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Return to Sleepaway Camp: Uninspired Sequel, Uninspired DVD Release

Feature Presentations: Episode 92

Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Return to Sleepaway Camp from Magnet Releasing.

I never have been or will claim to be an expert in reviewing the technical specs of a physical media release. There are plenty of knowledgeable people in this realm of commenting on the audio and video aspects of a disc with better setups than I’ll ever own. This column, Feature Presentations, is a way of highlighting and showcasing the supplemental material on this release of Return to Sleepaway Camp.

The poster for Return to Sleepaway Camp

It’s a difficult task; making a sequel to a beloved film many years after. Shots occur in a specific way with thoughts and ideas from that time period. The farther you distance yourself away, the more challenging it can be to create a worthy follow-up for any movie. Whether it’s the film stock (or digital, most of the time), the crew, what’s hot in the industry, and cinematic trends, each affects how a production unfolds. One can try to replicate the success of a past entry in a movie franchise, even bringing in the old cast and crew, but it’s easier said than done.

And this leads me to this week’s film in my Feature Presentations column: 2008’s Return to Sleepaway Camp.

I’ve never been that big of a fan of the 1983 original. For me, the low-budget shows and not in a good way, with the most refreshing elements lying within the age-appropriate cast and the film’s infamous final twist. I’d bet dollars to donuts that you could poll a handful of people who haven’t seen the movie, and at least half could tell you Angela’s “secret” from the OG. It’s not a knock on the film, it has elements that resonate, but overall, it’s a slightly-above average slasher that spawned a horror franchise.

Part II and III? They’re worthy of a discussion within this column, but I’ll save them for another day.

Over 25 years later, original writer/director Robert Hiltzik re-teamed with Felissa Rose for a “true” follow-up. Unfortunately, the film was plagued with production problems and sat on the shelves in limbo for many years after filming concluded in 2003. The behind-the-scenes tales are worthy of their in-depth separate article, but understanding the troubles, I went into the sequel with minimal expectations.

A man doing a hand stand on an industrial sink in a kitchen.

Return to Sleepaway Camp doesn’t stray too far from the original’s formula—setting up another group of campers taken out one by one. Unfortunately, it’s not the ’80s; it’s 2003, and it shows. Packed with unlikable characters and a cheap look, the fourth entry into the series fails to meet the shock value of its 1983 predecessor, nor does it swing for the fences as Part II and III attempted. You instead get a miserable slog, offering the worst of what 2000s horror had to offer with the most glaringly obvious killer ever. If you can’t figure out who’s the killer, you’ve probably never seen a horror movie.

The shoddiness, unfortunately, transfers over to the physical media disc. The Magnet Releasing DVD, yes, I said DVD, pales to the physical media releases of the previous entries in the series, each given a lavish release courtesy of Scream Factory. Instead, we get a smattering of features that sound more substantial than they are.

Easily the best feature on the disc is a behind-the-scenes feature. As Return to Sleepaway Camp had a troubled production, with the film dumped straight-to-video, no one should expect a splendid and professionally-made featurette. And we don’t get that. Instead, we get a bunch of fly-on-the-wall-type footage of the actors and production team at work. This type of peek behind the curtain is a personal preference of mine and was the disc’s highlight. Nothing beats watching the filmmaking team do their jobs and seeing the intricacies that go into creating a feature film.

The rest of the film’s features come via on-set interviews with various cast members. When you see the list of how many people sat down to discuss Return to Sleepaway Camp, you might imagine you’re in for an informative ride, but it’s all window dressing. Most of the interviews barely crack two minutes, and more often than not, each interviewee gives either sarcastic answers or surface-level details. Even the naturally chatty and bubbly Felissa Rose doesn’t offer worthwhile. It’s an unfortunately limp way to close out an already dour disc.

Jerry, using a voice box, stands next to Ronnie with an ambulance behind them.

And there you have it! While I am not the biggest fan of the 1983 original, I appreciate its underlying themes and attempts to excel above a typical slasher and enjoy the attempts at tonal shifts with II and III; there isn’t much going on with this “true” follow-up to the original Sleepaway Camp. It’s hard to believe that writer/director Robert Hiltzik felt Return to Sleepaway Camp was the story that needed to be put to film and worth bringing him back into the director’s chair 25 years after his cherished slasher original dropped. With a movie as uninspired as this 2008 release, it’s only fitting the film’s DVD would suffer the same listless fate.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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