Jeff Hayes started out by making a fan related website for the cult classic film ‘Sleepaway Camp‘. Thru the site, he was able to contact a number of cast & crew from all the films & conduct exclusive interviews for the site, which eventually led to a reunion at the Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors convention. The reunion itself led to the now in post-producion direct sequel to the original Sleepaway Camp, ‘Return To Sleepaway Camp‘, starring Vincent Pastore, Jonathan Tiersten, Paul DeAngelo & Isaac Hayes (no relation to Jeff). Visit Jeff @ Sleepaway Camp Movies.com. – by Robg. 5/04
What do you remember about your first experiences getting into the horror genre?
My grandmother was quite the storyteller and as a little kid, she really made me believe in ghosts, witches, and all the things that go bump in the night. When you’re a little kid, your imagination has no boundaries and nothing tapped into my imagination more than horror stories and horror movies. I have always been drawn to them. The first horror movies that I can remember seeing in their entirety were Halloween 2 and Friday The 13th Part 2, both of which I loved and still enjoy to this day.
Do you remember your initial reactions to the Sleepaway Camp films? Which one did you see first?
I saw them in sequence starting with the original late one night on HBO around 86 or 87. I remember it being unlike any movie I had seen before. It was very unique and had this unusual quality where you feel that some of the characters, although exaggerated, are more like real people and less like characters. And of course… that ending.
Well, let’s just say that freaky face stayed with me long after the credits rolled. No other movie has ever left me with such an unusual impact. There’s no movie quite like it! It left me with this overwhelming feeling that I had to find out more. I saw Part 2 when it first came to video in 1988. I was excited and thrilled that day in the video store to see that there was a sequel to the intriguing and unforgettable SLEEPAWAY CAMP. I remember being psyched after watching it. That outhouse toilet death was a wickedly ingenuous show-stopper.
The make-up fx during the last 3rd of the movie were really gruesome and bloody well done! The flick took the story into a more black-humoresque style but it was one of the best blends of horror and black comedy I’d ever seen. I just wished some of the other characters from the original film had returned as well as Angela. Nevertheless, It left me anxious for Part 3. My initial reaction to Part 3 (which I very eagerly anticipated for a year) was that it seemed a bit slower paced and less gory than it’s predecessors. However, the large assortment of unique fun characters, witty writing, and death sequences that were even more viciously imaginative than PART 2 made it a solid follow up. There’s nothing like a good horror tale set at camp!!
Tell us about how the website for sleepawaycamp movies became a reality. Were meeting fellow fans and lack of content on the internet at the time motivating factors?
At the time I was new to the web and there wasn’t much about SC online except for a few reviews here and there. I met fellow horror movie buff John Klyza on a FRIDAY THE 13TH message board, and we soon found ourselves discussing SLEEPAWAY.
It was a movie that didn’t seem to be as widely recognized as something like ‘Friday The 13th‘ but most who caught it really loved it. It wasn’t long thereafter that we decided to create a website for the series. We both put a lot of time and passion into it and over the years a lot of really amazing things happened because we created that site. Once the site started getting more and more well known, it was amazing to see how many fans were out there waiting for the things we offered on the website to come along. We were the first to put up interviews of what many of the SLEEPAWAY cast and crew were up to these days. It was the first time that fans had a place to go to read about details and recollections of making these movies and see behind-the-scenes photographs of the mysterious original film. The site became the ultimate camping grounds for fans of the series worldwide and even sparked interest in a whole new generation of fans.
How difficult was it to find the people involved with these three films and who was the first person you did track down?
Actually, in the beginning it was very difficult. It took me months of research before even making the first contact. The silence was finally broken when I tracked down Jonathan “Ricky” Tiersten in late 1998 and went to meet him in early ’99. At this time, almost everything surrounding SC was a mystery and Johnny put a lot of rumors to rest about the film. He was really glad to hear that SC had a following and had a blast recalling his experiences on the film. I remember asking him if he would be up for playing “Ricky” again if we could get the next SC going and he was all for it. 4 years later it actually happened! How cool is that? He was the first link I made in the amazing SC puzzle. I did a detailed interview with him and we put it on the website. More and more fans began coming to the site as some of the mystery was being unfolded for the first time anywhere since the film was released back in 1983!
