By KRISTOF G.
Creative kills and shock endings are stuff that we old-school gorehounds live for, right? You know, messy flicks like Pieces, Friday the 13th, Saw, or even many gialli (plural of giallo, natch!) of yesteryear, as well as most movies by directors such as M. Night Shyamalan and Brian De Palma, who like to surprise us with a bang right before the credits roll. Sleepaway Camp is definitely one of those. One of the greatest of its genre, actually – an early ’80s whodunit slasher set in a lakeshore summer camp, with a high body count, gore galore and an uppercut of a twist. (No need to spoil it for the ones not in the know; Its jaw-dropping ending must be seen to be believed.)
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the cult classic, 1984 Publishing is offering fans some real treats, arriving just in time for Halloween. Last week, they released not only a great mini album of songs from the soundtrack (by Fotomaker’s Frankie Vinci) on collectible vinyl and CD but also the great book, Sleepaway Camp: Making the Movie and Reigniting the Campfire by Jeff Hayes. Both the book and soundtrack feature the iconic art we’ve known and loved for four decades, featuring a sneaker stabbed with a bloody knife. What’s not to love, eh? Did you know artist David Schleinkofer the Transformers toys art too?
The Camp’s biggest fan
Jeff Hayes might be the absolute best person to write a book on this cult classic and the franchise it spawned. He co-founded the SleepawayCampMovies.com website in 1997, when the internet was still in its infancy. And his fandom and passion actually led to the production of a fourth movie (fact)! The first half of the book is packed with data and trivia, mainly about the making of the first movie, with chapters dedicated to pre-production, casting, shooting and special effects as well as releases and reception. The book also includes interviews with the cast and crew and a bonus chapter covers the first two sequels.
Over the last 25 years, the author met a lot of people involved in the low-budget 1983 movie, including several actors such as Jonathan Tiersten (Ricky, Angela’s feisty cousin), Desiree Gould (Aunt Martha), Katherine Kamhi (Meg, the bully), Paul DeAngelo (Ronnie, the red-short-shorts-wearing camp counselor) and the movie’s star Felissa Rose (who played the unforgettable Angela), SFX designers Bill Bilowit and Ed Fountain (who had just worked together on George A. Romero’s Creepshow), producer Michele Tatosian and her husband, director Robert Hiltzik.
Let’s first get the elephant out of the room right away. Yes, it’s difficult to believe the director when he states the Voorhees saga wasn’t an inspiration. I mean, come on! In addition to its setting and surprising ending, it even showcases many inventive kills, including an arrow murder and a beheading fer chrissake. Anyway, once you get past that, there are plenty of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes information to chew on in this fun fan book.
You will learn how the crew ran on beer, why they spray-painted the grass green, how they shot many of the murders and, of course, the infamous final scene. (You won’t believe how it was done!) Oh, and there are fun stories that involve fishing, a disappearing mustache, getting lost in the woods and casting Bruce Springsteen’s sister and Darth Vader’s father, too.
From the World Wide Web to Many Get-Togethers
However, the second half of the 200-page book is the best part. It’s about Hayes’s fandom. From the creation of the website to the publication of this book, we follow the author’s adventures in which he tried successfully to find the makers of one of his favorite horror movies, which he first saw in 1987 when he was 11 years old.
It’s the story of a fan just like us, an exceptionally passionate and tenacious one, who almost became a detective to meet and chat with folks like Rose, who invited Hayes and his crew (his friends, really) to her apartment for the interview. Even if nobody from the cast and crew had kept in touch over the years, Hayes’ efforts still led to finding Hiltzik’s home phone number and getting him to record a commentary track with Rose in her kitchen for the first DVD release of the movie.
Hayes also worked on setting up the first Sleepaway Camp reunion (and the following ones in horror-themed events and conventions, as well) and managed to convince Hiltzik to direct Return to Sleepaway Camp! That unexpected sequel’s chef was played by music Icon Isaac Hayes (the man behind Shaft’s theme, who also voiced South Park’s Chef!), while members of the rock band CKY (which ironically stands for Camp Kill Yourself) can also be seen in the movie. Jeff Hayes even got to direct Karen Fields (yes, Sleepaway Camp’s sexy, bitchy bully, Judy), who reprised her iconic role in a short film titled Judy, included on the Scream Factory release. It seems impossible to be more passionate about a movie than Hayes, who transformed his fandom into getting active involvement, keeping the franchise alive and well for more than a quarter of a century.
Campfire Music at the Discotheque
As the cherry on top, the vinyl edition of the soundtrack includes a trio of catchy songs heard in the movie, plus a previously unreleased punk version of the unforgettable end-credits music, Angela’s Theme (You’re Just What I’ve Been Looking For). If you’re not into CDs (500 copies only), the vinyl edition comes in three colors: ”Aunt Martha’s Reminder String,” an opaque red pressing of 200 copies; ”Full Frontal,” opaque pink (250 copies) and a “Camp Arawak” blue and white split pressing of 150 bundle-exclusive copies.
The bundle’s price is only $10 more than the soundtrack, and you get a chapter dedicated to Vinci’s music, featuring an interview with the man himself (who mentions how he took inspiration from another iconic horror theme). Only ten bucks for this excellent book is a pretty good deal! So, if you call yourself a Sleepaway Camp fan (who either already owns or covets that rare and long-gone “Red Cross” Survival Kit DVD box set), you can’t live without this awesome double bill.