Why You Should Watch: Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

So I haven’t blogged in a long while in order to focus on a few other writing projects. I was a bit burned out, and I wanted to come back only when I felt compelled to talk about something. And after a few months, I am shocked to say that something is Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers.

Summary: After going to a mental institution for years, Angela returns to a summer camp as a counselor under a fake alias. But when the other counselors start misbehaving, Angela reverts to her murderous tendencies to ensure the camp lives up the wholesome, pure ideals she wants for it.

This movie is way more entertaining than it has any right to be. I remember watching this as a child and actually remembered it far more than its predecessor. To be fair now that I know the twist ending of the original, I bet I wasn’t allowed to watch Sleepaway Camp because I wasn’t allowed to watch nudity or sex scenes. And while you can generally understand most 80s slashers sans those scenes, Sleepaway Camp‘s twist/climax hinges on a nude scene.

Still, as a child I didn’t understand Angela or why she was killing in Sleepaway Camp II. But this is a rare experience where my enjoyment of the movie as an adult far exceeded any enjoyment I felt as a child. Now I am able to appreciate the satirical black comedy the creators were going for.

This movie hooks you right away in an opening scene that seems prophetic about current right-wing hysteria over trans people. While telling spooky stories over a campfire, our new camp counselors recount the tale of the murderous Peter Baker aka Angela Baker from a nearby summer camp years prior. One of counselors laments the fact “the doctor’s gave her a sex change, and our parents’ tax dollars paid for it!”

Immediately after, Angela (now played by Pamela Springsteen aka Bruce Springsteen’s sister) kills her first of many misbehaved counselors.

The whole opening sequence is a clear cut parody of Friday the 13th, but in this case we are immediately introduced to the secret killer – no first-person POV tricks needed. Angela is very much our main character, and over the course of the film her demented behavior becomes amusing in its erratic predictability. Two twins who focus more on smoking pot and sleeping with other counselors than watching the children? Goners. The ones who plan to scare Angela by dressing like Freddy and Jason? Goners.

This movie features a fun parody of its slasher peers, with Angela dressing like Leatherface to dispatch her would be prankers. And while nothing will compare to my beloved Friday the 13th parody scene in the 1988 The Blob, this was really an amusing element to one of the kill sequences in this movie.

This movie also features one of the most insane sex scenes I’ve even seen in an 80s slasher film. You will think this is just an awkward shot during part of it, but I promise you this image alludes to how bizarre the whole scene is:

But beyond any other reason, my favorite part of this movie is towards the end. Upon realizing one of the other counselors is VERY slowly starting to piece together that the people Angela “sent home” aren’t actually at home, Angela calmly and deliberately starts to walk around the cabin and look for objects she can murder the other girl with while the other girl keeps talking obliviously and incessantly about the incongruous stories:

I don’t know why, but watching such a high-strung villain like Angela calmly walk around and tap sharpened pencils and coat hangers against her skin to analyze the damage the objects could do to someone just sends me. The comedy hits another peak when another nondescript counselor comes in, sees the body, and says straight to the camera in a first-person POV shot, “but I didn’t do anything!?” before Angela calmly responds “you are going to tell” and stabs her to death to avoid getting caught.

By the end of the film, Angela’s spree is so utterly ridiculous and our final girl Molly is so bland, you are left rooting for Angela to make it. She is evil, but she ultimately has a twisted moral compass guiding her murders. And while it doesn’t align with a similar set of morals to ours like the titular characters from the hit show Dexter‘s does, it is pretty consistent and understandable. What Angela wants is a well-behaved, wholesome sleepaway camp experience, due to her deep-rooted trauma from her childhood. Her annoying persistence is bizarrely endearing, much like the occasional one-liner from other murderous antiheroes like Patrick Bateman and Leslie Vernon.

I’m not the best person to speak to Angela’s gender identity, but I find it fascinating the movie decided to just embrace Angela as a woman. Yes it does it with that cheap intro alluding to gender transformation, glossing over how the wrong gender was forced onto Angela from her deranged aunt. But there is probably an alternative reality in the multiverse featuring a cheaper story where Angela is played by a cisgender man posing as a woman to reinforce negative stereotypes. Instead, other than the intro and Angela’s monologue at the end, Angela’s gender is really not that important to the film other than giving us a rare female slasher villain.

There isn’t a lot of discourse about this film, but I’m hoping over time more will be said about the queer subtext between Angela and the final girl Molly. Throughout the film, Angela is called a dyke by other counselors. Angela definitely shows a fondness for Molly that could be interpreted as romantic interest. Yet the movie never feels like it is dipping into psychotic lesbian territory ala High Tension because Angela’s potential interest in Molly is not her focus or driving factor in her murders. Angela may be attracted to Molly or she may want to be friends with her because Molly embodies the wholesome ideals Angela wants the whole camp to live up to. I don’t have much to say about this potential read myself other than I would be interested to see more viewers discuss this plot thread.

The movie features some brutal kills (albeit many imagined due to censorship and a low budget), sleaze, and a late 80s/90s sense of humor about itself and the slasher subgenre as a whole. It is a surprisingly delightful film I decided to rewatch, and couldn’t believe the amount of times it made me smirk or actually laugh out loud. If you give it a shot, I hope you enjoy it half as much as me.

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Watch: Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

  1. I’ve always sort of liked both this one and Teenage Wasteland more than the first, which, while decent, never blew me away like other slashers from the time period. I definitely enjoy the humor in this film also, and though I was a teenager when I first saw this movie, I can imagine it was a lot of fun seeing it as a kid.

    Solid review, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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