Do you have any interesting stories or experiences involving one of your interviews? Who was your personal highlight?
They were all great to do, but I think the most fun was probably the original Felissa interview. She was, at that time, the biggest request from fans. Everyone wanted to know what ever happened to “Angela”. I heard rumors ranging from “she has 6 kids and lives in a trailer” to “she lives in Isreal”. I ended out tracking her down in NY after sending a letter in the mail to an address I found, hoping it was her.
It must have been fate because the letter ended up in her mailbox. She called me on the phone after receiving it. Soon thereafter we made plans to meet and spend a weekend talking SC, doing the interview for the website, and discussing the possibility of getting the next SC going. Well that weekend was definitely fate calling once again because together we tracked down the rumored dead Robert Hiltzik and did the very first Felissa interview. This killer combination of website exclusives really juiced up all the fans!! From there, she returned to her dream career in the movie world and the 3 of us really put the wheels in motion for ‘Return To Sleepaway‘. What an amazing weekend it was! That weekend was indeed a highlight because it was something I had done that impacted some people’s lives so greatly and it all had to do with one of my biggest passions in life: movies!
Tell us about how the commentary session came to be for the original Sleepaway Camp DVD? Were you contacted by Anchor Bay Entertainment?
Actually, I contacted Anchor Bay. Once I heard that they had acquired the DVD rights, I immediately contacted them about doing something special for the fans. At this point, Johnny was the only member of SC that I had found and I suggested that we at least do something with him for the DVD release. They said they would get back in touch with me once production on the transfer was closer. By this time I had tracked down Felissa and Robert.
Anchor got back in touch with me and I told them that I was now in contact with Felissa and Robert as well as Johnny. Anchor then put me in touch with Bill Lustig who told me that if I could arrange for a commentary recording before the end of the following week, we could get it on the disc. So of course I made some calls and put it together. Unfortunately because there was so little time, Anchor Bay didn’t have enough time to book Johnny a flight and accommodations so he could participate. We were all on the east coast and he was on the west coast.
Both you and Robert Hiltzik noticed a few cuts from that Anchor Bay version of the Sleepaway Camp DVD. Any plans on a newer DVD as a completely uncut & unedited release? And if so, what will your contributions be for it?
Robert and I have been talking with a DVD distributor in the UK (Anchor Bay UK) who has been interested in putting out SC uncut on Region 2. They got in touch with me while we were away filming RTSC. I discussed the whole situation with Robert and the 2 of us discussed it all with Anchor Bay UK over the next few months after we returned from camp. Anchor Bay UK was considering using the US digital master and cutting in the missing scenes from an uncut tape they had. I suggested that they transfer Robert’s uncut print of the movie for this edition of the DVD. They decided to do just that. The deal was finished in March and soon SLEEPAWAY CAMP will be available UnCut on DVD for the first time! Hopefully an uncut region 1 re-release will follow. I have plenty of reunion/convention/screening footage that I would be happy to edit into a nice featurette for a future special edition dvd release.
As a fan, what is your favorite scene or moment from each of the Sleepaway Camp movies?
Part 1- That Crazy Ending!!
Part 2- The outhouse toilet murder.
Part 3- The ‘find Marcia in one of the cabins’ Game.
How did the Fangoria reunion come about a few years back?
I wrote to Fangoria suggesting that we do something with SC for one of their shows, now that it was out on DVD and fans from around the world were visiting the website. A few months later, Tony Timpone contacted me and asked if I wanted to reunite Robert and Felissa on stage for their 2001 show in NY. I said, “definitely” but by this point I had been in contact with even more SC folks, so I suggested that he let me reunite as many of them that were willing for the show. I figured, let’s not just do this, let’s do this big! Tony agreed and I went to work putting it together. I was able to reunite 7 cast members with director Robert Hiltzik for this amazing event.
