Interview with SleepawayCampFilm's John Klyza

Interview with SleepawayCampFilm's John Klyza
Horror series fan becomes part of "Sleepaway Camp" history.
Updated: 10-22-2003

Ever wanted to participate in audio commentary for your favorite films? Sound far fetched? Sure it does. But one man got that chance. I'm talking about John Klyza webmaster for John could be called one of the biggest fanboys of the Sleepaway Camp Series known to man. This has in turn led to him actually getting a chance to be involved with the series doing audio commentary on the Anchor Bay DVD releases of Sleepaway Camp II & III with their creators and have his site named the "official" site of the Sleepaway Camp Sequels!

John was born in Sydney, Australia where he currently resides. At age five, he somehow ended up in a theatre where Creepshow was playing. He has been watching horror films ever since because his parents understood his interests in the creative aspects of the special FX so there was no problem there. John has a strong affinity for underrated and obscure horror films. A web designer by day and video store clerk by night his biggest aspiration is to be a screenwriter in horror cinema. John took the time to conduct an interview with where you will learn what it's like to go from fanboy to being involved - as well as learning that there is more to doing commentary that just sitting in a chair, watching a movie and talking about it!

Q: You are a big part in people's growing interest with the Sleepaway Camp Series. From your website to your part in digging up the lost footage to Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor. What attracted you to the series and how did you end up becoming so involved?

A: I'm humbled by your words. I saw the first film when I was around six years old, and mostly forgot the film while growing up but that image of the wide eyed, screaming, caveman-like killer at the end stayed with me, so when I read about the sequels in Fangoria, I became really interested in the continuations. At the time Nightmare on Elm St 4 and the like were real flops to me as a horror fan, because they traded grit and gore for mainstream bells and whistles, so I was hungry for a more independent, creative franchise to cheer for. It took me another few years to find Sleepaway Camp 2 here in Australia, and even then it was in heavily cut form. Part 3 never even came out here. So I just vibed on part two a lot, and since all the blood was missing I really appreciated the characters and dialogue which were razor sharp. And um, all those tits.

Then in 1992 I read an blurb in Fangoria announcing Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor. It was so hastily, briefly mentioned that the storyline seemed to be a departure in storyline, so I became intrigued and spent many years trying to find out more. You've got to understand, living in Australia, before the internet, you get a pick of horror films released almost randomly, so if they don't release certain titles, you never get to see them. And Fangoria never mentioned it again. So it became a huge black hole investigating if this forth film was made or not.

Then came the internet, and by '98 there was nowhere to talk about Sleepaway Camp with other fans, the best I could find was a Friday the 13th board which had topics on the series from time to time, so I thought, well the films are already in F13th's shadow, it doesn't have to be that way on the internet too. So I made an announcement that the site was in production, and then I started making it, as a place to cover every end of the series and also to gather info on the forth film mystery and maybe attract people who were part of it. A few weeks went by and one of the fans off the board, Jeff Hayes, emailed me wanting to help with pictures and info where I was lacking. So over the years as the site expanded much more then you'd expect for a forgotten horror trilogy, we each got in contact with various cast/crew from the series who either came out of the woodwork after finding the site, or we had to hunt down in the bowels of obscurity.

[LEFT TO RIGHT] Writer Fritz Gordon, John Klyza, and director Michael Simpson recording the audio commentary for the Sleepaway Camp 2 DVD.

Q: You participated in the commentary on the Anchor Bay DVD releases of Sleepaway Camp II and III. You also wrote the article in the booklet that came with the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit Box set. How did you get to be part of that?

