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DIABOLIQUE: So, it has been 31 years since the release of Sleepaway Camp, where did the idea originally come from? What was your major inspiration?

ROBERT: Well I was in grad school at the time; film school. And, I wanted to come up with a way, that once I graduated, I could get right into the heart of the film business, rather than be a gofer. I figured I’d take a shot at making a feature. Obviously, I wasn’t going to have a lot of money; so, the first concept was “what is the genre that will find a market the easiest?” And, I thought that was horror. The second thing was, I wanted to keep the budget down, so I thought, lets do a horror movie in one location. That’s when I said, “Shoot it in a camp, that’s perfect.” That is where the general concept came from.

DIABOLIQUE: So, where you actually a horror fan, or was it more a practical, financial choice?

ROBERT: I was a movie fan. I loved action movies. That was really a production choice, a market choice. I can’t particularly say I was a horror movie fan. You know, I grew up on Saturday matinees, which were all different kinds of film.

DIABOLIQUE: How in the world did you manage to find investors? I can’t imagine, given the ending of the film, that it was particularly easy to convince potential investors.

ROBERT: We shot the film for about 350,000 dollars. So, we got some investors, but I don’t think I ever showed them the ending.

DIABOLIQUE: (Laughs) Yeah, that was going to be a question actually I was going to ask: if you hid the ending from them.

ROBERT: I think I kept the ending under wraps, because I was concerned about that. The pitch was, “Hey we are doing a horror film. You know, it has pretty good potential, it is a popular genre; so, we have a pretty good shot at getting in the marketplace.

DIABOLIQUE: Did you then have any problems with any of the investors after showing them the final cut?

ROBERT: No.

DIABOLIQUE: (Laughs) Well that was easy. As far as the ending is concerned, was it influenced by something like Psycho (1960)? How did that idea come to you?

ROBERT: The way I developed the idea was, I started with a beginning and an ending. So, I developed the ending almost first. The idea was, have a good beginning that grabs the audience, and then have a shocking ending so that when they leave the theater they are talking about your movie. So, I came up with a beginning and an ending, and then I filled in the middle. The ending was influenced by anything in particular, other than needing to come up with something with a big twist; that is going to shock the audience. And, hopefully they don’t see it coming.

DIABOLIQUE: And, I don’t think they do. Anyone that sees the movie for the first time, it sticks with them. I know it has stuck with me; it definitely shocked me. I think it has a lot to do with why the film has had such a resonance for so long. Why is it that, after the release of the film, you left the film industry?

ROBERT: Well, what happened was, after I made the film, I actually had two projects going on in some studios. It is really a function of how immaterial the entertainment industry is. I had a project at Fox, it was a comedy, and I actually had a green light for that.  And then there was a change in the studio head. And out with the old and in with the new. So all the old studio head’s projects got skunked, and the new studio head brought in his own. Then I had another project with Dino De Laurentiis, and that was a thriller, big budget thriller. That was kicking around his offices for a couple of months. Finally, it ended up on his desk, which means it had to be approved by about twenty people. He was nervous about the concept, because it had a controversial ending there as well, even though it was an action film. He didn’t want to do it because he was afraid of giving terrorists ideas. So, I was still in the industry and developing some projects, but then I had some kids and I had to feed them.

Robert Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp (1983) [click to enlarge]

Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp (1983) [click to enlarge]

DIABOLIQUE: I know I’ve read that you weren’t aware of the cult status of Sleepaway Camp until some years after its release.

ROBERT: That is true, I had nothing to do with any of the websites. I think my kids probably said, “did you see these websites?” But, it was nothing that I was really aware of. It was kind of a surprise.

DIABOLIQUE: What was that feeling like? Finding out years after the fact that a film you’ve produced was actually much more successful than you even imagined. Did you feel slighted, that maybe you could have ridden off the success of the film, had you been aware?

ROBERT: You know I never had that reaction. I was gratified by it. I appreciated the fans. I don’t go to too many conventions or showings, but the few that I do go to, I am amazed by how devoted the fans are; how the film has interested so many new generations. The last thing I went to, a few years ago in Chicago, most of the people in the audience were teenagers, or in their twenties. I think I signed autographs for three or four hours. Which, you know, thirty years later….I wouldn’t change anything, because my life is pretty good (Pause) But, I am still a filmmaker at heart. I have developed a remake for Sleepaway Camp that basically updates the concept. You know, you always have to give the audience something new. I think we’ve accomplished that, now that we developed it. There is also another story that still has not be told, with regards to the original Sleepaway Camp, that was developed quite some time ago.

DIABOLIQUE: Wow, I think we all are excited to see these ideas develop. I don’t think you’ll let us down. The original has one of the best ‘shocking moments’ in cinematic history. What was it like during the shoot for the final scene?

ROBERT: All I can tell you is that there were a few six packs of beer, floating around that night. It was an interesting night. You can sense that there was something extraordinary about shooting that. There was also a palpable sense of, I don’t know if it was creepiness, but there was something in the air.

DIABOLIQUE: Did you wrap after that shooting? Was that the final shot, or did principle photography continue after?

ROBERT: I think we continued production. It was towards the end but I think there were still things to do.

DIABOLIQUE: I think a lot of people have been pleased to hear that Shout! Factory has taken the reigns on giving Sleepaway Camp the proper Blu-Ray treatment. How has the restoration process been?

ROBERT: Oh they’ve kept me in the loop pretty much the whole way. Which, kind of surprised me because I didn’t expect that. There are some versions of the film out there that are incomplete. There are several generations of video distribution, and along the way some of the scenes got clipped. There are some very important moments that I saw in some of the latter versions of the video that were missing. I think some of those versions came from foreign releases, where they took some things out. So, what Shout! Factory did was they tracked down those original elements, and that is why I think it looks so good. All the scenes are intact.

DIABOLIQUE: So this will be the most complete, best-looking version of the film on the market?

ROBERT: That’s correct.

DIABOLIQUE: To conclude, we’ve discussed a lot of the praise the film has garnished over the years. Of course, there have been swarms of people who have flocked to the film, but that isn’t to say that the film is without its critics. In particular, I am thinking of some of the people who have found issue in the film’s end. Claiming that the transgendered nature of the killer represents a trend to demonize trans people in film, a tradition that Silence of the Lambs and Psycho also allegedly support. How have you responded to this kind of criticism?

ROBERT: My understanding is that [the trans community] embraces the film. I’ve never been introduced to that criticism. I am surprised by the lack of criticism. When the film opened I did not encounter that much push back from it. I had some pretty good reviews. I know the Hollywood Reporter gave us a pretty good review; I think even Variety gave us a decent review. I really didn’t have to deal with too much negative.

DIABOLIQUE: Yeah, I think this is really coming out of the academic circles. And, of course, films work on multiple levels. There is always the popular reaction and the academic; sometimes it is hard to rectify both.

ROBERT: Sure, and of course you can’t please everyone.

Sleepaway Camp is now available on Blu-Ray/DVD from Shout! Factory
Click here to read our review of the Blu-Ray/DVD release