The Mysterious Mr. Hiltzik

Interview by Jeff Hayes

ROBERT HILTZIK: The creator/writer/director of SLEEPAWAY CAMP

Over the years there have been a lot of questions asked about SLEEPAWAY CAMP that only one man can truly answer. That man is the creator/writer/director of the beloved cult 80's slasher masterpiece: Robert Hiltzik. In early 2000, while visiting with Felissa "ANGELA" Rose, the 2 of us did some digging and found the man that had been rumored dead (I guess that is what happens when you haven't made a movie since 1983). I've known Robert for a few years now and over a hundred questions later, I found that the lingering questions may always linger. Why you ask? Because they're supposed to!! Why are they supposed to? That's all part of the mysterious Mr. Hiltzik. Let's start with the facts. Robert was 25 when he made SLEEPAWAY CAMP. That's quite an accomplishment for such a young man. He left the world baffled. Twenty years later, it's still baffled.

When asked if he was inspired by any particular movies or directors, his answer was a surprising, "Not Really." He enjoys science fiction, good horror, and movies that make you think.

Robert holds the infamous ANGELA FACE that freaked out the world.

I asked him what his favorite horror movie was. He thought about it for a bit and then said, "The Omen." I asked him how he felt about a great slasher movie like HALLOWEEN and he answered, "It was alright." So where did SLEEPAWAY CAMP come from?? Well it all began at the actual camp you see right there in the film. Robert attended that camp as a child. Things that struck a chord about his experiences at camp made for many defining elements of the SLEEPAWAY CAMP story. For instance, he remembers very low supervision and kids running amuck. Well you can see quite clearly how he used that as part of the structure for the film. "The idea was to do something different. Instead of having all the counselors being murdered and do all the killing, let the kids have some fun!" Interesting concept indeed. "I wanted to do something a little more interesting than just somebody running around with a knife stabbing people, and ya know, let the kids be kids- Entertainment!" Robert also explained how he "wanted to do a genre film with a little bit of money that would have the best chance of distribution. Comedies are very subjective, Dramas are dramas, I figured with a horror movie we could do something interesting and would have a good chance of being picked up."

Robert made SLEEPAWAY with a mere $350,000. He was fresh from film school at the time and got the film financed by raising $50,000 shares... "and whatever we raised, we used!" He also made a funny and interesting point about some of the movie's sponsors (such as 7-UP and MILLER BEER). "They brought in tons of beer and tons of soda... and beer makes a crew run!!"

Robert with his wife Missy and Felissa Rose on the set of SLEEPAWAY CAMP.

According to Robert, another factor that helped get the movie a widespread distribution was the fact that Mike Kellin ("Mel") starred in it. "It helped having Mike Kellin involved just because he was a 'name'... not a very big one but he was a name nonetheless."

During one of our many conversations, Robert told me how he went to see SLEEPAWAY CAMP at the theater in one of the rowdy sections of town. He was quite entertained at the way the enthusiastic crowd yelled at the characters on screen and responded to the film... But little did he know that he had created a cult masterpiece. People often ask me why SLEEPAWAY CAMP was Robert's only film. Well there are a few reasons for that. One being that Robert and his wife Missy (co-producer of SLEEPAWAY CAMP) decided to start a family, something that Robert invested and still invests much time into.

How come Robert didn't do SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 and 3? Well here you will find an interesting answer...

Back in the mid 80's, Robert did in fact write a script entitled: SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2. He went to a few meetings, met with some people, and eventually decided not to pursue the project. He did however put his script in the hands of SLEEPAWAY producer Jerry Silva. This was at a time when horror/comedy began bringing the genre into a more mainstream audience. A Time when a once dark and scary Freddy Krueger began churning out jokes before and after his kills. Robert's script didn't take SLEEPAWAY camp in that direction. It stayed dark. Robert decided to make a deal with Silva and he sold the rights for SLEEPAWAY 2 and 3. Silva ended out letting sequel scribe FRITZ GORDON read Robert's script and believe it or not, some of the death sequences in SLEEPAWAY 2 and 3 are right out of Robert's SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 script. While in Texas for the 3 midnight screenings last October, an audience member asked Robert about his involvement with the sequels. Robert explained that he licensed the rights to SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2 and 3. The audience member asked, "Was that easy to do?" And in a typical Robert Hiltzik sarcastic fashion, he answered, "Sure, I just signed my name... and I got a check!"