Was the positive reception to that reunion panel a surprise to you & the original sleepaway camp cast & crew?
I knew it would draw a pretty good crowd because I heard from a lot of fans who were really excited about the idea of a SC Reunion actually happening. But the crowd that came to witness it was even bigger than any of us imagined and that was a pleasant surprise to everyone, especially Robert. Robert agreed to go but was skeptical and asked me on more than one occasion if I really thought anyone was going to show. I said, “trust me, I see the e-mails from many of the fans and there are going to be a lot of people there to see this”. He took my word for it but remained skeptical that a movie he made almost 2 decades ago would have accumulated a following that was stronger than ever today. Well, it turned out to be one of the biggest crowd draws at that year’s show! Even Fangoria was surprised that a movie from 1983 (that many thought was dead and buried) was back with this much of an impact! I even received e-mails from fans afterwards that said they were devastated because they couldn’t get into the show because tickets had sold out that day! It was amazing!
I was one of those people!!! Any interesting or worthwhile experience that you remember from that day?
The SLEEPAWAY cast and crew made a really cool toast to me at dinner after the show for bringing them all back together and getting many of them ready to RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP in one way or another. Imagine sitting at a table with the cast of one of your favorite movies 20 years later and they’re all toasting to you! How surreal is that? Desiree “Aunt Martha” Gould told me that I put together the “greatest day” in her life. And we all know that nobody affects a life like Aunt Martha! Robert told me that I inspired him to dust off his old 1986 written ‘Sleepaway Camp 2′ script and rewrite a new one: ‘RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY’. That day was a truly unforgettable, almost surreal experience. And It was great to hear from so many of the fans afterwards who were thrilled that they actually had the opportunity to witness an actual SC Reunion, which was something they never imagined would ever happen. I was really glad to be the person to make it happen.
When exactly did you get involved with your own filmmaking? Was the success of the site and support from new sleepaway camp related friends a motivator for you?
I have actually been making my own little movies since I was about 12. Starting on a little black and white camera. then moving on to VHS. then 8mm. then DV. Horror movies have always inspired me. I love to create my own works and have been inspired by many of the horror flicks I have watched throughout my life.
Where did the story and idea come from for your short film ‘Grandma’s Secret Recipe’?
As kids, my sister and I would occasionally spend the weekend over my Grandmother’s house. We used to love it because Granny would let us rent horror films (which we weren’t allowed to watch at home until we were teens) and we would all watch them and love them. It was Horror Movies-101 over there! I saw most of the 80′s classics at Grandma’s house. So the fact that Grandma’s house held so many great memories of kick-ass horror flicks became a motivator behind making her house the setting for GRANDMA’S SECRET. Plus the fact that I always thought my Grandmother is an amazing actress who never got into acting because of the path life took her in. She would always act out characters for us and I just knew I had to make her the star of a horror tale one day. So I took all that and mixed it up with my intrigue for the whole bizarre crimes/serial killer phenomenon and I created a unique little story. I wanted to mix a little SC into Grandma’s gruesome stew so I asked Felissa to play the Newscaster and Robert to play Grandma’s wacky neighbor. We shot their segments while we were in Texas for a weekend of midnight SC screenings.
Your short film ‘Grandma’s Secret Recipe’ played in a Chicago theater before a screening of the original sleepaway camp for the first annual Flashback Weekend convention. How did that feel for you & did you ever think that a short film you were responsible for would play before the original sleepaway camp?
When I stop and think about it, I’m still pretty amazed. It’s almost like my passion and intrigue for ‘Sleepaway Camp’ helped bring one of my own horror tales to the big screen. I never would have imagined in a million years one of my flicks would play on the big screen just before ‘Sleepaway Camp’. Who ever thought they would see ‘Sleepaway Camp’ back on the big screen? The whole thing was a dream come true.
