Of The Sleepaway Camp Sequels
Magazine No. 73, May 1988
By Gregory Nicoll
A boy named Splat dishes out the mass
quantity gore at a special two-for-one sequel sale.
The tables covered with tubes, bottles,
brushes, jars, leeches, severed hands, and acid-eaten heads. Blood-splattered
knives and machetes rest on crumpled newspaper, dark stains spreading
slowly beneath them. On the corner, a textbook on forensic medicine is
open to a police photo of a corpse. A small crowd gathers, watching as
Bill "Splat" Johnson carefully duplicates rigor mortis on actress Julie
Murphy, seated nearby. In the background saws whine, hammers pound, metal
scrapes concrete as equipment is moved. Smells of sweat, smoke, and sawdust
hang in the air. Production is at full steam here in Atlanta's Lakewood
Studios as cameras roll on Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers, the second
film of a trio dealing with mass murderess Angela Baker.
I heft a bloody severed hand, admiring
its detail. "That's Walter Gotell's hand," says Splat Johnson, referring
to the actor who plays General Gogel of the KGB in the 007 movies. "He
plays Uncle John in Sleepaway 2. The other day I cut his throat and chopped
off his hand. I got his autograph before he left. He signed it, 'Thanks
for killing me.'" A star student of make-up grandmaster Dick Smith, Johnson
is a slim, redheaded, intense young man who speaks in a quick, nervous
treble. He has rapidly made a name for himself with grisly FX, notable
for their painstaking realism, in such obscure films as Evil in the Woods
and Uncertain Faiths. Johnson picked up his evocative nickname while working
on Blood Salvage last summer.
Turning to the actress seated beside him,
he adds another smudge of gray to her pallid cheeks and pronounces her
dead enough. He moves to the next chair, where make-up FX assistant Christine
Cobbs applies homemade leeches to the face of actress Valerie Hartman.
After a moment's consideration, Johnson adds a few red spots to the edges
of the tiny bloodsuckers. Hartman, he explains, has been drowned in an
outhouse by the homicidal Angela. Hence the gross tangles in her hair
and the dozen leeches on her cheeks.
Stepping up for a closer look, I nearly
trip over something on the ground. I pick it up and discover an eerily
realistic severed head. "Oh, that's Tony's head," says Johnson. "I was
wondering where it rolled to." Actor Tony Higgins, the makeup artist explains,
will lose his head to Angela's machete blade later today. "They've asked
for more blood, so for this effect we're really going to hit 'em with
it. We've got FOUR tubes wired into that neck!"
The frantic pace of the low-budget production
is taking its toll on Johnson. Both he and assistant Cobbs bear the scars
of long, hard hours: colorless cheeks and bloodshot eyes, making them
resemble the corpses they've created. For today's sequence, the "Abandoned
Cabin" scene, Johnson hired two additional assistants, Rick Spears and
Dottie Carley. "This is a real expensive set," Johnson explains. The stuff
that went into it cost my department a fortune, almost all our budget.
We've got eight major gags in this one room."
Director Michael Simpson beckons. Today's
stuff is the champaign of gore effects," he says proudly. "The poster
for this movie should say, 'No one will be seated during the Abandoned
At his invitation I step inside. Dirt
and spider webs cover the tiny room. Assorted knives and saws hang from
pegs on the gray board walls. Bare bulbs dangle from above. Candles ring
the room, casting eerie light on the burlap curtains. The block letters
on a scrabble board on a nearby card table spell out BAD/BLEED/CAMPERS/WHORE/CHAINSAW/REEK/KILL.
Everywhere lies bodies, bodies, bodies...
Though his previous cinematic experience
is in two hardly seen comedies - Impure Thoughts and Funland - Simpson
is enthusiastic about working in horror. "I did a good bit of homework,"
he reports. I looked at the all-time great horror films and the all-time
worst horror films, too, to see what didn't work as well as what did.
The thing that really attracted me to this project was Fritz Gordon, the
writer, brought a nice blend of very dark, macabre humor to it."
Simpson was offered the job by Jerry Silva,
co-producer of the original Sleepaway Camp (1983). Their multifilm deal
also covers a second sequel, Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland, which
starts lensing as soon as the present film wraps. Sleepaway 2 is slated
for a spring '88 video release from Nelson Entertainment. Simpson is philosophical
about the low-budget under which he's working, rumored to be less than
half a million per movie. "We try to substitute a lot of creativity and
a lot of hard work," he says. With these sort of films you don't need
a big budget. People don't come to see a name actor or very elaborate
sets. They come to be frightened. And as long as you're frightening them,
the film can be successful with a modest budget."
