Monday, January 14, 2008

Sleepaway Camp, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Last one for today, I promise. :D
Sleepaway Camp was written and directed by Robert Hiltzik and starred Felissa Rose as Angela, a quiet young girl who goes away to a camp on the lake where her family was brutally killed in a boating accident. When the other campers, freaked out by her silence and big creepy brown eyes staring at them, start picking on her, her cousin Rick comes to the rescue...then the campers start turning up dead.
I don't like most slasher flicks. I've never pretended to. They're almost always the same thing: crazy guy goes on rampage, kills everyone except the supposedly virginal Final Girl who finds the strength within her to vanquish the foe, but only after trying to get help from everyone else and screaming a lot. Slasher flicks are tired and mainly an excuse for gratuitous boob shots and lots of blood. Sleepaway Camp (I'm not going to bother with the sequels), though not a good movie, actually subverts the subgenre's conventions while still holding true to them and, especially given the time (it was made in 1983) is a really good attempt at doing something different. There's very little gore and very little sex and the ending is certainly unconventional. There have been plenty of bait and switch tactics in slasher flicks (killer wearing a mask of the Final Girl, evil twins, dreams...that sort of thing), but this ending is different, though unsatisfactory in a lot of respects.
I'm not sure that telling the ending of a nearly twenty five year old movie counts as a spoiler, but it is one of the things that made me watch it (if you watch Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, you'll see the grand denouement there, too.) Angela's a boy. When her family was killed, she went to live with her aunt Martha who didn't want to have another boy in the house so she named her Angela and made her dress in girl's clothes. The very end of the movie is this creepy shot of Angela with her mouth open in a silent scream, naked as the day she was born as the boy she is, after having decapitated the boy who was trying to get with her while at camp.
While this is the big secret ending, and a great ending it is, the WHOLE ending is really unsatisfactory. It didn't make me hate the movie, but it needed a little more closure...which is preobably why there are four or five sequels, the latest one stars several of the actors from the first one, including Felissa Rose (her interview in Going to Pieces is the other reason I watched Sleepaway Camp.)
In a genre filled with bad movies, few are so bad or worse than this, the fourth installment in the Return of the Living Dead series. The Return of the Living Dead films are the reason why "zombies" and the ubiquitous moan of "braaaaains" go together -- never have Romero's ghouls called out for brains...or more cops.
Here's the low-down on Return's zombies: they're created by this noxious green gas called 2-4-5 Trioxin. Trioxin zombies cannot be re-killed by destroying the brain. If you burn a trioxin zombie, it releases more trioxin into the air. You breathe it, you die and come back. You're in the ground, already dead, you come back. Brains, whatever chemicals are in there, stop the pain of being dead. Strangely, once the brains have been eaten, that person doesn't come back. I suppose that while the ghoul needs its brain to walk around and eat brains, it doesn't need ALL of its brains and that's why shooting them doesn't work...I dunno, I'm not John Russo so ask him the whys and wherefores (he was a producer with George A. Romero on Night of the Living Dead, by the way.)
Necropolis screws up in the first five minutes of the film by rewriting twenty years of RotLD history by saying that the trioxin zombies can be killed with a bullet to the brain. And it all goes down hill from there with terrible acting, a terrible script, okay direction, and very very bad special effects. At least the zombie extras were game...
Bad bad movie. I won't be bothering with the fifth installment, made right after Necropolis, called Rave to the Grave.
A crew of three grad students make a documentary about up and coming slasher Leslie Vernon, who wants to be bigger and better than his real life heroes Freddy, Jason, and Michael.
Though I knew what was going to happen about forty minutes into the flick, this is a rare slasher flick that honours the subgenre lovingly and acknowledges its downfalls without poking too much fun. It's pretty well written and directed, though a little too well lit, with a solid performance from Angela Goethals. Nathan Baesel's Leslie is a tad uneven, though not in a good way, but it works for this flick.
I recommend it, even if you're not really into slasher flicks.

1 comment:

NoelCT said...

If you haven't yet seen SLEEPAWAY CAMPS II & III, I highly recommend them. They go in a completely different direction, taking the series into over-the-top satire as a post-sex-change Angela returns to camp as a counselor and starts weeding out people she considers social undesirables (some good jabs at Reagan politics here). They're just so wild, but work due to some clever humor and the perky performance of Pamela Springsteen (Bruce's sister) as Angela.