Any possibility for a Grandma sequel?
Indeed there is! and it’s about 70% through shooting as we speak. We shot one scene where she chainsaws a pervert in the groin. Nobody can “bust your balls” better than Granny can! We made it look so real that most guys are going to cringe in bloody horror!
You’ve hosted the reunion panel for sleepaway camp at fango & had a table with Felissa Rose set up for the Flashback Weekend convention. What have your experiences been like with all the conventions?
They are always fun! It is always a blast to meet SC fans and hear all their stories about how they fell in love with the movies and how much these movies mean to them. Robert is amazed every time. He once said to me, “every time you bring me to one of these conventions, I always imagine only a few fans will be there for this movie made 20 years ago and every time I meet hundreds of fans!! It’s incredible!”
You recently shot a documentary following the production of “Return To Sleepaway Camp”. And your site & convention appearances have stirred interest in fans for this sequel. Was it a surreal experience being on the set of a sequel that you directly and indirectly helped get made?
In ways it was very surreal. Take one of your favorite movies that you have cherished since you were a kid and imagine being responsible for reconnecting many of the people in the movie 2 decades later and being the catalyst for getting a new sequel going!! It sounds almost like a far fetched dream! As a teen, I never could have imagined that one day I would actually be at a Sleepaway Camp making a sequel with so many people involved in the original film! and to think I’m the one who put them all back together and revitalized their interest in SC!! Now that’s a cool feeling. I definitely wanted one of my jobs on RTSC to be documenting as much of the production and on-set ambience as possible and I got to do that. I guess it goes to show that if you are really passionate about something, you can make some pretty amazing things happen.
Any experiences from the “Return To Sleepaway Camp” shoot that you’d like to share? Any behind the scenes hi-jinx?
We lost power one night due to a hurricane. This forced cast and crew to walk around the giant camp with flashlights and eat by the campfire! Wow, throw some murders in the mix and that sounds like a premise for another SC sequel. Another night, I had driven in to town to get some photos developed. When I got back to the road that led up to the camp, a giant dark blob began running across the street about 10 feet ahead of me. It all happened so fast that when I finally realized what it was, I was startled for a few seconds. It was a big black bear!!!
A few nights later me and Paul DeAngelo (“Ronnie”) were chatting outside behind the dining hall about our remote location. I told him about the bear. He asked me, “Was it as big as that trash compactor over there?” (pointing to the trash compactor). I said, “It was a lot bigger than that!” He was shocked! The rest of the night he was telling everyone about the bear I saw and kept looking into the woods to make sure Yogi and company weren’t coming. Then a few other cast and crew who had seen bears in these woods at one point or another told us of their experiences. And the rest of the night, Paul was nervous about bears!! It was too funny. He kept his fingers crossed that one wouldn’t creep out of the woods on his ride to the hotel after shooting that night. As for a spooky side-note: down the road from the camp was an old house that many of the crew claimed was ‘haunted’. The local legend was that a man died in the house years ago and was eaten to the bone by his starved cats! Although the house had been vacant for years, Vinny Pastore swears to have seen a woman looking out the window one night on his way to camp! Hmm, I think Angela is out there!
When I came down to the ‘Return to Sleepaway Camp’ set, I was there the same night as the band, CKY. How did they get invovled with the new sleepaway movie?
Deron Miller of CKY is a Huge SC fan! Deron and his manager wrote me an e-mail shortly after we started production and asked if there was any way CKY could take part in the movie. I told Robert and Anthony, the Line Producer, about them and told everyone to read the cool article Deron wrote for the website. They have a good following and a lot of their fans are into movies like SC. Some buzz started to build and a few days later the arrangements had been made and they were set to come out to the set for a weekend to shoot a cameo.
