I LOVE ANIMAL CROSSING AND SLEEPAWAY CAMP.
My blog output of late has been subpar, perhaps even subbogey. Sometimes you just don’t wanna do anything. I was going to say something smart like “It is during these times that we truly come to know ourselves” but that doesn’t really make much sense, or if it does I don’t get it, so I’ll just chalk it up to sloth and a general absence of stimuli, or in any event a failure on my part to seek same. Right now my wife is playing Animal Crossing, and I can only, haltingly and without a great deal of skill or success, just begin to convey how difficult it is to ever get anything done with this game in the house.
Even more difficult is to try to explain to someone unfortunate enough never to have experienced the game why anyone would ever want to play it in the first place, let alone every damn day for the past five years. It’s really more of a duty than a game, but that isn’t right either because I hate duties. Also, my parents used to refer to using the toilet as “doing your duties”, and nothing about the act of playing Animal Crossing suggests excretion, other than the overwhelming sense of completion upon landing a red snapper or barred knifejaw when fishing. Did anyone else’s parents call crapping “doing your duties” or was I just brought up by crazy people?
Animal Crossing is a Nintendo game that you can play on Gamecube, DS, or Wii. Though the three versions differ only subtly, we made sure to purchase all three in order to savor even the slightest alterations and new features. Just to glaze over it, in the interest of people maybe continuing to read the entire entry: you move to a new town, where a business-minded raccoon named Nook (who would ideally be played by Dustin Hoffman in the film version) agrees to provide you with lodging in exchange for a brief internship at his store and unstructured mortgage payments. In order to pay off your house, you must earn “bells”, the favored currency of the town, by catching fish and insects, digging up fossils, and picking fruit, then selling your bounty to Nook for a fair price, which you can then essentially give right back to him through the bank. While you are lackadaisically fulfilling your end of the bargain, you communicate with animated beasts, who more often than not have something interesting to say, or even an errand they wish you to carry out for them. The game takes place in real time, so holidays are observed, morning and night happen, and the fish and bug availability changes with the passing of the season. There’s a lot more to it than what I’ve laid out here but my assumption is that you are already putting on your jacket to go buy the game so I want to leave you some discoveries.
I am at a loss to explain it, but I’ve found I could eliminate the possibility of ever playing any video game other than “Animal Crossing” from my life and really not care at all. I was never very good at first-person shooters in the first place, but there was a time when I at least understood their appeal. Now I don’t know why anyone would ever want to shoot anyone when you could simply have a brief, lively conversation with them that culminates in your giving them an apple in exchange for an exotic cabinet. My wife and I have been at least somewhat instrumental in persuading several of our friends to irrevocably work this game into their daily routine, so we know it’s not just us. If you happen to own any of the fine Nintendo consoles manufactured in the last eight years, I would strongly suggest you at least rent this game and see what it does for your life. If you don’t enjoy it, well, there’s always death to look forward to. The new “Raving Rabbids TV Party” game is pretty fun as well, if passing away isn’t your “thang”.
What else is transpiring? Our kitchen sink is reluctant to make cleanliness-producing and thirst-eradicating water come out of a hole in its face. That hasn’t made the general kitchen area very appealing to look at or get a whiff of. Also the ceiling and kitchen window occasionally leak yellow water, which doesn’t smell like urine exactly but what other liquids are yellow? It ain’t Mountain Dew or lemonade, unfortunately. Wouldn’t call the landlord about lemonade dripping from the ceiling – that’s a good drink as it goes. Anyway, calling the landlord doesn’t seem to be an effective solution to much of anything. It certainly has not resulted in the landlord coming to our apartment and futzing with the sink or applying sealant to errant crevices. This is only a passing irritant, as really I would just as soon the landlord continue his policy of not coming to our home, but given the option of clean flatware and dry floors as opposed to eating Cheerios out of a baked bean-encrusted bowl under a selectively permeable membrane, I gotta tell ya, I’m leaning toward the former. The process of acquiring real estate seems like less of a potential nightmare with each passing day. Too bad my credit score starts with a decimal point.
All right, I had to take a break real quick to check turnip prices and donate a parasaurolophus skull to Blathers’ museum. On to “Return to Sleepaway Camp”! Yes, a new direct-to-DVD sequel to the original 1983 slasher classic, one of my favorite films of all time. Non-theatrical sequels are not new to the “Sleepaway Camp” franchise (parts two and three, though not boring, bear an unwelcome nudge-nudge wink-wink sensibility, and are not worthy of extensive discussion), but “Return” is special in that it’s helmed and written by the original director, Robert Hiltzik.
God love him, that guy up there isn’t a very good writer or director of films, though I can’t be called upon to make needless unkind remarks concerning his skills as a self-employed lawyer, which he what he is these days. But with 1983’s “Sleepaway Camp”, he really did try to make something different, in a genre not known for trailblazing or heart. The original “Sleepaway Camp” is chockablock with shoddy (though sort of effective) gore effects, fascinatingly inept usage of profanity that recalls your younger sibling learning to swear (somebody tells someone to “eat shit and live”), and numbskull characters that exist solely to hurt one another’s feelings. All in all, a not inaccurate representation of growing up in the 1980’s, despite existing in no known reality, then or now.
