Sleepaway Camp's Jonathan Tiersten on the film's lasting appeal
The summer-slasher Sleepaway Camp has been slowly amassing a cult audience over the past thirty years. In many ways it's a standard slasher, built on a series of gruesome murder set pieces, but its odd moments and bizarre-twist ending go a long way to set it apart from its more generic ilk. On the cusp of the film's thirtieth anniversary, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is having a special presentation of Sleepaway Camp on Wednesday, August 21, with star Jonathan Tiersten, who played Ricky, in attendance to emcee camp-themed games and do a Q&A with fans. In advance of that event, we caught up with Tiersten to talk about what to expect from the screening and what makes Sleepaway Camp so special. (Spoiler Alert: If you've never seen the movie, this Q&A will spoil the twist, so read on at your own risk.)
Jonathan Tiersten today.
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Westword: Can you tell us about this Sleepaway Camp event at the Alamo?
Jonathan Tiersten:This is the thirtieth anniversary of Sleepaway Camp. I don't know if you know anything about my story, dropping out of the business for twenty years. I feel like Al Pacino in the Godfather 3: "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!" I sort of was launched back into this thing partially due to the increasing popularity of Sleepaway Camp. What's crazy is Sleepaway Camp's cult status gets bigger as it gets further out. I never thought that would be the case. It's on all these lists, like "Best Summer Slashers," and I keep getting older but my fans stay the same age.
Having the Alamo come to Denver was so awesome because back in...I think it was like 2001 or 2002...Tim League, who's the founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, got in touch with me when I was working retail in Denver. He wanted to fly me out to a Sleepaway Camp screening. I went out there and we had an absolutely packed house. I maintained a loose friendship with him over the years and the Alamo Drafthouse has flourished, so when I found out they were putting a Drafthouse in our [area], I was over the moon. I was so excited to be able to do an event close to home. It's not something I get to do often.
You're based in Fort Collins, right?
I am. It's kind of an odd situation. I have to travel a lot, but I love Colorado.
So yeah, we got it here, and then Tom [DeFrancia, Alamo Drafthouse Denver partner] got in touch with me. Now I'm back in the business -- I just had a film that went into wide release called The Perfect House. It was the first film outside of the Sleepaway Camp franchise that had me and Felissa [Rose, Tiersten's Camp co-star] in it. She's been an actress for years, but for me it was great.
If you had told me five years ago that this would be happening now, I would have said, "Please, god! It would make my life much more bearable!" I was in retail hell and I hated my job. It's so much more fun this time around for me, because I have a wife and a child. It's not the end of the world when a job falls through. I've been dabbling in producing. That's, I hope, the logical next step, to do some producing. What I like about it is it's really similar to a lot of work that I did in sales and retail. It's about relationships and finding people you can trust and you have a good vibe from. As I get into this world, [people] go, "Oh, what a rat race!" Everything's a rat race! Retail is a rat race! We had to go through endless, stupid sales seminars that were a joke. They would force-feed you this nonsense!
I'm actually reading my friend Dave Flomberg's Management for Zombies, and I'm just laughing hysterically. This was my life for six years. First I was a zombie, then they promoted me. Then I was a mid-level zombie. The constant flow of paperwork... the irony was, all those "zombies," so many of them, have gone on to do so many spectacular, successful things. And we were the zombies, right? I get the irony of the book. Anyway, everywhere is a rat race. To say that Hollywood is more of a rat race than anything else? No, it's all about money.
The thing about Hollywood is it's like Washington. People don't realize how small a community it is. There's so much nepotism, because people just want to work with who they're comfortable with. When you got a thousand-square-mile stretch of land that's filled with 80 percent narcissists, it makes for an interesting situation. That's why I didn't want to work there. Have you ever gone to an L.A. bar and met someone who didn't say, "Well, I'm in the business"? I'm like, "Who digs ditches here? Is there anybody here who has a real job?"
As far as the actual event goes, there's a Q&A and some games themed to the film, right?
Yeah, I'm trying to figure out what the themed games are going to be. Maybe who can wear the shortest shorts -- my shorts that I wore in Sleepaway Camp are back in fashion for women. I think I was a trendsetter. That's what I'm thinking. I set the basis for the short jean shorts. I remember I played a concert for Halloween where I dressed as Ricky, as zombie Ricky, and these girls actually cut my jeans off while I was onstage.
I think short-shorts will be one. Maybe we can have a swear-off to see who can rip each other the hardest. There also has to be the obligatory cowboy hat. I would not be averse at all to people doing a little transgenderism -- not to give it away to anybody! [Laughs.] A little homage to Aunt Martha, who actually was a woman, but many were not sure.