I shot some cool Behind The Scenes stuff with the guys and Felissa where Deron reveals how his love for SC inspired him to put Felissa’s “Angela” face on the cover of one of their singles. I ocassionally get emails from CKY fans who tell me that after discovering SC through Deron, they went and rented the movies and now they are diehard SC fans as well.
While I’m sure the film is far from complete, do you and the rest of the people involved in ‘Return To Sleepaway Camp’ feel satisfied with the sequel you’ve shot?
I think the cast all did a teriffic job acting. Robert Kubrick (I mean Hiltzik) did numerous takes of every shot to make sure he got what he envisioned! The story is fun and moves a lot like the original. Many of the deaths are really innovative and wild. And some of the punch is gonna have people talking for a good while! So if all that magic translates into the film, as it looked like it did on the set, then fans are definitely in for a very satisfying sequel.
How did you feel about the most recent Weekends of Horrors appearance in which you hosted a ‘Return To Sleepaway Camp’ panel?
Hmm, that was interesting. There we were, on stage after having given the world’s first look at footage from the movie. The audience had many questions – BUT, after they heard a few of Robert’s responses, many of them decided not to ask. See, Robert likes to keep things really mysterious – and that’s cool, but he kept things so hush-hush that some folks were actually getting frustrated because all his answers were “maybe”, “we’ll see”, and “anything is possible”. Now put yourself in that situation.
You have a question that you’re dying to know the answer to BUT the 6 people who asked questions before you got one of the previously mentioned 3 responses. Well, no one can say Robert can’t keep a secret! The rest of the day fans that saw me at the hotel were telling me that they wanted to ask this and that but decided not to because they knew they weren’t going to get any answers because Robert had super-glued our mouths shut when it came to RTSC details. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with a man that would lock you into a toilet stall and throw a beehive in there with you! I totally understand everyone’s frustrations and wished Robert was okay with letting out a few details – but all good things come to those who wait. And it was so cool that the whole room was full to capacity with people who wanted to see the preview and meet the SC gang!
Any plans for more short films or a possible full length of your own?
For sure! Grandma 2 is coming. And I recently completed my debut Feature Length horror tale: BLOOD BROTHERS (which took 4 years to make). It’s sorta like a cross between a serial-killer drama and a slasher flick with some supernatural undertones. It takes place during a 4 month period where 2 serial killing brothers use bloody murder as a therapy to cope with a trauma they can’t shake from their past. Crazier yet, one of the brothers feels a supernatural bond to the trauma that gets psychologically stronger with every murder. Is something trying to make contact with him through his murderous obsession?
Looking back now in retrospect from the beginnings of the site to the completion of ‘Return To Sleepaway Camp’, how do you feel about your contribution to the genre?
I am very happy with my contributions thus far. On top of the website, arranging the dvd commentary, Fangoria Reunion, convention appearances and screenings, I even helped to get the sequels put out on DVD. I’m always glad to keep resurrecting this amazing franchise! Anchor Bay contacted me after sales of the first movie proved to be a great success and they asked me if I would be interested in helping get the sequels on DVD. So I connected Anchor Bay with Michael Simpson (director of Parts 2 and 3), helped arrange some meetings, and the deal was made. Anchor even asked me to write the first half of the collector’s booklet which is included in every SC DVD Box set. I proudly accepted the invitation. It’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun being in the middle of so many things Sleepaway Camp. Of course reconnecting so many of the original SC cast and crew (who hadn’t spoken in almost 2 decades) for the big RETURN 20 years later seemed like somewhat of a long-shot. I just kept on camping along, refusing to stop, and made the connections happen, including hooking Robert and the executive producer up for the project. Shooting ‘Behind The Scenes of RETURN TO SC’ and working on the film was another dream come true. What horror fan doesn’t dream of working on a sequel to one of his all time favorites? And I have indeed made some great friends along the way. I’ve met many of my favorite horror movie characters at many of the conventions and many super cool fans of the genre, who have a great passion for these types of movies, just like me.