With fans having waited five years for a Sleepaway Camp sequel, director Michael A. Simpson rewarded them by delivering two! 1988’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers had drastically shifted the focus of the series from the intense and risqué original into a more slapstick and postmodern yarn that had focused more on poking holes at the slasher genre than being an effective horror itself. Replacing the creepy Felissa Rose with the over-the-top Pamela Springsteen in the role of franchise killer Angela Baker, the combination of Simpson and writer Fritz Gordon would alienate many of the hardcore fans, whilst attracting a new type of audience. Those tired of the endless Fridays the 13ths, Halloweens and A Nightmare on Elm Streets appreciated the self referential satire and the two sequels that followed, including 1989’s Teenage Wasteland, would become minor successes on video.
Teenager Maria Nacastro (Kastina Kessler) awakens early in the morning to the screaming of her mother and heavy metal blasting from the radio. She climbs out of bed and quickly gets dressed, informing her mother that she is about to leave for camp. Setting off to catch the bus, she is suddenly chased down the road by a garbage truck, which finally manages to catch up with her down an alley way and runs her over. The door opens and Angela jumps out, taking Maria’s clothes and dropping her body into the waste disposal. Having adopted her look, Angela takes Maria’s place on the bus and heads out to Camp New Horizons, where the media have gathered to promote its new campaign, where owners Herman (Michael J. Pollard) and Lilly Miranda (Sandra Dorsey) have selected two groups of kids – one from a well-to-do background and another from poor neighbourhoods – to give them both the same chances.
The reporter, Tawny Richards (Randi Lane), then introduces the camera to the teenagers. The first group consists of the richer kids – Cindy Hammersmith (Kim Wall), Greg Nakyshima (Chung Yen Tsay), Jan Hernandez (Stacie Lambert), Peter Doyle (Jarret Beal), Bobby Stark (Haynes Brooke) and Marcie Holland (Tracy Griffith). The second group consists of various punks and other assorted ‘working class’ types – Arab (Jill Terashita), Snowboy (Kyle Holman), Anita Bircham (Sonya Maddox), Riff (Daryl Wilcher), Tony DeRaro (Mark Oliver) and Angela, disguised as Maria. To sour the mood, Tawny then announces that Camp New Horizons was formerly Camp Rolling Hills, where nineteen councelors were murdered the previous year by the ‘Angel of Death,’ Angela Baker. With the cameras having stopped rolling, Tawny asks Angela if she can ‘score some coke.’ In an effort to teach the immoral a lesson (a mission she had undertaken in the last film), Angela fills a baggy with mysterious white powder from the workshed and gives it to her as she leaves. Soon afterwards, Tawny snorts her stash and overdoses whilst in the woods.
Immediately, it is made clear that the rich kids are well-meaning-yet-naïve, whilst the poor ones are ignorant and dismissive of authority. The camp owners pledge to help both groups feel the same by handing out sweatshirts which will help single out any prejudice. Angela finds it difficult to fit in – from one girl commenting on her choice of underwear to a graffiti in the changing room which reads ‘Fuck Angela Baker.’ It isn’t long before she has changed from making friends to slicing them up as each of their sins or lack of respect drive her to insanity once again. Unable to hide her murderous impulses, Angela begins to punish those she finds morally objectionable, including the camp owners. It is left to the most level-headed of the kids, Marcie, to stand up against Angela and try to stop her from her madness.
It is obvious from the very beginning that Teenage Wasteland is nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek joke, from the opening sequence to Springsteen’s increasingly camp performance. The character names also add to the humour, with the rich kids (Greg, Jan, Cindy, Peter, Bobby) named after The Brady Bunch and the poor ones (Tony, Riff, Anite, A-rab, Snowboy and Maria) after West Wise Story. Herman and Lilly were named after two central characters from the cult television show The Munsters. Shot back-to-back with Unhappy Campers, Sleepaway Camp III feels like a direct continuation from its predecessor, both of which seem out of place with the original. Once again the film is full of plenty of nudity, although the violence seems less explicit this time (there are sixteen deaths in Teenage Wasteland, whereas at the beginning of the film one character states that nineteen were killed the last time).
The slasher film has always been considered reactionary when it came to its stance on morality – the bad are punished and the virgin survives. This is more evident than ever with Teenage Wasteland, with Angela dispatching of everyone who she finds offensive, from drug users to the sexually active. Angela’s sex change is barely touched upon in the script, having explained her past in Unhappy Campers. Springsteen balances her performance between humorous and irritating and the mullets that much of the cast sport can sometimes prove to be a distraction. But, despite its flaws, Teenage Wasteland is extremely enjoyable and perhaps more entertaining than most slasher sequels released in 1989 (Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers?). Perhaps not the most subtle slasher ever made but certainly one of the funniest.