Michael A. Simpson
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
In premise Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is similar to the original (here are more promiscuous teenagers at camp), when in fact it could be no different. Immediately eschewing the horror of its prequel, the title credits are scored with an imposing heavy metal riff. The film is quintessentially a slasher film: it is purposely loud, awkwardly unrealistic, and only marginally funny.
Curiously, the film does not employ the staple gimmick of the genre: the revelatory delivery of the killer’s identity. Instead, Unhappy Campers traces the crimes of the proverbial killer, known from the film’s beginning, who practices with incessant and sporadic creativity.
As a disclaimer, discussing Unhappy Campers (and Teenage Wasteland, part III) relies on ruining the climax of the original — which I found to be the most successful quality of the first film (and of the entire trilogy, for that matter). Furthermore, the original Sleepaway Camp is the only unbiased recommendation the entire trilogy prescribes.
The killer is Angela, from the first film, now a counselor and now, benefiting from a sex change, a girl. Her exploits span this and the final installment of the trilogy, and curiously no concrete reason is given for her bloodthirst. She is described as mentally unstable yet is the most wholesome and enthusiastic member of the camp. Citing the film’s lack of character development is entirely futile. As denoted in the title, the film is camp. For this reason there is an impulse to recommend Unhappy Campers for its success in achieving its target (it is neither portentous nor significant, and it is occasionally entertaining), and it is stifled.
Cleverly, the film’s makers share our knowledge of horror convention (deservingly, the film is seen as a precursor to Scream). In the opening scene, in a cabin full of appropriately nubile and curious females, a camper awakens, topless, and comments: “What are you staring at? Haven’t you ever seen a pair of boobs before?” Like numerous others before it, the film uses female nudity as a draw and to ascribe a character’s vulnerability. With the line, the makers acknowledge their unashamed inclusion of the convention. In this manner Unhappy Campers is like a good prank, one that is unfortunately ruined by an obvious wink.
On a note of commendation the film contains brilliant segues: a number of scenes begin with the sight of a spilled red substance — presumably recently emptied human blood. Each time, the camera tracks to the spill’s source: a spilled glass of punch, red paint, or other false source. The filmmakers constantly tease our expectations, and the action enhances the film’s satirical take.
There is, finally, little to recommend the film for. Relying on its function as a satire alone the film lacks enough material to entertain for ninety minutes. Furthermore, the film is not scary, at all, violating its relation to its horrific and scary prequel.