Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)
by Jimmy "Snipe Hunt" Callaway
This movie’s a lot like a guy you kinda know, like you see him out a lot, he’s friends with some of your friends, and he’s an all right guy and all, but simply put, you can’t stand him. You realize a lot of it is because you went to high school with his older brother, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, and that guy was a total shithead. But you know you shouldn’t let that wholly influence your opinion of him, especially when he even goes out of his way to be nice to you some times, like buying you a drink every now and again. But the whole time, you’re still like, Dude, shut the fuck up.
Begin with the sub-title. Right off, I’m way more into a Who reference than I am a cheap one-liner like the last subtitle. It’s also not as lazy a reference as most are in this, the downward spiral of the Sleepaway Camp series and the misadventures of Angela Baker; it remains pertinent to what can be construed as the theme in these (as well as most) slasher movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s: the dissatisfaction of the American youth taking physical form in brutal sex and mindless violence, not unlike the 1950s juvenile delinquent movie (I guess the phrase “Unhappy Campers” does that in a way as well, but in a much more cutesy, oh-those-wacky-teenagers way).
This becomes a leit-motif for the movie to me: it hovers at being as hateful as the last one, but manages to pull itself back and show some intelligence. Therefore, I actually do like it more than the last one, although I’d still rather take a ball-peen hammer to the face than sit through it again.
The plot of the movie mostly seems to revolve around how lukewarm and unerotic the director can make breasts seem. Right off the bat, we’re treated to two of the smallest, mosquito-bite boobies to ever grace the silver screen, tattooed with the words “Milk Shake” (“Milk Shake”? More like half and half! Ba-dum-bum-bum!). Fortunately, Angela runs her over with a garbage truck, and the movie has officially begun.
Camp New Horizons, on the former grounds of Camp Rolling Hills, is a social experiment meant to pair upper middle-class kids with kids who have had it rougher and to try to bridge the gaps between their social strata. It’s also a major tax dodge for its founders, Herman and Lily Miranda. Why the Munsters reference there, I don’t know, nor why the filmmakers didn’t follow through more on these characters’ overt hypocrisy (not to mention that of the newscaster who’s quickly done away with), except to suppose that splatter-as-usual is always going to take precedence over everything else in these movies.
But there is a spark of ingenuity in naming the rich kids after the cast of The Brady Bunch and the wrong-side-of-the-tracks kids after the cast of West Side Story. Of course, that spark is quickly smothered, as there turns out to be more depth to the characters in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (for the record, one of my personal favorites). Then to round out the inconsequential pop culture references, we also have camp counselor Barney Whitmore, who is also a cop (huh? huh? get it? The Andy Griffith Sh—aw, never mind) and the father of Sean Whitmore, who was killed in the previous movie along with his acting career.
Barney’s out to avenge his son, but even his keen police instinct can’t detect Angela, disguised as camper Maria. In Barney’s defense, Angela is wearing a wig that is about as convincing as your Uncle Sid’s toupee. Then, when Barney finally puts it all together, he immediately takes his chance at vengeance and whizzes it down his leg. No wonder he had to keep his one bullet in his shirt pocket.
Anyway, back to the tits. Now, I’d like to make it clear at this point that I love breasts. They’re two of my favorite things. But this movie, not unlike Sleepaway Camp II, ends up treating them like wallpaper. They’re nice at first, they really brighten up the room, but after a while, you’re wondering if you shouldn’t have just gone to the trouble of painting instead. There’s a scene early on where all the girls are in their cabin, naked to the waist as any group of three or more girls is likely to be. And it’s not that these breasts aren’t lovely in themselves, but cinematically, they’re just kinda...there. They’ve got no charisma, no personality, no on-screen chemistry. They don’t make love to the camera; they don’t even give the camera a cheap hand job in the bus station men’s room. I defy even the most rabid tit man out there to get turned on by this scene.
And speaking of sexploitation, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland holds the rare distinction of depicting the most awkward and uncomfortable sex scene in movie history. BAFTA-winner Michael J. Pollard portrays head counselor Herman in this flick, and it's clear he was cast for his imp-like roguishness. But it would seem the director wasn’t happy with that, and had Pollard ramp it up, mugging for the camera at Rip Taylor-like proportions. Now, I’ve enjoyed Pollard in other stuff, even tearing up more than a little during his death scene in Scrooged. But his constant eye-rolling swagger and hitching up of his Playboy-bunny belt buckle makes me want to give him a good, hard slap to the face.
But it doesn’t end there, oh no. Herman eventually gets little firecracker Jan into his tent, and we’re subjected to Pollard rolling around with a half-naked girl easily 30 years his junior. Stacie Lambert, who plays Jan, has discomfort rolling off of her in waves as this little elf man, who showed such promise in Bonnie and Clyde, paws at her boobs like a blind frat boy. The rape scene in Boys Don't Cry is light and romantic compared to this. Ms. Lambert (according to my research) never acted again, having most certainly walked off the set of this movie and into a convent.
And that really about does it for this movie. Everything else is about as by-the-book as you could please. To recap, Angela kills everybody because they like sex and drugs and rock and roll, and so on. There’s no end to the god-awful one-liners. The acting makes Ed Wood’s stable look like the Coen brothers’. There’s a big, padding flashback to Angela’s happier days, and I will say there’s at least some character development there. Angela’s unbridled optimism from the last movie has finally been deadened some, so now when she kills, there’s not so much joy in it, like it’s become more of a chore now than a career. So that’s all right.
But y’know what, movie? Too little too late. So whenever I run into Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland at the bar, we might talk a bit about records and TV shows. Just a little polite, casual conversation before I go over and sit with my real friends. But if it doesn’t leave me alone after a while, I’m like, Dude.
Fuck off already.