Written by: Tommy Clohessy, Robert Hiltzik (characters)
Directed by: Jim Markovic
Starring: Carrie Chambers, Victor Campos and John Lodico
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
20 years ago, the terror began. Now, you must prepare yourself for the most shocking chapter of them all.
It seems like the legend of Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor has been perpetuated in ten year increments; filming began on it way back in 1992 before it was scrapped and left incomplete. About a decade later, 30 minutes of footage from the shoot was included as an exclusive bonus on Anchor Bay’s box set for the original three films in the series. For a while, it looked like that would be our only glimpse into what could have been, but a dedicated group of fans headed by Sleepaway Camp Films webmaster John Klyza kept the project alive on the web. A couple of years ago, Klyza began an effort to finally close the door on The Survivor by piecing together the project with the scraps available to him, and the result has finally been released twenty years after production originally began.
Part IV was always meant to revolve around a girl named Allison (Carrie Chambers) whose recurring nightmares eventually drive her back to the site of the original Sleepaway Camp murders. Since her psychiatrist assumes that she was a survivor of that massacre, he sends her back there in the hopes that her memories would be jogged. The site is now a federal reserve under the jurisdiction of a park ranger (John Lodico) that Allison eventually encounters after she narrates the sordid history of Angela Baker’s murderous exploits.
Forgive me if this review sounds too much like a history lesson so far, but it’s kind of necessary to explain where we’re coming from here and why we’re left with such a disappointing final product. Back in ‘92, Jim Markovic (a long time editor on the grindhouse scene) was tapped to shoot a bunch of scenes that’d essentially act as a demo reel to entice prospective producers and distributors, and the plan was to eventually come back and finish the job. That obviously never happened so we were only left with that footage we saw ten years ago, meaning Klyza and company have tried to bring some sort of order to that chaos. The biggest problem is that this footage doesn’t really contain many juicy bits, and there’s a notable lack of original death scenes, which is certainly the biggest reason anyone would watch a Sleepaway Camp flick. Instead, there’s plenty of footage of Chambers chilling by the lake in a bikini, plus they got her run-ins with the forest ranger and a hunter (Victor Campos) on film, so it was up to Klyza to string all of this together.
He does so with voice-over work and an opening title scroll to explain exactly what’s going on with Allison, who then relays the events of the previous three films in jumbled fashion. While the film’s official synopsis promises that Angela’s secrets will be revealed, there’s literally nothing new to be revealed here since archive footage of Sleepaway Camp and its sequels comprises the bulk of The Survivor. While relying on archive footage was always part of the plan for part IV, it’s taken to extreme levels here since such little original material was available. So you’re left with Sleepaway Camp: The Clip Show, and it’s not exactly edited together in any sort of cohesive fashion, as it jumps from one movie to the next with reckless abandon. It actually opens with the end of Part III before there’s an attempt to settle into any sort of narrative, which would act as a poor way to catch anyone up on the films’ events. One scene has you watching Pam Springsteen’s Angela murdering someone, then the next shuttles you back to Felissa Rose staring vacantly into space, leaving you with a fractured, nightmarish rejigging of the series, which is kind of appropriate since it's being relayed to us by a girl who might be a bit batty herself.
To its credit, The Survivor does manage to include pretty much all of the highlights of the trilogy, as I think nearly every death sequence makes the cut here, plus some of the films’ more fun bits (most of which come from Part II, which is far and away the best Sleepaway Camp movie). Even though the overarching narrative is wildly chaotic, there are some neatly edited sequences, such as the one that cuts together the opening boating accident and garbage truck sequences from the first and third films. Every now and then, Allison’s newly recorded narration interjects while we see more footage of her sunbathing, but she doesn’t actually do anything until the last ten minutes, at which point the interactions with the ranger and hunter come into play. This sequence is understandably frenetic and weird, with the payoff being confusing but obvious (if I interpreted it correctly). The original treatment* actually had a pretty decent twist ending that’s abandoned here since it involves elements that were never shot in the first place.
Though I think everyone’s hearts were in the right place here (and Klyza has been very up front about the project’s clip show nature), it suffices to say that Sleepaway Camp IV is just something that was never meant to be. By biting off more than they could chew, everyone involved painted himself into a corner where nothing completely satisfactory could come out of the project; simply put, there just wasn’t enough interesting footage to justify cobbling together this cut. I’ll never deny this film’s allure--not only is it pretty much a lost movie, but it’s a lost sequel to a well-known franchise--but it was probably best left to our imaginations. It doesn’t really work well as a fun recap since the footage is not only jumbled, but also culled from poor masters (as I understand it, they didn’t have access to the remasters used by Anchor Bay); I can see some getting a nostalgia kick out of it since it’ll vaguely resemble what it was like to watch these films on VHS, but something like this is better suited for Youtube or a supplement on a new Sleepaway Camp DVD.
I understand that everyone wanted to get a return on his investment, but this is just a glorified fan edit that coasts on old footage and the film’s infamous reputation. I realize that getting together some actors and filming some brand new footage is an entirely different (and more expensive) proposition, but it would have been preferable to this. Even though hardcore Sleepaway Camp fans won’t be able to resist a look (and they‘ll get a trailer, some music videos, and stills gallery as extras), I think they’d be better suited to break out their Anchor Bay sets and revisit the trilogy that way. For years, The Survivor has lived up to its name by scrappily living on in the hearts of the franchise’s devotees, most of whom will buy this no matter what I say here. And, honestly, I can't blame them since I couldn't even resist myself despite knowing full well what I was in for because I never thought I'd ever see this movie completed in any form. As of right now, I see that it's streaming on Amazon for $2, which is fair enough--just beware that you might not be such a happy camper once you see it. Rent it!
*You can check out the original treatment here.
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