Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Return To Sleepaway Camp

This movie begins with a bunch of kids in a cabin lighting their farts on fire and ends with a guy laying skinned on the ground and a cackling madwoman howling into the camera.

I love horror movies.

Okay, I get that Sleepaway Camp is a strange cult classic among our tribe, well known for its infamous twist ending and flamboyantly campy style. Next to Norman Bates, Angela is the most famous tranny serial killer in cinema history. The later movies gleefully embraced and magnified the goofy campiness of the original, and they became the ultimate movie to watch when you were in a certain kinda mood with a certain kinda friend.

But movies like these, and like Return To Sleepaway Camp completely flummox me as a reviewer, because they're not actually "good" in the conventional sense of the term. Yet here I am, forced to articulate the fact that there's something twisted and enjoyable in these kinds of films. Watching a Z movie that embraces it's z-movieness is kinda like watching one of those summer camp sketch comedy shows, where you're laughing at the execution as much as the jokes.

Long and the short, you gotta judge these movies by a different criteria.

RTSC is made by the original director, and the movie directly follows the first movie. SC2 and 3 were created by a different guy, and aren't technically 'canon'. The story takes place in a camp staffed by unprofessional, negligent councilors and seemly completely free from scheduled activities. Teenagers (all of whom appear to be slightly too old to be in camp in the first place) seem to spend all their time hanging out and getting killed. Slasher movies are essentially campfire ghost story distilled into cinematic form, so the camp setting is a natural locale for gory mayhem. Some bastards get bumped off in inventive ways, there's a "twist" ending, and blah blah blah. You already know the plot. You've seen this movie, in different form, a dozen times over. These movies are like haiku anyway. The basic structure doesn't change, but the art is found in what the creators do within the limitations.

I think one of the big problems of the movie is that it is too aware of the cult following surrounding the original and it plays up to that audience. RTSC knows that people are coming for the campy, grisly joy of the previous features, so it doesn't bother with building tension. Instead, the movie puts far too much of the focus on setting up a red herring around the killer's identity, painting a big red bullseye around the the damaged Alan (Michael Gibney.)

Man, these last two posts all seem to focus around fat guys playing awkward, damaged characters. While Michael Gibney doesn't have the same dramatic pull as Bostin Christopher, the character he creates in Alan is fascinating and realistic. I've known guys like Alan before. He's angry and damaged, clueless to the intricacies of basic human interaction, and completely at the mercy of the other campers. A lot of slasher movies are thinly-disguised revenge fantasies, and Angela's motivation always centered around cruel and immoral kids getting their just desserts. I think a fantastic coming-of-age movie could have been made around Alan growing up and moving away from the loneliness and fury that binds him, but he's painted to be the most likely candidate to be the murderer, which of course means that he's innocent.

There is no actual HORROR in this movie. We rarely get any sense of tension, none of the victims are particularly sympathetic and the whole situation is so over-the-top and farcical that it becomes impossible to actually get engaged enough to be scared. The make-up effect work is pretty good, especially the murder lifted from 1984, but the only scares you'll get out of this come if you're particularly squeamish.

In the end, I don't think I can recommend this movie to people who aren't already twisted enough to have enjoyed the first few. There is fun to be had here, but it's also trying to be a little too precious for their own good.

Also, how far you have fallen, Big Pussy. How far you have fallen.

Anyway, check out Final Girl's review here.

ia ia cthulhu fhtagn


1 comment:

Kwame said...

I didn't realize Issac Hayes was in this. This has to then be the second to last movie he made. This then Soul Men, no wonder he died.