Youtube Film Club: Sleepaway Camp 3 – Teenage Wasteland (1989)

She's not in the film, by the way

She’s not in the film, by the way

You’re welcome, ISCFC!

This is numerically the middle of the Sleepaway Camp series, but is really more like the end of the initial trilogy. Parts 2 and 3 were shot back to back using the same sets, for some reason; part 4 lay unfinished for years, and has only recently been released, with very heavy use of footage from the first three films to pad it out (but more on that when I come to do my review of it). Part 5 is “Return to Sleepaway Camp” and was made twenty years after all these, and I’m almost certain won’t have a lot in common with them either (place your bets now – I reckon we’ll get a 5 second cameo from Pamela Springsteen and that’s it).

“Teenage Wasteland” starts with a New York teenager on her way to summer camp, whose parents who don’t seem to care in the slightest about her. Is she to be the misunderstood heroine who saves the day? Nope. She gets chased down and murdered by a garbage truck driven by…Angela! You can’t keep a good murderer down, and she steals the dead girl’s identity and off to summer camp we go. If you were wondering how Angela found out the names and addresses of the kids going to summer camp, picked the one most likely to be leaving their house at 6am unaccompanied by parents or friends, dressed exactly like her, stole a garbage truck, and was able to run down and kill the girl in the very short amount of time before the camp van arrived, compacting her in the truck, without anyone noticing either immediately or when emptying the truck…then this is going to be a long, frustrating experience for you.

The new owners of the camp, while trying to keep the 19 murders the year before a secret, are doing a scheme where poor kids and rich kids get together, foster understanding, and have a good time. There’s a news crew there to cover this, and because the reporter asks Angela for some cocaine, she gets given bleach and dies in the car on the way back from camp. Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but if someone dies on the way back from the scene of a bunch of murders, where the killer is still on the loose, I reckon one or two alarm bells would ring with the local police. But luckily we’re in the consequence-free environment of Sleepaway Camp here, and the newslady is never mentioned again.

I feel I would be remiss in my duties as a film reviewer if I didn’t mention the camp. Camps, when you see them on films and TV, tend to be busy places, packed with staff, counsellors and campers. Presumably, they cost a fair bit to run. Camp New Horizons, on the other hand, has three staff and twelve campers, and absolutely zero amenities. I realise it’s a low budget piece of garbage, but they couldn’t have hired a bunch of extras for a day of running around? Or got some stock footage of campers enjoying themselves? The rich kids say they paid $3,000 for the experience, but there’s no kitchen staff, no entertainment and, more importantly, IT’S THE SITE OF 19 MURDERS WHERE THE KILLER WAS NEVER CAUGHT

We still have a few standard summer-camp tropes, like the dorm full of girls who walk around topless (my wife informs me that this rarely happens in real life), so they’re at least trying. The hottest girl there is implausibly extremely attracted to the weird old guy who runs the place, but that’s the least of the problems this film has. The 12 kids are split into three groups, for no readily apparent reason other than it was probably cheaper to film that way – you can film one group for a few days, then send them home, film another and so on, and get everyone together for the beginning and end. Or maybe this film just sucks. While fishing, they pull a hockey mask out of the lake, and I’m really not sure if this is a reference to the kid with the mask in “Sleepaway Camp 2”, or they just forgot about that and made another reference to the much more popular Friday the 13th film series (I’m going with the latter, as one of them asks what date it is and his friend replies “Saturday the 14th”).

One of the kids is kind enough to suggest an alternate title for this cinematic masterpiece – while sat around discussing their favourite films, he says “I like the ones with tits and blood”. So, I propose this be renamed “Sleepaway Camp 3: Tits and Blood”. It’s a winner!

Really, we don’t need to go on much from here. I’m going to spoil the hell out of the ending, so you might want to watch it first, but Angela relentlessly kills her way through the kids and staff. There’s a sense of fun-less inevitability to it all – no-one suspects Angela at any time, no-one notices that their co-campers are all dead, and everyone just accepts Angela’s odd movements with the barest hint of an explanation. One of the staff, an off-duty cop who is the father of one of the kids Angela killed in part 2, might reasonably be expected to be there waiting to see if she came back to the scene of the crime, but he only realises who she is a few seconds before she kills him – and even spends time telling the other kids that there’s no photographs of her, and her juvenile records were destroyed when she turned 18, so there’s zero description of probably the most notorious killer in America.

Consulting my notes, I see for this part of the film I just wrote “blah blah blah murder”, so I think we can safely move on to the end. She’s sort of got a reason for killing, moral purity or something, so a couple of the kids are allowed to survive the little game Angela sets up at the end. They didn’t cuss or take drugs or have premarital sex, and this satisifes Angela as she smiles and trots towards a jeep to make a getaway, only to be chased by the remaining girl and seemingly killed. After slaughtering her way through three summer camps, all it takes is a lucky blow to the gut with an axe and Angela is done for. Or is she? The cop and paramedic in the back of the ambulance realise she’s still alive, and while they’re debating killing her for the greater good, she wakes up and manages to get the drop on them both, killing them easily.

So here ends the journey of Angela from a boy, brought up as a girl by an insane grief-stricken aunt, to post-op transsexual invincible mass murderer. When you effectively come back from the dead, that’s when the films starring you start to get a bit silly – aka, any film after part 1 of the Friday 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween series. There’s another couple of films to make it through, but even with the pathetically low standard of these three, I bet they’ll be disappointing.

Woman finds best way to watch film

Woman finds best way to watch film

One might reasonably have assumed that after two poor films, and with the increasing, implausibility of getting Angela back in a summer camp, that this film might have played it for laughs (the presence of Michael J Pollard and Jennifer Coolidge, both hamming it up, might have contributed to this idea), but no. It’s leaden  and unfunny and not scary or interesting. It’s like watching a postie deliver mail, entirely uneventfully. What surprises me is the devoted cult following these films have – part 1, while absolute garbage by any reasonable definition, looks like Shakespeare performed by the RSC compared to parts 2 and 3. I just think some people have a perverse desire to unironically like the worst films, because these are not the camp classics that “The Room” and “Troll 2” are. They’re just bad, bad films and are barely worth the effort of watching.

Next up, part 4! “The Survivor”, but can I survive it?