Robert, Felissa, Jonathan, and Jeff at one of the Midnight SLEEPAWAY screenings in Austin, TX (October 2001).
Robert watches on as Jeff answers some questions about the Official SLEEPAWAY CAMP Website.

Other popular questions in Texas involved the film's "Homo-Erotic" Vibe. This seems to be a very popular area of intrigue, as I have received numerous e-mails over the years about it also. What was all the "Gay" undertone stuff all about?? Was it some sort of hidden message or gay statement? An audience member noted that the film was full of "naked men running around and being in bed together." To Robert the answer was simple and in 3 words he explained the whole "gay" nature of the film to answer that question: "That's called foreshadowing!"

The proud Papa of SLEEPAWAY CAMP answers questions before a crowd of SLEEPAWAY fans at FANGORIA'S Weekend Of Horrors: SLEEPAWAY CAMP REUNION in APRIL 2001

People often ask if Robert ever expected SLEEPAWAY to become the cult hit that it became. "I never thought when Jeff contacted Felissa and me and was telling me all these things, I said 'get outta here! How could this be?' Then he asked us to do the FANGORIA CONVENTION and I said alright, we'll go... but I didn't figure many people were gonna be there for SLEEPAWAY... and THEN we ended out signing autographs for about 3 and a half hours!! I'm very surprised by it, gratified, and it has spurred us on to make a sequel, but it's really cool!"

If you ask Robert how he feels about SLEEPAWAY today, he finds it to be very "Entertaining" which is what he intended for it to be! He also calls it "a good date movie!" So what does the future hold for the MYSTERIOUS MR. HILTZIK??? Well, a RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP for one thing! But here are some more interesting tidbits...


What about a follow up to RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP? Well, I've already got the beginning and the end. (Robert considers this to be SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3) Would you ever do it in 3-D? SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3-D? I'd love to do it in 3-D! If I knew it would generate enough profit, I'd love to do it. If you could remake any movie, what would it be? The Stepford Wives. It's time for a remake. (*note- interestingly enough, I read the other day that TIM BURTON was going to do a remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES) What other movies would you like to make? I'd like to do a live action version of the FANTASTIC FOUR and I also have an apocalyptic SCI-FI movie that I want to do as well as SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3. Have you ever considered a comedy? I actually wrote a comedy a long time ago called FAST FOOD! (That's pretty interesting! I guess SLEEPAWAY Directors think alike). Was it slapstick? Yeah, pretty much. How about something in the genre with a supernatural twist like a ghost story? I would do one but it would have to be something different. What are you willing to share with the fans about RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP? Well, there will definitely be cursing children and kids being kids, that's one thing we can say and it will be 'Old school', not many computer generated effects

Robert holds the decomposing remains of Paul's severed head! FX creator Ed French's gelatin head has held up remarkably well despite being severed 2 decades ago!!
The MYSTERIOUS Mr. Hiltzik playing a MYSTERIOUS neighbor in my 30-minute film: GRANDMA'S SECRET RECIPE!

Robert is certainly a man of mystery. He likes to keep people guessing as you can see with SLEEPAWAY CAMP and will see again in RETURN. When fans asked to give away a few "Secrets" of SLEEPAWAY CAMP, Robert said, "The blood was a mix of Hershey's syrup and something else. The bees were shot through a glass box. The arrow, I'm not telling... But the penis, that was real!"

In a nutshell, Robert is a man with a unique sense of humor and an intriguing aura of mystery. Everybody has their questions about SLEEPAWAY CAMP, and to many of them Robert's answer is the same, "It's whatever you want it to be." Robert likes to keep things a mystery...after all, that makes for even more speculation. He accomplished what he set out to do, make an Entertaining movie that stays with you after you leave the theater. 20 years later, people are still thinking about it!