Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - SLEEPAWAY CAMP II & III and SCARECROWS on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Scream Factory - SLEEPAWAY CAMP II & III and SCARECROWS on Blu-ray

I must admit that the SLEEPAWAY CAMP series was never my bread and butter in terms of slasher franchises as a kid. I was more of a FRIDAY THE 13TH guy and somehow SLEEPAWAY CAMP was never high on my list of priorities. I certainly remember seeing the VHS covers and SLEEPAWAY CAMP II in particular always caught my eye. How could a young kid that was into horror movies miss a cover that featured a cute gal with a backpack containing a hockey mask, Freddy Krueger gloves and a chainsaw? It's such a memorable and self-conscious image that I am not sure why I never watched it. Or maybe I did watch it and it didn't grab me at the time. Or maybe I was lazy and didn't feel like watching the first film to feel like I was fully up to speed on the series before I gave part two a look. In retrospect, I cannot believe I waited as long as I did to see the first SLEEPAWAY CAMP. The ending of that movie is still one of the most disturbing and disquieting things I've seen probably ever. I won't go into specifics, but a big part of it has to do with that final facial expression. It's just so eerie and unsettling. For all the edgy and troubling things we see in horror cinema today, it's interesting that a little film from 1983 could be so memorable. What's always been interesting for me about SLEEPAWAY CAMP is that even though it came out only a few years after the biggest 80s slasher film boom of 1980-81, I still think of it separately from most of the other slashers I know and love from that time. I mean it's got a lot of the standard elements of the slasher genre - an inciting incident of sorts, a summer camp etc, but I think the standout elements have to do with all the twisted stuff packed into this thing. It's not just a straightforward teenagers having sex, doing drugs and getting hacked up - there's more going on here in terms of sexuality as is revealed by the time everything is said and done. That said, I find the direction that the sequels went to be very interesting. In this first sequel, what we get has more of the elements of a rompy sex-comedy summer camp movie. The kids are dopey and silly and promiscuous. They do drugs too. Angela Baker has returned to Camp Rolling Hills, this time as a counselor (and now played by Pamela Springsteen). Angela's personality is a much different from they way she was in the first film. She is now a full-on psychopathic killer, but she is a Ned Flanders type almost. One by one she observes the various campers doing undesirable stuff and she "sends them home". It's quite a shift from the first SLEEPAWAY CAMP and could easily put off some hardcore fans of that movie, but at the same time it is certainly attempting to create a new franchise persona. Angela is of course the Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger of the series and she makes no bones about killing people in despicable and horrible ways. The filmmakers certainly did what they are supposed to with a horror sequel and really amped up the death scenes in terms of creativity and gore. People are burned up, drilled, decapitated (which is a running thing in the series) and more. There's also an undercurrent of humor that makes for an interesting and memorable tone overall. Like I said, it's kinda goofy and feels like a summer camp comedy in parts, but with a lot of cruel deaths. Also, the film features actress Renee Estevez (sister of Emilio and Charlie) who I remember quite fondly as "Betty Finn" from the cult classic HEATHERS.

Special Features:

The folks at Scream Factory are clearly fans of the SLEEPAWAY CAMP movies as they have not only released the trilogy, but they have done them up right some nice supplements:
-"A Tale of Two Sequels - Part One" (28 mins) Done up with a nice cheesy VHS open and graphics, this retrospective piece looks back at SLEEPAWAY CAMP II by talking to Jeff Hayes, Director Michael A. Simpson, Editor John David Allen, Director of Photography Bill Mills, Art Director Frank Galline, Makeup Effects Artist Bill "Splat" Johnson, and actress Amy Fields.

-"Abandoned: The Filming Locations of SLEEPAWAY CAMP II & III" (16 mins) 
An exploration of the abandoned camp where both SLEEPAWAY CAMP II and III. The camp is extremely overgrown now and the buildings are pretty much completely gone so it gives the your a bit if a creepy vibe even though it was shot during the daytime.
-Behind the Scenes Footage (14 mins) a collection of bits of footage shot during the making of SLEEPAWAY CAMP II. It is narrated by director Michael A. Simpson which gives it a bit more context.
-A Feature-length audio commentary from Director Michael A. Simpson and Writer Fritz Gordon. Lots of fun tidbits revealed on this track.

