Terrifying Tuesday: Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008) Plus How You Can Be Part of The Lair This Halloween

They say you can’t go home again, but no one ever said you couldn’t go back to camp again. They also say you can’t go back to the well too many times. That’s at the heart of this review and the forthcoming event I have planned in October. Before we get into today’s review, let me take a moment to talk about that. This year October will be wall to wall with frightening delights and scary cinema, but for the last 13 days of the month leading up to Halloween, the Halloween Top 13 will rise again as The Halloween Top 13: The Sequel. So what does that mean? That means that I’ll be counting down my personal favorite 13 horror sequels, but I don‘t want to hog all the fun for myself. I’m looking for some intrepid folks to send me their list of favorite scary sequels. List as many or as few as you’d like, list them, comment on them if you‘d like, or whatever moves you. Send your lists to, and I’ll be happy to have them. Each day of the countdown I’ll be including one of the lists, and if you have your own site please include a link so I can send folks your way.

Now onto today’s film. Sequels to horror films are something that comes with the territory, but very rarely do they wait twenty years to happen. In the case of director Robert Hiltzik, that’s just what happened. After writing and directing the classic Sleepaway Camp, two sequels followed the film up, but neither were the product of the films progenitor. So when he got a chance in 2003 to return to the story and give it his own vision, Hiltzik was ready to continue the storyline he started in 1983. Ignoring the Pamela Springsteen years, Return to Sleepaway Camp picks up years after the first film, but with a familiar setting and a few old faces showing up, Hiltzik gets right back on track.

The events begin as camp is getting into full swing, and everyone is having a great time, well, almost everyone. Alan (Michael Gibney) is having a hard time fitting in. He bullies the dorkier, young kids, but everyone else, including most of the councilors, picks on Alan. When mysterious deaths start to occur at the camp, blame is quickly cast on Alan because of his aggressive, angry, and downright weird behavior, but long time counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) thinks there’s something else going on. He believes that the deaths aren’t Alan’s doing, but the return of Angela, the killer who terrorized Camp Arawat all those years ago.

Return to Sleepaway Camp is not the earth shattering revelation that the original film was, but I wasn’t expecting that. Frankly, I wasn’t even expecting to enjoy the film that much, and for the first hour, I really didn’t. It wasn’t until the third act got rolling that I really started getting into the film. From that point on, Return to Sleepaway Camp got on the right track, and by the time the credits rolled I was pretty happy. Hiltzik created a film that pairs well with his original film, and the Hiltzik-less sequels. In fact, one the strange things is how much I think he took from the films that he didn’t work on.

I don’t really recall the killer in Sleepaway Camp having much of a sense of humor. Sure, the kills might be accomplished with bees or curling iron, but they still seemed like cold blooded acts. In the sequels, Pamela Springsteen’s Angela is a pretty zany character, and killing people with flagpoles, lawnmowers, and an outhouse filled with poop became her M.O. In Hiltzik’s Return to Sleepaway Camp, the killer is back, but unlike the vicious killings in the first film, the victims are dispatched with a tongue planted firmly in cheek. The worst example of this is when a stoner, named Weed no less, gets tied up and the killer forces him to drink gasoline. Then Weed gets a sticker slapped over his mouth that says “Drugs Are For Dummies”, and the killer cuts a hole in the sticker to place a lit joint into. A few seconds later, Boom goes Weed. The whole sequence is a long way to go for a joke that seemed straight out of a Scary Movie sequel, although it may have been a highlight in one of those films. With Return to Sleepaway Camp, I was hoping for some sly humor, as Hiltzik’s original film included some, but I felt pretty disappointed to find that the killer was portrayed in such a campy (no pun intended) way.

My other big problem in the film is that it takes one hour to build up the storyline around Alan, and he is easily just as annoying as the people in the film say he is. It might be a credit to the skill of first time actor Michael Gibney that the character seems so realistically irritating. The problem is that I like to watch films where I at least like one of the main characters, but in Return to Sleepaway Camp, I didn’t like Alan any more than the people who were picking on him. The few characters that I did like were rarely on screen, and when they did appear, I had no hopes that the camera might linger on them for a moment. The last third of the film rebounded in part because all these characters that have been irritating me for the last hour get off-ed in rapid succession.

One thing that enhanced the whole project was the appearance of Paul DeAngleo, camp counselor Ronnie, and Jonathan Tiersten, as Angela’s brother Ricky. Both men reprise their roles from twenty years back, and it adds a good deal of flavor to see these two on screen again. Tiersten’s appearance is brief, and it does seem a little forced. All the same I enjoyed him showing up. DeAngleo appears throughout the film, and even though his acting skills have not improved in the intervening decades, I found him to be the most enjoyable part about watching this flick. The film also sports a couple of cameo appearances as well with Isaac Hayes showing up as a real life version of his South Park “Chef” and Vincent Pastore (of the Sopranos) as camp leader Frank. Pastore is pretty amusing with his performance though the highlight is the groan worthy moment when Alan informs Frank that he’s just “a big pussy.” It’s not clever, but it made me chuckle.

That almost sums up my whole feeling about the film. There was something good here, but a mix of slow buildup and unlikable characters made this film a taxing watch for me. While I will revisit the three previous Sleepaway Camp films many times over the years, I don’t know if I will add Return to Sleepaway Camp to my collection or even give it a second viewing. It’s not that the film is bad as much as it’s so very average that it is easily forgettable. I have some hopes that Hiltzik might hit gold with his third Sleepaway Camp film, Sleepaway Camp Reunion, which is rumored to showcase more of the cast from the original film.

Fans of Hiltzik’s original film are divided about this installment. I’ve seen people extol its virtues, and I’ve seen other revile it as trash. That’s the thing about sequels; it’s hellishly hard to predict how fans of the original will react. Throughout the month of October, I’ll be looking at a lot of sequels, and I’ll be thinking a lot about what works. You folks should take a moment to think about that too. Then jot your list down and send it to the Bugg so you can be part of the Halloween Top 13: The Sequel. Just a reminder. I’ll be back tomorrow with a Hitchcock film to usher in the fall season, and then the fun really begins of Thursday as October gets underway. See all you folks then!

Bugg Rating


  1. Nice, even-handed review of a flick that I have avoided for one o' the very reasons you pointed out - the main kid is tipped off even in the previews as being reeeeeally fuckin' obnoxious. It's hard for me to get excited about seeing this, though I'd check it out if I found it cheap somewhere. I don't tend to be a "rental" kinda guy, so much. :)

    Love the 13 Sequels posting that'll be going on here at the Lair, I'll no doubt chime on that one with ya.

  2. I agree with your thoughts. The original is far from a good movie and this one basically has the same level of quality; the difference is that in Return, we want everyone onscreen to die painful deaths because we hate them.

    Also, I think this clocked in around 90 minutes or so, but a good 60 minutes is spent just hanging out with characters that are not interesting in the least. If the beginning was chopped up a little more with earlier killings or quicker scenes, this could be rewatched but as it stands, I don't ever want to see this movie again.

  3. Im 100000% out on this one, I hated every single character unlike the empathetic Angela in the original, and thought the kills were overrated. I would have to rank the film series in chronological order for my personal preference


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