A: A year and a half after we became official for the first film, we divided off into two separate sites to pursue our own areas of interest within the series. During that time I started scanning some wild video covers from the international versions of the sequels. I knew the sequel DVDs were in production, that's when the topic came up of putting all these covers onto the DVDs as a still gallery. Then they were trying to get everyone together for the commentary including Pamela Springsteen. When Pamela was unavailable, due to being a very busy woman, I asked what they were going to do with the slot and if they'd be interested in having a fanboy host the commentary like they did for part one. Before I knew it, and after my credit card knew it, I took a plane to the states to do the commentaries in Los Angeles with both the writer and director, Fritz Gordon and Michael A. Simpson. While I was there, Double Helix Films caught word and sanctioned my website as the official joint for their sequels, which in turn led to writing the essay in the booklet.

Q: What was that experience like?

A: Very cool and very long. I thought from listening to commentaries that you just went in, watched the movie and talked through it. But actually, they're made like films are, with lots of stops and starts and reloops to be put together later by the editing geniuses. So any time one of us would cough, accidentally hit the mic, say something stupid, or lose ourselves in laughter, they would roll back the print to the appropriate point and we would go over it. This coupled with doing two movies back to back, and it took the entire day. But it was total fun. I basically just tried to pass on all the trivia I had learned through working on the site over the years including script and music details. I came prepared but things happened that were totally unplanned and spontaneous, like how Fritz and I had this back and forth depreciating camaraderie, how I probably tortured Michael by pointing out the goof ups in his movies, and the hilarious lesbian subtext that we pointed out. I thought the tapings turned out great by virtue of the fact that none of us took things too seriously, which is also what made the movies work.

Q: You were definitely a big player in getting the lost production footage of the never finished Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor found and put together for the 4th bonus disc (A Best Buy Exclusive). How long did it take to overall to get this done and what process did you have to go through?

A: Well, I had spent around 10 years trying to find out the truth of the project in the face of interners screaming that "Nothing at all was shot, otherwise we would have heard about it by now", so I took other tactics to learn more - making calls, sending out letters, etc. I also got from the president of Double Helix Films a promotional poster and story outline for the project which was the gravy. I was pleased to discover that this entry was designed to tie the previous three films together. I later found one of the actors that partook in it, and after six months of pressing him for info, he gave up the goods and told me all about it, including confirming that they had shot some of it, then took a break and never got to finish it. Then I started pestering anyone connected to Double Helix about it because I wanted to find this footage and put it onto the DVDs which was really a once in a lifetime shot. At the eleventh hour, literally the day I got into LA, we got the footage and lovingly cheesy trailer off the president, straight out of some dusty cellar somewhere. Crest, the place we recorded the commentaries, made a digital dupe of it on the day. I was later thankful to write the DVD introductory piece that appears on screen before the footage rolls. I got to watch the footage when I was back in Australia and felt a sense of completion when I did. That was the gold.

A screen capture from the never finished movie "Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor".

Q: How did the 4th disc end up being a Best Buy exclusive?

A: Since the footage turned up when it did, I'm fairly sure Anchor Bay had already cemented their budget projection for extras, manufacturing, etc. Since it was a reel of uncut scene takes, I suppose they could have edited it together to be a short featurette, but to their credit they realized that the hardcore fans would appreciate seeing every frame after so long, so they made the deal with Best Buy which would allow them to make an extra disc that could just be slotted inside the boxset. I guess that meant they wouldn't have to produce a full run of the discs and could also afford to give them away at no extra cost to the consumer. I know the exclusivity really pissed off the public, but it's not that hard to find, because the Best Buy chain own a large number of other stores which also carry the four disc set - Suncoast, Media Play, Musicland, Sam Goody, On Cue, Future Shop in Canada, etc. Foreign fans might have it tougher.

Q: You are much more vocal about being a fan of the sequels. What are your feelings on the first film?

A: I actually like it a hell of a lot. I like the sequels better, sure. Sequels in general get a bad rap, especially when they're made by different creative teams, as if they're bastard children not worthy of their original parentage or something. I love the first Sleepaway Camp to death, but without the sequels, it would be just another slasher from the 80's. And there would be nothing wrong with that because they all rock my world - The Initiation, Humongous, My Bloody Valentine, Hell Night, Mortuary, etc. But sequels turned Sleepaway Camp into a franchise which makes them just as important as being the first. A first is only a first if there's a second.