And how has the killer Angela/Peter changed
from the first hardly-a-classic Sleepaway Camp? "Angela's out of prison,"
Simpson reports, "after undergoing therapy and a sex-change operation.
She's interesting because she represents some of the complex ambiguities
of the 80's. She's a very moral person at one level; she doesn't like
people who drink, use drugs, or are sexually loose. It happens that her
reality is skewed so that instead of reacting by saying that she doesn't
like them, she kills them. And she does it very matter-of-factly, like
taking out the garbage."
By the studio door sits blonde actress
Renee Estevez, toiling over a puzzle. She's intrigued that I'm here for
Fango. Skimming my copy of Fango #68, her eyes widen at the splatter shots
from The Unholy. "This is great," she whispers.
Daughter of Martin Sheen, sister of Charlie
(Platoon) Sheen and Emilio (Repo Man) Estevez, Renee is accustomed to
the rigors of film work. Nevertheless, her experience on Sleepaway 2 has
been harrowing. "We did a great deal of stunts yesterday," she recalls,
"fight scenes with knives and one where I fall off a cliff. Lonnie Smith,
the stunt coordinator, is real big on authenticity. He did great things
with putting down mats to fall on, but I'm still really sore."
Lunchtime. Cast and crew shuffle outside
for a tray of George & Ethelyn Spires' down home southern cooking.
Valerie Hartman's enjoyment of her meal is compromised by the leeches
on her face, which continually fall into her food. "Look!" jokes Johnson,
pointing at a leech on her lettuce. "A plumb!"
Actor Brian Patrick Clarke has his own
food related horror story. Clarke - whose good looks distinguished him
as a regular on both General Hospital and Eight Is Enough - broke two
ribs in a car crash on the way to the set for the first time. Unable to
speak, he lay helpless as a passerby began chanting over him. "I'm thinking
'What's going on?'" the actor remembers. "Are my brains coming out of
my ear? Are these my last rites? Then another guy sticks his head in the
window, points to the Big Mac I dropped, and says, 'Yeah - that's where
he threw up.' I couldn't even tell him I didn't throw up, That it was
McDonald's special sauce that he was lookin' at"
All heads turn as the star arrives: Pamela
Springsteen, sister of rock megastar Bruce. An accomplished photographer,
she shot the sleeve photo for her brother's "Brilliant Disguise" single.
But today she's here to act, the picture of concentration as she diligently
practices pummeling a fellow actor actor with a fake tree branch. "Michael,"
she asks the director, "is the hit getting there?" Simpson suggests more
striking force. Springsteen and the victim go off and practice more, drawing
shocked looks from set visitors.
The crew scrambles to prep a scene in
which Sean (Tony Higgins) discovers the bodies in the Abandoned Cabin
and throws up. "We need thicker vomit," director Simpson declares. Johnson
studies the cup of Chunky Style green pea soup. He adds a handful of Rice
Crispies and stirs. "Yeah," he pronounces. "That's got nice body to it."
Cameras roll. Higgins enters the cabin. We hear him gasp then heave. The
actor emerges with green stains on his t-shirt. Somebody asks how the
vomit tasted. "Like mom used to make," Higgins quips.
Next, Clarke discovers the cabin and gets
splashed with acid by Angela. Screaming he falls to the floor. Angela
stands over him and asks, with sadistic cheerfulness, "Would you like
another cup?" Johnson's acid mix - Sprite and Alka Seltzer, thickened
with glycerin - performs with appropriated fizziness. But when Angela
tosses the "acid," she misses Clarke's face. Eventually, a good take is
captured, and Clarke is rushed to the makeup chair for application of
second stage acid burn. In the box of FX gear I spot a Leatherface mask
and a suspicious looking hockey face-protector. Can it be that the titans
of terror make a cameo appearance in Sleepaway 2? Won't someone yell lawsuit?
They tell me to ask Benji.
I locate Benji Wilhoite, a friendly, slow
talkin' southerner, he's dressed as Freddy Krueger! Clicking his fingerblades
together playfully, Wilhoite explains the scene in which Leatherface,
Jason, Freddy, and Angela meet. "Me and Judd are best friends and we don't
like Angela, so we decide we're gonna dress up and scare her," the actor
says. I make a Freddy glove, and he fixed up a mask like Jason. But Angela
overhears us planning. I lose my glove, and when I find it I see just
the glove. Then suddenly, the fingers open up. She lunges and slice my
throat. Angela cuts the face off of another camper to make a Leatherface
mask, and Judd gets her chainsaw right through his skull.
