All right fiends, the summertime is about to come to a close! But before it does, how about some fun summertime slashers? Today will be a little different because I am suggesting a triple feature of camper-killing fun. No Fridays here, sorry to disappoint anyone, but I wanted this list to represent what I feel are under-viewed films from the Slasher genre: The Burning and Sleepaway Camps 2 and 3.
Released in 1981, The Burning is an early Miramax production written by Peter Lawrence and Bob Weinstein. To be clear, Bob is the brother still working in film, and Harvey is the now notorious abuser. The Burning is their take on the New York Cropsey urban legend. In this film, Cropsey is the caretaker at Camp Blackfoot. One night some boys sneak out of their cabin to prank Cropsey while he sleeps. They plant a worm-riddled skull with candles in the eyes on his bedside table and then bang on the window to his cabin to scare him. Cropsey wakes startled and knocks the skull over, causing everything in the room to go up in flames, including Cropsey. After running to the lake, Cropsey survives and is taken to a hospital.
Five years later, Cropsey is released. Still horribly scarred after failed skin grafts, he hides in a hat and trench coat. On the streets of New York City, a prostitute lures him up to an apartment, and he murders her with scissors in a fit of rage. From there, Cropsey returns to the camp with his mindset on exacting revenge on campers. It takes a little bit for him to start murdering campers. This film is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Myers in Halloween, as both killers appear in shadows around the characters, and we get the view from Cropsey’s perspective throughout the film instead of peeks of him. When he does start murdering campers, the effects are fantastic, created by FX master Tom Savini.
The Burning is pretty standard fair as slasher films go. The story of a mistreated weirdo who gets his revenge is nothing new, but I appreciated the concept of his being mauled by fire and driven to revenge. I am not saying I would hunt down and murder people for a prank gone wrong [Editor’s note: Ray would totally do that!], but it does make Cropsey a lot more sympathetic than the usual slasher. The film has a small twist reveal in the finale, and the cast is littered with future stars like Jason Alexander, Holly Hutton, and Fisher Stevens.
Our next two films in this triple feature, Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3, go together well and are very similar. I did not include the first film in the series because most horror fans will have seen it by now. The story picks up years later, Angela is now an adult counselor at Camp Arawak. She has been through therapy and full sexual reassignment since the first film and deemed sane. She is an enthusiastic and chipper counselor who leads the camp in singalongs and has been chosen as one of the camp’s best counselors. The girls she is in charge of are somewhat unruly and don’t like Angela. When she catches one girl out at night with some boys at a campfire, she murders her and says she had to send the girl home to the rest of the camp. It’s not long before Angela is hacking up and murdering anyone she deems unfavorable and explaining their disappearances with the story that she is sending them all home.
This one is a lot of fun with the kills and dark humor running throughout. Angela is played by Pamela Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen’s sister, and she plays the role with a demented chipper persona akin to Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom. The kills are creative and somewhat gruesome, with a couple making me laugh out loud. The film runs fast, which is perfect because you can jump right into the third film next.
The third movie, Sleepaway Camp 3, takes place a year later. Camp Arawak has been shut down, and the police are on the hunt for Angela. She kills and assumes the identity of a girl who is about to leave for a new camp being conducted on Camp Arawak’s grounds. Camp New Horizons is composed of half juvenile delinquents and half rich kids doing community service. The adults in charge are Officer Barney Whitmore, a man whose son was murdered by Angela, and owners Herman and Lily Miranda. Veteran character actor Michael J Pollard plays Herman. Pollard is known for playing lovable weirdos, but in this role, he is a creep. It’s awesome. When one of the girls takes a liking to him, his character returns the affection with a pervy zeal. Unlike the previous film’s campers, many of these characters deserve Angela’s version of moral justice. The so-called good kids are mostly creeps, and the others are outright punks. Although you may feel a slight sadness when the punks get killed, I did. They are just so prototypical of the 80’s era bad kids that they are somewhat endearing.
Sleepaway Camp 3 is also a good way to end because it’s a comedown from the second film as far as kills go. Yes, there is a murder with a lawnmower, but the blood is more of an understood concept; you don’t see it. Not quite sure why the filmmakers decided to tone down the violence in this third film. Maybe it was to return the original Sleepaway Camp’s tone, where except for the bloody severed head seen in the last moments, the kills in that one are somewhat tame.
These films are easily accessible on Shudder, and as a horror fan, if you don’t have a subscription get on it. It’s got a lot of great horrors and exclusive films every horror fan needs to sit down and watch. Of course, many of these films are on other sites, but for $5.99 a month, it’s about $2 a movie and a whole month of more content. A note, shudder is not a sponsor of this column or theHorrorvision.com; we are all just fans of the service.