Q: How do you feel about Return to Sleepaway Camp which reportedly ignores the previous two sequels?

A: I'm not involved so I can't comment.

Q: Who all have you been fortunate enough to meet from the Sleepaway Camp world?

A: Fritz Gordon and Michael Simpson of course. We all had dinner the night before the commentaries so we could get the ball rolling. Let me tell you, Fritz is a hilarious oddball who throws off the shackles of trendiness by wearing a mullet. As a gift he gave me copies of every draft to his scripts, and later some extensive presskits from the 80's. Between boozing romps on Hollywood Boulevard and visiting locations from Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, I got to hang with Michael several times during the week I was in LA, and he is just the epitome of cool. He's made several career jumps since directing the Sleepaway Camps and is now a successful writer/producer for film and TV - yet still willing to discuss these movies he made years ago. A class act.

A couple of years ago I was in New York and tracked down Desiree Gould, Aunt Martha from the first Sleepaway Camp. We had a lengthy lunch and she was so lovely. Very accommodating and very much like her character, but in a good way. The only thing was, I forgot to take photos. That's how completely unfocused I was on any kind of promotional/website side of things, I was just totally enjoying myself conversing with this wonderful human being that was part of something I respected. The times I've met anyone from the Sleepaway Camp world count among the best experiences I've had in my entire life. The international locales helped, too...

Q: You are reportedly working on making your own camp style horror film. Can you tell us how that is going and what the process has included? Synopsis? Title? When it will be done and how it will be presented (DVD, Theatrical, Video, etc)

A: I've been wanting to make my own horror flick for way too long, but since I haven't had much formal training I decided I'd gather what resources I could and give it a shot. With no award winning delusions of a first time directing horror geek, me and Giles Lavery have settled on a short camp slasher which as of right now is in all three modes - pre-production, production, and post-production - that's the beauty of the digital age. You can do everything at once. It's my tribute to the Sleepaway Camp series - especially the unfinished SC4 which deserves a resolution - and other camp slashers where the lush forest backgrounds are as visually important as the lashings of crimson gore. I'm finally getting to put some Special FX I learnt from Tom Savini's Grande Illusions book to good use, and finding out about shoot-and-run guerilla style shooting. I have no egotistical preconceived notions about how it will turn out, so I'll say at best it'll be either digitized for online streaming or submitted to genre short film festivals.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about your site.

A: I love a good plug opportunity. If you've never seen any of the Sleepaway Camps, I've set things up so you can get the basic info you need that might push your interest into watching the films, but if you're someone who has seen them and liked or disliked them, I've definitely got a cavalcade of stuff that digs a little deeper and shows you different sides to the films. In the past year I've been putting together things that have been on fan wish lists for years like the soundtrack and camp t-shirts. As a postscript to the Sleepaway 4 DVD, I discovered more then what people saw on the disc - Dialogue sound rolls that deepen the story considerably. They're up to download. And If you bemoaned the lack of cover for the SC4 disc we've posted printable sleeve art too.

Q: Anything else you would like to throw in?

A: Thanks for the hospitality, This place has top notch design and content. Angela would be proud.

For more information about Sleepaway Camp or John, you can visit his website here.

Latest User Comments:
12-26-2003 by HORNY AS HELL discuss
great job Tony!!! Like everyone I know I am anticipating the release of the 4th film....
11-06-2003 by Ritualistic discuss
Why would you interview Klyza? He's a fraud and slanders and discriminates others including Felissa Rose herself.
11-06-2003 by Annomynous discuss
Great interview Tony.
10-24-2003 by avenger00soul discuss
You should definitely check them out. That poster is from one of the foreign movie posters. On the foreign market the film is usually titled "Nightmare Vacation"
10-22-2003 by Tony discuss