Clarke finally emerges from his makeup
session with second stage acid-burn complete. Burnt, wrinkled, reddened
skin covers his face. Seared strips of flesh hang down from his cheeks
and forehead. "Next time," he comments, "I gotta get out of the tanning
booth a little earlier."
Two weeks after witnessing Sleepaway 2
in the making, I'm on location at Camp Younts near Waco, Georgia, where
shooting is underway on Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland. Splat Johnson
meets me by the dining hall and together we hike up to the Splat Shack.
"My duties are a little different on Sleepaway 3," he explains as we walk.
"Due to the lack of any real pre-production time, Shad Leach from the
art department has taken over most of the rigging. I'm supplying all the
limbs and heads and all that mess, but Shad's taking care of most of the
bloodbags and blood pumps. He rigged up a compressor for the decapitation
scene with 100 pounds per square inch pressure in the tubes. Blood blew
out and hit the cameraman and the girl taking stills!"
Johnson's hands show the ravages of his
trade, including stitches across one finger where a razor knife slipped.
"By the time this movie's over, I'll probably have Band-Aids on every
one of my fingers," he moans. "I've got three bandaged so far. Cut another
one on a mold the other day.. The real blood ion thins movie is coming
out of me."
At the hilltop we find the Splat Shack,
an unassuming wood cabin on the outside, a gallery of horrors on the inside.
It looks like Ed Gein's kitchen, pieces of bodies strewn everywhere. "That
head over there is one of my favorites," Johnson beams. "It's a kid who
got his face blown off when Angela stuck firecrackers up his nose. Those
arms are from a camper who got both arms ripped off. This shack scared
a security guard to death the other night when he came around to check
Johnson picks up another head. "This one
is Jill Terashita's head. She plays Arab, one of the campers. We had this
fake head sticking out of a tent, with her real arms on either side so
they could twitch when the ax cut it off. Then Angela walked up and kicked
the head and rolled it towards the camera. It looked really gross. The
producers liked it some much that they're talking about writing it into
"In this film," explains director Simpson,
"Angela goes back to being a camper. She impersonates another girl at
an experimental camp that brings together urban disadvantaged young people
and upscale suburban kids. The idea is to bring the two cultures together
to appreciate each other's diversity, very touchy-feely. Angela goes with
the intention of being a model camper and, of course, things immediately
disappoint her. She begins laying waste to a large number of teenagers,
hence our subtitle Teenage Wasteland."
As Simpson sets up for the next shot,
Johnson explains what will happen. "They're playing a game where the rich
kids and poor kids learn trust by leading each other around blindfolded.
When it's Angela's turn to blindfold Cindy, she strings her up on a flagpole
and drops her on her head."
Back outside the dining hall, Johnson
points at a bloody spot at the bottom of the flagpole. "My mannequin only
weighed 10 pounds," recounts Johnson. "So they weighted it with sandbags
and hauled it up there. Shad made a huge balloon full of blood. They filmed
it from the top of the pole, using a crane. When Angela let the rope go,
it fell and absolutely demolished the dummy head. There was hair and blood
all over the place. They prepared to shot an insert of the actress as
a corpse, but went ahead and shot the splattered dummy because it looked
so gross after the hit. It was one of the grossest scenes in the movie.
Probably the simplest, also."
The afternoon sun is setting as the crew
preps their next-to-last scene. In this one, actress Tracy Griffith discovers
the corpse of a woman Angela has decapitated with a lawnmower. Tracy sits
nearby reading a Winnie The Pooh book as the crew arranges a menagerie
of live critters (spiders, worms, and nightcrawlers) on the bloody stump
of Johnson's gruesomely realistic headless body. Director Simpson borrows
my copy of Fango # 68 and becomes engrossed in an article. "We're losing
the light!" shouts someone as the sun continues to vanish. "We're losing
the worms, guys!" complains assistant director Jerry Pace. "Hey! We're
losing the spiders!" Third assistant director Patrick Graham asks, "Hey,
Jerry, who gets the 'Spider Wrangler' credit?"
As the cameras roll, Simpson is so absorbed
in reading that he almost misses the take. Dropping the magazine on the
director's chair, he dashes to the set just in time to see Griffith open
the cabin door and scream as she spies the body. Three takes later, they've
got the scene in the can. Simpson is very happy, giving Griffith a congratulatory
pat on the back. She returns to her Pooh book, while he goes back to his
chair and continues reading Fangoria. Slowly the sun sets on Sleepaway