DVD Review: ‘Return to Sleepaway Camp’!

Five years of waiting and this is what we get? How could Magnolia Pictures put their names on this? Inside you’ll find Horro Guy Keenan’s thoughts on RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which finally arrives at retailers everywhere on November 7th. “I hear Hiltzik is working hard on a sixth film for the series – if it’s anything like this fifth film I’m going to have to set up camp some place else..” Ouch.
I have been a pretty big fan of the SLEEPAWAY CAMP series for a while now. I remember picking up the “exclusive” box set released at Best Buy (the one that had what was left of SLEEPAWAY CAMP 4 on it) the day of release. Sure it was pretty crappy next to the other films but, it wasn’t really finished, so to me it didn’t really matter. Fast forward a few years later, I hear from a friend that he’s working on the set of SLEEPAWAY CAMP 5 (“Return to” was not attached yet). I begged him to get me on set but things were always holding production up and I never got a chance to visit…

…yet after viewing a finished copy of the film this evening, I am very thankful I didn’t waste my time and money to drive up there.

It’s summer camp as usual at Camp Manabe where the kids torment each other for fun while the underpaid camp staff provides as little supervision as possible. Greedy camp owner Frank (Vincent Pastore) and junior partner Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) do their best to keep everyone in line, but something sinister is about to put a slash in the roster. When campers and staff mysteriously begin disappearing and turning into gruesome corpses, paranoid Ronnie can’t shake the memory of a series of grisly murders that took place at Camp Arawak where he worked 2 decades ago. Has a “ghost” from the past come back to haunt him?

One thing I will give the writer and director of this film (Robert Hiltzik) is that it looks like it could have been shot back-to-back with the other SLEEPAWAY CAMPs. The type of film used, along with the sets, made it look like it was straight out of the `80s.

One of the major differences come in the acting; the original films weren’t at all is the campy and cheesy. They must have picked up these kids at the `Tara Reid School of Acting.’ Though, there is one exception. Isaac Hayes plays the camps head chef (GET IT!?) for about ten minutes and then disappears (I’m sure that was money well spent). The main character, Alan (Michael Gibney), is so annoying and such a bad actor that you can’t stand him from the get go. At points of the film you are supposed to feel sorry for him, but the whole time you just want to see him die. At the end of the film you sit there wondering why you focused on this kid for 98 minutes.

A few members of the original cast show up and their acting is just as bad, if not worse. You can tell half of these actors have not been in any films since the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP. It’s atrocious. Their screams and shock-like expressions just make you roll your eyes in embarrassment for them. I’m not asking for an Oscar winning performances here or anything, but these guys don’t even try. It’s as if Hiltzik only did one take for every scene in the film. Maybe he just spent too much money on the old `80s look?

I can’t begin to count all the plot holes there are, including the long drawn out scenes that go nowhere. And you can only watch a girl with a rope around her neck scream for so long until you’re bored, which brings up another flaw… the editing. The cuts from scene to scene are so incredibly sloppy.

It also doesn’t help that none of the kills in this film are spectacular (like its predecessors), in fact, at times they are just laughable in a very bad way. Most of them are camera tricks I’m sure you and your little brother tried out with your first video camera. “You cut to a scene of an eye and then you cut back and there is a stick in it! Ho-ho-ho!” I have seen better gore in high school student films.

That’s what really irks me about this flick. They had the budget to get freaking Isaac Hayes on the film but not enough to do a descent follow-up to one of the most under appreciated horror films of the early `80s. I love the old SLEEPAWAY CAMP films and their campiness, but there is that fine line between campy and just straight-up awful and RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP crossed it. I hear Hiltzik is working hard on a sixth film for the series – if it’s anything like this fifth film I’m going to have to set up camp some place else.

1/10 Skulls