USA’s “Return to Cabin by the Lake” is nothing like its predecessor — and that’s a good thing. Campy to the max, this sequel to last year’s highly rated telepic does away with the original’s misogyny and replaces it with in-jokes about the Hollywood production process. Completely in tune with just how flaky showbiz types can be, this serial killer story is comfortable in the confines of feather-light, jokey fright.
Exec produced, like the first “Cabin,” by teen king Neal H. Moritz (“The Fast and the Furious,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer”), the second follows the same plotline — psycho writer likes to drown people — but parody has been added to great effect. A pic within a pic, project lives up to its B-movie spirit by taking place on a B-movie set, and it’s that wink-wink approach that turns what could have been a bad sequel to a bad movie into something easier to digest.
Having faked his own death to end the first “Cabin,” Stanley Caldwell (Judd Nelson) is back, and sicker than ever. After murdering scores of women in order to “research” his novels, he’s irked to discover that people are reworking one of his bestsellers for a slasher pic.
So he drowns his representation — after all, it’s always the agent’s fault — and then shows up on location at Lake Shaw to stalk flamboyant, cocky slasher director Mike Helton (Brian Krause), a perky assistant and a host of egocentric actors who would “die” for a bigger part.
Stanley’s attentions, however, eventually turn toward Alison Gaddis (Dahlia Salem), a smart and savvy scribe hired to improve the dialogue. Having educated herself about everything Stanley — his motivations, his love life, his fears — she’s the only one on the set who has tried to enter his mind, and he’s not too thrilled about that.
As soon as he offs Mike, Stanley takes over as director — everyone thinks he’s a stand-in assigned by the studio — and it’s only a matter of time before other people start turning up dead.
As Stanley the second time around, Nelson is still rather bland but does a good enough job in conveying his creepy love affair with torture. While hardly a major presence onscreen, he’s cultivating a solid character on which to base a never-ending franchise (a second sequel seems likely based on the ending). Other perfs are minor efforts, with Salem’s take on a smart girl swept away by Stanley’s mad genius the bright spot.
The Roger Corman-like set is a hoot, and more notable than the actual tech credits are the tricks of the trade highlighted throughout by returning director Po Chih Leong, including a clever use of outdoor backdrops, a tank that doubles as a lagoon and creepy mannequins made up to resemble decomposed bodies.