The only problem when a movie delivers a shock ending right out of left field is how exactly do you follow that on? This was the challenge that Michael A. Simpson faced when he was hired to direct two back-to-back sequels to Robert Hiltzik’s notorious slasher Sleepaway Camp. The 1983 original had ended with the revelation that its young protagonist, Angela Baker (Felissa Rose), was not only responsible for the murder spree which had plagued Camp Arawak but was in fact a boy, a twist which was delivered courtesy of a full frontal shot of her holding the severed head of her boyfriend. It was this moment which had caused Sleepaway Camp to stand out among the endless slashers that had populated the genre in the earlier eighties and it was only a matter of time before a sequel would arrive. With Rose having left the industry to attend college, the role of Angela fell to twenty-six year old Pamela Springsteen, younger sister of singing legend Bruce, who would portray the character as a post-op psychotic.
Several years have passed since the massacre and a new army of counselors have gathered at Camp Rolling Hills. One night a group of them sit around a fire and swap scary stories, with the subject eventually turning to Camp Arawak. But as one of the girls, Phoebe (Heather Binion), dishes out the grizzly details a figure appears behind her. It is Angela (Springsteen), now a fully developed female and a respectable member of the camping community. She orders Phoebe away whilst one of the kids asked what happened to the killer. One of his friends states that he has heard two different stories – that ‘he’ is either dead or playing a girl in a Hollywood sitcom. To bring the tale to a close, another camper claims that the killer was admitted to a psycho ward and was given a sex change, finally being released back into society. Whilst on their way back to the camp, Angela lectures Phoebe for running away to be with the boys and labels her a ‘slut’ before knocking her unconscious and cutting out her tongue for having such a bad mouth.
The following morning, Angela tells the rest of the girls that she sent Phoebe home for inappropriate behaviour with the boys. Angela has developed a reputation for being extremely strict and she enforces the moral codes of the camp with severe punishment. She then criticises Ally (Valerie Hartman) for walking around naked, stating that ‘nice girls don’t have to show it off.’ The camp is run by the well-meaning Uncle John (Walter Gotell), who trusts that Angela has the kids best intentions at heart and that she sent Phoebe home with good reason. The nice girl of the group is Molly (Renée Estevez), who seems nervous when her friends ask if she has ever been stoned. Angela is awarded ‘counselor of the week,’ before calling for Molly and Ally onto the stage to help her sing the Happy Camper Song. It is clear that she is a joke to all the other kids but she seems to see herself as a symbol of authority.
One person who is taking an interest in Angela is head counselor T.C. (Brian Patrick Clarke), who seems curious in her and why she sent Phoebe away. Her frustration grows when she finds two of the girls drinking and singing a crude version of the song in the woods. When one of them is caught fornicating with a boy, she snaps and burns them both alive. Meanwhile, both Molly and Ally have feelings for Sean (Tony Higgins), with Ally especially becoming jealous and aggressive towards her competition. Ally finds a note from Sean, arranging to meet her at an abandoned cabin, but it was a ploy by Angela, who ironically stabs her in the back with her hunting knife. The students slowly become suspicious when all their friends start disappearing, which eventually leads to Uncle John firing Angela for firing so many counselors without permission. Molly and Sean follow Angela to her secret hideout and try to console her, but Angela confesses that she had drowned a boy when she was younger. They soon stumbles upon the bodies of all her victims and the truth behind Angela’s identity. But as Molly tries to escape, she falls off the side of a ridge and smacks her head against the rock below. This is the first time that Angela has looked genuinely remorseful , but later on that night Molly wakes up and heads into the woods. As she stumbles into the road she stops a car, only to discover that the driver is Angela.
Whilst Sleepaway Camp approached its material seriously, Simpson decided to employ a more tongue-in-cheek style with his sequel. Realising that the slasher had ran its course, his films would be full of over-the-top deaths, constant in jokes and plenty of T&A. Even the character names would be a reference to many of the brat pack actors of the era, including Molly (Ringwald), Ally (Sheedy), Charlie (Sheen), Anthony (Michael Hall), Rob (Lowe), Demi (Moore), Lea (Thompson) and Judd (Nelson). Perhaps it was no coincidence that the final girl this time around was played by Renée Estevez, the younger sister of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Angela has also changed from the first film, with Springsteen hamming it up as the pantomime-style villain.
With the brutality of the early eighties slasher long forgotten, by the end of the decade the genre had become more lighthearted and playful. Thus, the Sleepaway Camp sequels concentrated less on the scares and more on the laughs. Most of the kills are carried out with a sense of humour and even the bloody climax is delivered with an element of fun. Instead of avoiding the slasher clichés, Simpson seems to revel in them, constantly winking at the audience as he plays up to their expectations. Much like its successor, Teenage Wasteland, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers does not work as a suspenseful piece as it is too preoccupied with entertaining the fans, but as a comedy or, at a stretch, a satire of the slasher genre, it is a welcome addition. Whilst Springsteen may have lacked the creepy element that Rose brought to the role, she seems aware that the entire film is a joke and delivers each line with a cheeky grin on her face.