I have no great love for slasher movies, though I’ll stop for a moment if I happen upon one while flipping channels. I feel comfortable in the gossipy, illicit atmosphere they recall and create. I like remembering frenzied eyewitness accounts from exaggeration-prone playground compadres attempting to recreate scenes from such movies as “Happy Birthday to Me” and “Friday the 13th”, and I enjoy remembering how I wondered at the unspeakable atrocities I was surely missing out on thanks to my parents, who were cruel and wise enough to prevent me from seeing them. But they’re not usually that good when you take the time to actually sit through them. I recently bought a twofer copy of “Friday the 13th” parts one and two off a friend who was selling castoffs from her vast DVD collection to make some spare money, and fell asleep before getting even an hour into the original movie, which I’d remembered as not being all that terrible. If anything, typically their chief fault is that they take awhile to get going, and either fail to deliver the “goods” or provide more genuine unpleasantness than the viewer bargained for, which is just no fun. For example, without caring to put a great deal of passion behind it, I’d argue weakly that the notorious 1978 rape revenge “video nasty” (as the Brits put it) “I Spit On Your Grave” is well done for what it is, but I never want to watch it again, and I’d hesitate to recommend it to even the most hardy of horror fans. Sometimes a literal ordeal is exactly what you’re looking for in a film, but there’s ordeals and then there’s “I Spit On Your Grave”. To say nothing of “Cannibal Holocaust”, and numerous others.
“Sleepaway Camp” defies classification while still making sure to tick every box on the 80’s summer camp slasher to-do list. There’s questionable fashion, cruel pranks (including one memorable scene in which the camp geek is somehow “hypnotized” into mashing his face into another boy’s bare ass), outlandish death scenes (death by bees, death by boiling corn water, and worse), and nubile nudity (though not a whit of it is at all alluring). But rather than concentrating on style or bothering to create a tangible sense of foreboding, Hiltzik plunges right in, giving us a horror movie that an unsupervised 80’s-era fifth-grader with more imagination than talent might come up with under the right circumstances. It’s pure entertainment, and beyond that, Hiltzik is obviously trying, however hamfistedly, to get across a message of some sort involving sexual identity and child rearing that I’ve never fully been able to glean, despite my 30+ viewings of the film. Far be it from me to be the one who ruins the movie for you if you’ve never seen it, so I’ll leave it at that, but if you’re already pretty sure it isn’t something you’d ever want to see, just Google “Sleepaway Camp” and all will become clear with a click or two. Let’s just say there are endings and there are endings, and the denouement of “Sleepaway Camp” falls squarely in the latter category.
Much like “Animal Crossing”, there’s a charm, a real charm, here that dumb blog blatherings can’t do much justice to. My wife doesn’t like slasher movies at all, and even she had to admit (after being subjected to it more than once [I gotta watch it at least once a year]) that it has a certain something. I believe the French coined the phrase “je ne sais quoi” with this film specifically in mind. That’s right, not once had a French person ever uttered the words “I don’t know” until “Sleepaway Camp” came along. Before that, French people knew EVERYTHING.
Professed love for “Sleepaway Camp” is nothing rare. But don’t take it from me. Take it from whoever this joker is who got the bright idea to tattoo it on the inside of their forearm, for Pete’s sake. I don’t even like it that much. People like this movie, and maybe you will too. Today I celebrate two relatively unheralded items of entertainment that transcend their medium of choice. This is what makes a favorite, if you ask me.
Well, that all aside, what I was gonna talk about was I got “Return to Sleepaway Camp” from Netflix, and I’m happy to report that, though terrible in aspects innumerable, the 2008 direct-to-DVD sequel is a return to roots, in that the inimitable shocking/bewildering/sincere spirit is more than half recaptured. Inexplicable exchanges, joyously gloppy makeup, abhorrent acting, and a 100% unsympathetic protagonist who befriends frogs and whose oft-repeated catchphrase is “Your ass stinks!”
There aren’t many good stills from this movie floating around on the Internet, so bear with me, but the deal is that no one at camp likes that crying fat kid, and they pick on him incessantly. This would be angering if the fat kid were in any way likable, but in truth he deserves everything he gets and then some. That’s what you get when you run around telling everyone their ass stinks. Yes, the “hero” of “Return to Sleepaway Camp” is a character whose graphic, drawn-out death you increasingly yearn for with each passing frame. See, Robert Hiltzik isn’t interested in your expectations. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he does not know what they are. These are the types of people I want making my movies.
Anyway, just like before, kids start getting bumped off in gross and funny ways, and everyone thinks the fat kid did it. They express this by renaming the fat kid “Blowjob” for some reason, and then gathering the entire camp together to chant “Blowjob! Blowjob! Blowjob!” until the kid snaps and runs into the forest, whereupon even more people start dying and in even more stupidly disgusting ways. A good number of familiar faces from the original return, including foulmouthed camper Ricky (an all too brief appearance by the still likable Jonathan Tiersten); rugged, short-shorted counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo, defying all forms of probability by displaying acting skills that have actually gone downhill since the original); and, of course, Angela herself (Felissa Rose, who doesn’t look a whole lot different and who more or less pulls off another insane twist ending). A couple of slumming “name” actors join the cast as well, including Vincent “Big Pussy from The Sopranos” Pastore as the new camp director (he’s no Mike Kellin, but at least he doesn’t phone it in, and SPOILER ALERT he gets to die by having a birdcage full of rats locked onto his head, so hey) and the late great Isaac Hayes, lamentably capping a lengthy resume with a bad-joke appearance meant to capitalize on his South Park character.
“Return to Sleepaway Camp” isn’t going to end up on anybody’s top ten lists, least of all my own, but speaking as a longtime fan of the original, I was pretty damn satisfied with the results, and I’d read a lot of online reviews preparing me for the worst, so I was nervous and unhopeful at the outset. I respectfully submit that the naysayers have missed the point (except for this guy and especially this guy). Fans of “Sleepaway Camp” are not coming to a long-awaited sequel for a grade-A quality film, or to be at all frightened (unsettled, absolutely, but frightened, no, not at all, in no way, no). We just want the heart. The weird, bad, audacious, adorably fucked-up heart. It’s muted and off-tempo, but still very much there for those who still care to hear it.