a sex change and been released from the psychiatric ward, and now, in her dream job as camp counsellor, is less shy than before, but every bit as confused and homicidal. Angela does not take kindly to the behaviour of the eighties teen icons around her, and in her determination to improve the camp, is soon expressing her criticism of all their swearing, drug-taking, fornication, smoking, sex-mania and even over-talkativeness in terms that are truly cutting. Only shy, virginal Molly wins Angela’s approval, but having this crazed, kumbaya-singing counsellor as an admirer can be more than a little disturbing.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers dispenses with the whodunnit and twist-ending elements of the original, instead going for extravagant gore, gratuitous female nudity, and lots of laughs, with some knowingly ironic gestures (like Angela disguised as Leatherface taking on two boys disguised as Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees) that are almost a decade ahead of the postmodern ironies of Scream (1996). Pamela Springsteen’s perfect comic timing and manic cleancut chirpiness (like a revivalist Christian on prozac) holds the whole thing together nicely.

So come on everybody, sing along (and don’t forget the hand movements):

“Oh I’m a happy camper
I Love the clear blue sky
And with the grace of God
I’ll camp until I die.”

Anton Bitel