Whenever I reminisce on my childhood torments, one particular movie scene always slithers its way to the forefront of my mind. Regan’s spinning head ruined my psyche, Freddy’s accordion arms kept me from taking out the garbage at night for months, but all it took was a strategically placed writing utensil to not only make me squirm but also help mold me into the horror fanatic I am today.
THE EVIL DEAD, arguably the most influential low budget horror film of all time, hasn’t flown under the radar since it finally found theatrical release three years after being made in the sticks of Tennessee. A cult classic that has generated millions of fans, tattoos and merchandise, not to mention two kick ass sequels and one hell of a remake, there is one aspect of the film that still remains relatively quiet. While everyone can point to one of the many shocking moments of the film as a crowning achievement in horror, the man behind the visual terror manages to lay low. Tom Sullivan never set out to be one of the world’s most awesome special effects maestro in the horror business. But he sure did a great job of doing it anyways.Recently, I had the Oh-my-God-I-get-to-interview-a-horror-idol-of-mine opportunity to chat with Mr. Sullivan and the following is our conversation. From deadites to Cthulhu to Bigfoot, Tom Sullivan dishes on all corners of his incredible career.
MANGLED MATTERS: As a true icon of practical effects, and with THE EVIL DEAD being about as independent as an independent film can be, what are some indie films you’ve seen in recent years that have impressed you with their effects work?
TOM SULLIVAN: Well, these days digital is in everything. But I liked JOHN DIES AT THE END a lot. Imaginitive and inventive.
MM: Why do you feel Hollywood has steered away from practical effects and gone so hard into CGI? Is it simply laziness and a lack of creativity?
TS: From the reaction I get from fans, they are 100% for practical and not fans of CGI at all. I’m not hard on CGI at all. Like any other effects tool, when the artists have the time, talent and money to do it correctly I feel CGI works brilliantly. Whereas Ray Harryhausen could usually do the effects for his films alone over a year and nowadays it takes a couple of armies of CGI artists from all over the World taking a year to accomplish the same thing, I don’t find that very lazy. On the one hand, the seperate digital elements allow for more creative decisions, something artists love.
MM: While shooting THE EVIL DEAD, did you have any idea that it would be the cult classic it has become? Everyone mentions how Sam’s enthusiasm for the project really kept everyone positive and believing in this film. What does it mean to you personally when most people point out the special effects of the first film as a major reason why it is a classic?
TS: We had no idea it would even be released. I recall a conversation in the kitchen of the home we lived in during the Tennessee shoot where we decided if our film showed in a Drive In in Texas for one weekend, we’d be on the board and could say we made a movie. The plan was to get to make a second film. So it worked out.
MM: What was the most challenging scene to create in THE EVIL DEAD for you from a special effects standpoint?
TS: The stop motion finale I created with Bart Pierce was trip. A great collaboration and a lot of work. We were left alone and we did all we could to make an unforgettable ending. The stop motion shots were not only matted with live action shots, we double exposed each frame to lessen the ‘strobbing’ effect stop motion has.
MM: With three months of almost non-stop filming, how did you guys manage to stay sane?!
TS: I’m not too sure we managed to stay sane. Fortunately the cast and crew were fun and focused. Sure, there was the usual griping and stuff but no big egos, psychos or assholes. And Sam kept the set fun and productive.
MM: As far as you know, is there any truth to the rumor that there was an actual murder committed at that cabin way back when?
TS: We murdered that hitchhiker out in the woods. It saved a lot of time on body parts. But I don’t know about any murder in the cabin. According to my attorney.
MM: What are your thoughts on the re-imagining of THE EVIL DEAD that has done incredibly well at the box office?
TS: It is awesome. I knew it would hit a couple of nerves. I had a pleasant chat with Fede Alvarez and he explained his vision and I knew it would work. I like the film and see it expanding the Evil Dead Universe. Since horror films rarely make number one at the box office, I’m really impressed.
MM: Speaking of woods, I hear you have quite the Bigfoot story. Care to share?