Camp New Horizons is the latest incarnation of Camp Rolling Hills under new management and it has now an experimental summer camp whose mission is to mix upper and lower class kids together in some touchy-feely, warm and cuddly type scenarios.
Angela wastes very little time dispatching the new campers and Camp New Horizons. I mean, she goes right to work. The movie has a sleazy kinda vibe to it that is established early with things like Michael J. Pollard (one of the new camp owners) coming onto a young camper by flashing his Playboy Bunny belt buckle on her (an odd technique, but one that proves effective). Since this movie is even more focused on Angela Baker than SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, there seems to be a concerted effort to bump up the kill intensity a few notches here. There's a lawnmower related death that is pretty unforgettable for sure. There's still a little bit of humor hear, but that seems slightly toned down and this one gets a little more intense and almost scary by the end. Angela is absolutely unhinged from her first appearance in the movie (wherein in she kills a character in an interesting way). She just burns through the cast members pretty quickly here though, getting them alone and taking them out. This movie, for me, is a slight step down from SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, but it is fun for fans of the Angela Baker character. One thing viewers will notice is that although there's lots of interesting kills in this sequel, many of those scenes seem to be missing some gore. This is in fact the case as the filmmakers had a good deal of trouble with the MPAA on this movie and had to make some heavy cuts to certain scenes to get their R-rating.

Special Features:

This disc has several extras including a continuation of the retrospective documentary from the SLEEPAWAY CAMP II Blu-ray:
-"A Tale of Two Sequels - Part Two" (26 mins) Further interviews with Director Michael A. Simpson, Editor John David Allen, Director of Photography Bill Mills, Art Director Frank Galline, Makeup Effects Artist Bill "Splat" Johnson, as well as actors Mark Oliver, Sandra Dorsey, Kim Wall, and Daryl Wilcher. There are lots of on-set memories from the production in this section as many more actors were interviewed and they all seem to recall various parts of the production. Also included are short clips of the gorier death scenes that had to be trimmed to get the film an its rating.
-Behind the Scenes Footage (8 mins) As with the BTS footage on the SLEEPAWAY CAMP II disc, Director Michael A. Simpson narrates what we are seeing.
-Workprint of the Longer Cut of The Film (from VHS) This is a nice extra in that it is a complete uncut version of the film. The downside is that the source is VHS and as it was from a workprint, there is no music or sound effects and the dialogue that is present is only what was recorded on set (or so it appears).
-Deleted Scenes (19 mins) Extended and cut sequences - including the gorier deaths.
-An Audio commentary from Director Michael A. Simpson and Writer Fritz Gordon. 

SCARECROWS (1988; William Wesley)
I'm a sucker for a nice Twilight Zoney scenario. Dropping unsuspecting characters into a fantastic and often deadly situation is almost always entertaining to me. I've heard SCARECROWS compared to RESERVOIR DOGS, but I don't really see it. I know it's meant to highlight the similarities the two films have in common plot wise (both deal with robbers in the aftermath of a heist gone wrong). I'd say the film has more in common with FROM DUSK TILL DAWN if anything. Regardless, the scarecrows in this movie are way creepier than anything in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. They are like skin-crawlingly creepy. They also have this remarkably disturbing ability to act sort of as sirens to people - calling out in other people's voices to try to lure their victims in. There are a couple spots in the movie where they do this and it truly irks me. The scarecrow design itself is pretty great I must say. They have these sunken black patches for eyes and that is truly scary stuff. There's also a nice touch throughout the film in that as their burlap coverings are stripped away, more of their decaying faces are reveled. All that stuff coupled with the fact that this movie has a decent amount of gore makes it all the more disturbing and downbeat. I think that on the whole, I enjoy horror films where the characters are kind of in over their heads without even realizing it. I guess you could say that about most slasher films, but in the case of this movie they really don't see death coming. I also like that little is really ever explained about the scarecrows (a few details are given, but not a lot). Too much explanation rarely helps a film be more scary. The scariest things come from our imaginations and not knowing why. 

Special Features:

-"The Last Straw With Norman Cabrera" (17 mins) This interview with Special Makeup Effects Artist Cabrera covers his recollections of the movie and how it was one of his first jobs working on a feature. It's cool to hear him run down various ideas for creature design and how he went about executing some of the effects in the final movie.
-"Cornfield Commando with Ted Vernon" (9 mins) Actor Ted Vernon discusses his recollections of the making of SCARECROWS.
-An Audio Commentary with Director William Wesley and Producer Cami Winkoff.
-An Audio Commentary with co-screenwriter Richard Jeffries, DP Peter Deming and composer Terry Plumeri.

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