The announcement was exciting for fans, whose numbers had grown over the past quarter of a century. And while the marketability for a wide, theatrical release for such a sequel might not be there, fans were more than happy to accept a direct-to-DVD release! This is especially due to the promise of appearances by some of the original actors who helped make the first film a reality. A new Sleepaway Camp that ignores the continuity of the more comical sequels and continues the vision of the series and character creator could be an indie slasher flick fan's dream come true.
Unfortunately, the end result isn't quite a masterpiece. It's more of a piece of masturbatory repetition. Unlike the original, the "surprise twist", though twisted, is hardly a surprise. In fact, the first time I saw the killer on camera I knew exactly who it was. This isn't to say I'm playing Columbo here, folks! Mr. Magoo could have seen this ending coming, in spite of the best efforts of the filmmakers to smear on the layers of dubious mystery.
The film picks up in relative real time as another summer camping season is kicking off somewhere far, far away from Crystal Lake (we hope). Muscle-Bound counsellor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) has remained in the camping business, in spite of what he witnessed at Camp Arawak a generation ago. Now that the New Jersey Mob no longer has any use for him, Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore is available to play Frank who bank-rolls the camp operation and never lets Ronnie forget he's a Junior Partner. In case you're wondering if that becomes a plot point, fuggidabowdit. This is one of many that go nowhere.
An early sign that the rest of the film is going nowhere is seen just after the opening credits when we are treated to (read: cursed with) a sequence of fart-lighting. This is our introduction to one of the most annoying and least sympathetic characters I have yet to see in movies of any kind, anywhere, anywhen. His name is Alan (Michael Gibney). He doesn't wash, he doesn't wear clean clothes, he's morbidly obese, he throws whiney, self-centered temper tantrums, he bullies the other kids at camp (regardless of size or gender) and he makes repulsive passes at some of the incredibly hot young ladies who (if for self-preservation alone) wouldn't give him the time of day on a bet. Somehow Robert Hiltzik, as both writer and director, expects us to have some sympathy for the little shit. Ronnie and fellow counsellor Petey (cute Kate Simses) are both constantly taking up for the kid as if he were some innocent victim. Soon just about everyone who has ever victimized Alan are turning up dead in increasingly horrible ways.
This is in spite of the fact that Alan is more of a bully than any of the kids who push him around... ah, hell, I'll no more on it. Needless to say, though, the killer isn't Alan. If Hil-Dog was trying to offer this up as a red-herring (and it's hardly clear if he was or not), it certainly didn't work. The hooded killer is obviously about a fourth of the size of Alan and is seen somewhat often.
Still, the body count keeps rising and it isn't long before Ronnie is convinced that the insane Angela Baker (as played by Felissa Rose) is back and slashing (and possibly flashing as s/he did in the old days). The real question is... just who is Angela, if Angela is truly the killer? Is this the original, a copycat, a coincidence or a rip off? This is where the players start to act like the Scooby Gang and start to investigate this groovy mystery. While Frank wants to keep this whole thing quiet (money, money, money) Ronnie is more concerned with finding and/ or exposing the killer, so he sends the local sheriff's department on a hunt for Angela's closest relative Ricky Baker (played, as in the original, by Jonathan Tiersten). But, hey, fat lot of good it does any of them, right? After all the ante is soon upped and more (and more repulsive) methods of death are soon devised and dealt... right up until the would-be-shocking finale. The problem is that with an ending so obvious, the final act is really just a waiting game to see how they present what we all already know, much more than it is a valid fulfillment of the mystery.
Although the characters are all one-dimensional, under-developed pastiches of every cast from every dead teenager movie you've ever seen, I have to credit Hiltzik and his casting assistant (who was one Felissa Rose, if you can believe that) for the choices they made when loading this film with actors. Erin Broderick is more than fit and plays the part of Karen (the unfortunate and uninterested object of Alan's oily affections) quite well. Marie (Samantha Hahn), Linda (Jackie Tohn), Alex (Ashley Carin), Joanie (Lauren Toub) and Jenny (Jaime Radow) are also lovely additions to the cast and, again, Kate Simses' Petey looks really cute in a swimsuit. While not exactly hot, Shahida McIntash's Bella is to be credited as one of the few people who stand up to Alan's incessant bullying without, in turn, becoming a bully. Believe it or not, Isaac Hayes actually shows up during the first half playing a, you guessed it, Chef named Charlie! He even wears the same colors as his South Park character. Of course he disappears (and not as part of the story) after the first act, depriving us of one of the few male characters worth watching.
It should also be noted that even in a cast filled with so many beautiful women, there is absolutely no nudity whatsoever in this fucked up film. Seriously, man, it's called a "gratuity" for a reason. You've got to give us some reason to watch this trash! Good movies may not need nudity, but for bad movies... man there should be a law! "We would like to inform you that the Bad Movie Viewing Public will be implementing a new, legally-binding policy for Bad Movie Makers. Effective immediately, 18% gratuitous nudity will be required in all motion pictures warranting Two Stars or Less. Thank you for your continued support." Return to Sleepaway Camp would be in violation, then, now wouldn't it? Thanks a lot, Hil-Dog!
Return to Sleepaway Camp was reportedly filmed between September and November of 2003 (explaining how the late Isaac Hayes was able to contribute). The five-year lag between principle wrap and DVD release was reportedly due to Hiltzik's strict requirements for CGI quality. While it's good that he's a stickler on some things, his film might have been better served by some re-shoots and re-writes. As it stands, we're looking at a weak entry into the overall stagnant series. It takes itself every bit as seriously as the comedy sequels did, but doesn't quite nail any real suspense, humor or surprise. As with the first film, it's clear that writer Hiltzik had some good ideas that could have amounted to a very good film, but none of those ideas truly made it into director Hiltzik's film. Although the interviews on the DVD repeatedly treat "THE ONE AND ONLY Robert Hiltzik" as a legend of some kind, in truth he hasn't improved much as a filmmaker. This could have something to do with the fact that the last film he directed was 1983's Sleepaway Camp. But don't worry, he's got another film in the pipeline already! Sleepaway Camp Reunion is scheduled for a 2010 release (CGI willing). We'll see how that one turns out.
While fans of the series will (and should, perhaps) call this film a must-see, in truth Return to Sleepaway Camp is a curiosity for completists only. The fun that could be had with the film is lost in a tidal wave of body humor, animal cruelty, ridiculously obvious plot points, improbable contrivances, headache-inducing dialogue and unsympathetic characters. Further, the film comes off primarily as a retread of the original... except this time the dick doesn't just cameo at the end of the film. There are dicks in virtually every frame, my friends. No nudity, just dicks! Sadly, Return to Sleepaway Camp gets a DOG! Not a good dog whom you love in spite of its flaws... this doggy doesn't even get a treat. Hell, we should've known it was going to eat feet! Camp should've closed by now, kids. On the slightly brighter side, stay (or, rather, fast forward) through the credits for one additional scene featuring the (really quite lovely) Felissa Rose. It fills in a pretty decent blank in the film and is overall pretty well done and fun to watch. So that's one! One! See you at the next reunion, happy campers!