TS: Yeah, weird story. I was out in the country north of my hometown of Marshall, Michigan and as I slowed to turn into a friends drive on the left I looked at a tree line at the right and about 80 feet away was a black figure standing behind a group of trees. It was staring at me between the ‘Y’. I stopped and stared at it. It had black hair, a human or primate head and old man, thick gray matted hair on it’s chest. It’s still bugging me I didn’t get out or honk my horn. I just figured it was a bigfoot and drove down the drive. I think I was in denial. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know what to do with this information. I reported it to BFRO.
MM: Your Lovecraft-inspired artwork is phenomenal. Have you always been a fan of his work, even before you began drawing it as part of your profession?
TS: My first experience with Lovecraft was because of the coolest movie never made called The Cry of Cthulhu. It was going to be Lovecraft meets Harryhausen. Ray wasn’t going to be involved but it would have been an epic live action/stop motion film with lots of practical effects. Suits and animatronics would have been used extensively. I did a bunch of paintings and drawings. Cary Howe and I also sculpted some maquettes and photographed them.
MM: The Tom Sullivan Movie Memorabilia Exhibit, Gift Shop of the Dead and Art Print Gallery of the Dead is something I would love to see in person someday. Where can fans se this exhibit in the near future?
TS: I will be at Cinema Wasteland this Oct. and then the Flint Horror Con also in Oct.
Fans can now own prints and replicas of my props from the Evil Dead films. I was an Illustrator for decades and kept my artwork and now produce my own high quality prints.
We are now producing Book of the Dead replicas. We are putting customers on a list. The Book covers are made of a silicone material called Dragon Skin. It has the feel of real flesh and is disgusting to hold. While it is not the stiff cover of the movie’s version of the Book, it is a worthy prototype that is durable and impressive. We are only making a handful of the prototype Dragon Skin cover Books. The pages are printed on archival quality paper with archival quality inks. They should not fade or yellow for 150 years under sunlight, so you can impress your friends for centuries. It comes with a stained and varnished box, signed by me. The book is also signed and numbered by myself and my official Bookbinder of the Dead, Patrick Reese, signs the binding but that is hidden in the spine of the Book.
I also have replicas of the Kandarian Dagger for sale, painted by myself. The daggers are cast from the original dagger from EVIL DEAD 2 by Master Moldmaker Steve DiRuggiero. There are also Book of the Dead prints sets of 32 pages, all signed. A set of 13 Lost Pages from EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN, signed by myself, is also available.
There are also a number of prints available from my website’s Gallery. They come signed and are printed with archival inks on archival quality papers. For inquiries and to contact me, simply go to my Contact Page of the site.
MM: As a horror convention regular, what are a few standout moments of fan interaction over the years?
TS: The one thing I never expected which has surprised me is when a talented artist or special effects technician comes up and tells me my work inspired them to want to create.
I saw the original KING KONG when I was five years old and that did it for me. I never expected to pass it forward. It’s the best compliment I could get.
MM: Your company, Dark Age Productions, has a fantastic site and offers people a great chance to get their hands on some really awesome work. What led to this endeavor?
TS: Thanks. The webpage is largely the hard work of Kanu Vuong who also runs the Deadites site. We are planning on getting a catalogue up of my prints and other replicas and goodies.
MM: With ARMY OF DARKNESS 2 reportedly in the works, do you hold out hope for a reunion with the original ED team?
TS: Wouldn’t that be fun. It is sounding like a huge film. If called, I will serve.
MM: You’ve said you’ve been typecast as an FX guy, which is inconvenient since you never truly pursued the craft after THE EVIL DEAD and THE FLY 2. What film projects are you currently working on?
TS: My gung ho filmmaker friend, Ryan Meade, is putting the finishing touches on INVALUABLE, his documentary about my career and art and along the way, some of the unsung heroes of the Evil Dead films.
I’ve been writing scripts and developing several for a first, low budget, indie film. I need to make a movie.
MM: Any last words?
I would like to sincerely thank Tom for all of his time and insight with this interview. It was truly an honor and definitely a chat I will not soon forget. Keep an eye open for news and updates on Tom’s work and where he’ll be heading to next over on his site!