Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (Nightmare Vacation 3) (1989)

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (Nightmare Vacation 3) (1989) first published (in a shorter version) by Movie Gazette

After running a girl down in a garbage truck (that sure signifier of trash aesthetics), outdoors-loving maniac Angela Baker assumes her identity in order to be admitted as one of the campers at the grounds where her last killing spree took place. The camp, renamed New Horizons, is now an ‘experiment in sharing’, where rich and poor teens are brought together – but they are all the same to Angela, who is soon hammering, chopping and even lawnmowing her way through anyone who is lazy, takes drugs, fornicates, swears, or, worst of all, is a cheerleader.

Although the second and third Sleepaway Camp films were both directed by Michael A. Simpson and written by Fritz Gordon, and one was wrapped only a week before shooting commenced on the other, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland shows all the signs of a franchise in terminal decline. While it sticks to the blend of horror and comedy that proved so successful in the first sequel, and still features the talents of Pamela (sister of Bruce) Springsteen as everyone’s favourite transsexual psychotic campgoer, the jokes are few and far between, there is much less gore than in the preceding films (with a higher nipple-count by way of dubious compensation), and the social satire is about as sharp as the big stick which Angela uses more than anything else as her murder weapon.

In Sleepaway Camp III: Unhappy Campers all Angela’s victims were named after Eighties bratpackers. It was a clever enough gag, but in his second sequel Fritz Gordon lays it on far too thick, naming the rich teenagers after the Brady Bunch kids (Cindy, Greg, Jan, Peter, Bobby, Marcia), the poor after the characters from West Side Story (Arab, Snowboy, Anita, Riff, Tony, Maria), and the two self-serving counsellors after characters from the Munsters (Herman and Lily). Beyond their names, and some lazy stereotyping (the spoilt rich girl, the rap-loving gangbanger, the spray-painting vandal etc.), there is no real characterisation here and little drama, so that the succession of murders feels tired and dull, as though those old campfires have just been burning for far too long. The only bright spark is Bobby (Haynes Brooke), a Young Republican whose opening conversational gambit is, “So, you’re underprivileged, huh?”, and who likes “movies that make America look great – like Rambo Part III”. This brand of patriotism is further satirically skewered when the film finds a new use for a flagpole.

Perhaps the neatest touch in Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wastelend (and be warned that this is a spoiler) is that Angela spares the plain-looking Marcia (Tracy, sister of Melanie, Griffith), much as she spared Molly in the previous film, because she seems like a ‘nice’ girl (i.e., in Angela’s terms, a clean-living virgin) – but it turns out that all it takes is one kiss for Marcia to be reaching for the condom that she carries about with her, and even her new boyfriend Tony (Mark Oliver) is surprised to learn that she already has a boyfriend back home. This is a callback of sorts to the original Sleepaway Camp, where a different nice girl was not all that she appeared to be, with the irony now brought full circle. Still, Simpson’s film is otherwise all routine tits and ass(assination).

Summary: Time for the tentpoles to come down (even if there are another two sequels).

Anton Bitel