TOM SULLIVAN AND “THE BOOK OF THE DEAD”

Sullivan’s and Raimi’s meeting happened inauspiciously. “My wife was going to Michigan State, and I got to go along. I was working in a sandwich shop up there, and I would read the Michigan State paper, where I read about the Michigan State Creative Film Society. And that looked interesting. There was an interview with Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan, who talked about having these showings and things. So I contacted the reporter and got in touch with Sam through her, found out when the next showing of his films) was to happen. I went to that, met Sam, and we hit it off well. We were both filmmakers with interest in special effects, and we started making plans to have a little Friday night movie show. We both had projectors, so he’d show a film and then I’d show one of mine. Mine were all special effects oriented, stop motion kinds of things, but no story. They were just experimental things. Sam had a built-in crew in his community, and actors and other filmmakers and they were all willing to work and act in each other’s films all through high school. That was a huge advantage. I came from a small town where I was the odd guy. So I had to do the isolated things. Sam could tell stories. And that was his real interest. Mine is too, I just didn’t have that luxury.”

Before long, Sullivan was helping out on a Raimi project called “It’s Murder”. “I was helping him do some sound effects. And by that I mean, it couldn’t have been a smaller contribution, some water dripping noises – bloop, bloop – when someone is being poisoned, dropping tablets into their drinks. I mouthed those sound effects for Sam. I did some posters. By that time, I had shown them my artwork, my sculptures and masks and films, and that got me nominated to help out when those films came up.”

It was Sullivan’s proficiency with mask making and make-up that put Raimi in mind for hiring the man on what would become The Evil Dead. “My schooling came from a magazine called Cinemagic, by Don Dohler. I think I had the first three or four issues when we went into Evil Dead. Those had casting, mold making, some uses of how to use R&D foam. That was it. I just bluffed my way in. But everyone on that film had bluffed their way in. We just took it on faith that we could finish it. And son of a gun, we did. No wonder I never won that three hundred million dollar lottery. My luck’s been used up on Evil Dead.”

“The Evil Dead” began as a small concept-film called “Within the Woods”. A fifteen-minute gore-feast, “Within the Woods” stars Ellen Sandweiss and Bruce Campbell as a young couple whose summer picnic is ruined when the young man is possessed by ancient spirits. For the remainder of the film, Ellen and Bruce wail on each other to a bloody end. The film was produced on Super-8 as a resume piece, something for Raimi and company to show investors in order to raise the necessary funds for the feature-film they had in mind. Sullivan supervised the effects on “Within the Woods”, helping to break Bruce Campbell down to his requisite parts by the climax. “I recall (doing that) over two weekends, but I could be wrong. I did make-up. He had an eye hanging out. He gets his hand cut off and stabbed. There’s a shot at the end where all of Bruce’s pieces are on a couch. We took the mattresses off, put a sheet down, and there was webbing and straps underneath it, to support the mattresses, and Bruce would lie down and put his legs through that, then we’d just add gore. It was mostly mashed-up marshmallows – which are great for intestines, by the way. They have that great loaded intestine and colon look. But if you wet them and mash them up they get sticky, and you can mush them together and leave those chunks in there. If you dip them in red food coloring, they look really good. They’re also sticky and horrible, but you can powder it if you want to.”

Flash-forward to November. The money had been raised, the equipment rented and/or borrowed, and the team is slaving away in Tennessee. Sullivan was hired to do the extensive make-up needed for the film, in which – in case you’ve somehow never heard of The Evil Dead – college students are possessed by other-worldly spirits that can only be dispelled through the bodily dismemberment of the human hosts. Gore galore. With all the hardship of the conditions and the structure of the schedule, there hadn’t been much time allotted for pre-production. Sullivan was given more or less free reign over the look of the “Deadites”.

“Sam would see the make up for the first time when the actor came on set. So that’s what I would call freedom. By default? It was just that kind of schedule. I would talk about things and I would do sketches, so (Sam) had an idea but none of the standard, go through the sketches and macquettes, develop ideas, scores of artists doing the same character to see which one you like the best. None of that. I didn’t really have any discussions about special effects with Sam, because I got the script a couple of weeks before we were to shoot, and that was enough time to do as good a breakdown of the effects that I thought we’d need and order the supplies or go dig them up. There wasn’t really time to really design make-ups, no pre-production for anything imaginative. It was pretty much done a day or two ahead of time – usually the night before I needed something. As soon as I got there, I made some casts of the actors’ faces. Not Bruce, though, he didn’t really require anything like that. I thought I would try some prosthetic stuff. Because (the Book) had a Sumerian/Egyptian thing I thought I’d try and use some classic (designs) – you know, the jackal, or a hawk and a snake or something. I did some sculptures and I made molds of them, and Sam thought, ‘No, this is going to turn it into ‘Planet of the Apes’.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, good point.’. So I changed the whole concept and instead of ripping off John Chambers, I thought, well, I’d go after the master, Dick Smith. I decided to make everything more organic and disease-like. Then we were trying to give them all some character. Ellen became ‘the witch’, a bitter woman stuck in the house. Linda became the model, the doll. Sam’s mom owns this shop called ‘Lou Lou’s Lingerie’ in Birmingham, or somewhere around South Field, Michigan. So he had access to a lot of dummy manikins. I took a cast off one of the faces of the manikins and just cut the eyes out and glued that on Linda as a mask – on Betsy Baker. And there were intermediate stages where I just painted the make-up on, when she’s in transition. Scotty, because he left everyone, he was so cold and isolated Ash, he became the dog. Which was left over from the original make-ups, which came from a mold. It was actually kind of neat. We struck with tried-and-true things. Darken the eyes, which brought out those white contact lenses, paint them pale, and everything else kind of goes on its own. The actresses would lie down, fall asleep and five hours later, I would have something.”

The interview continues in part three of TOM SULLIVAN AND “THE BOOK OF THE DEAD”>>>




Posted on October 6, 2003 in Interviews by
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