TOM SULLIVAN AND “THE BOOK OF THE DEAD”

Despite the napping, the make-up was uncomfortable to wear and endure during the long shooting hours. “I just talked to (Ellen, Sarah and Betsy) about that. We had a reunion of the Evil Dead cast and myself, and the first thing I said, even before ‘hello’ was, ‘I want to apologize for all the pain I put you through.’ And they assured me, and I really remember trying to make everyone as comfortable as possible. I have this problem with empathy. If people are uncomfortable around me, I kind of feel that as well. Everybody suffered, even if you weren’t in the movie. Just being there. Because it was in the middle of winter, it was cold, and if you were inside it was almost worse because the only heat came from the kerosene furnace thing – the kind you use on construction sites. Euuch. It’s amazing we’re all still alive after all the fumes we inhaled.”

The film wasn’t “done” once the crew left Tennessee. Sullivan returned home to Michigan and prepared to start work on the movie’s ecstatically gruesome climax, a special-effects tour-de-force. “We came home and were still continuing to shoot, and there was something we were going to shoot in someone’s yard in Lansing, Michigan. Bart was going to pick me up, because I told Sam that I needed someone who knew how to operate a camera. Camera work wasn’t my strong suit. So Sam hooked me up with Bart, who he met through other people, they’d known each other for a while. Bart had an interest in stop-motion animation; I’m going ‘perfect!’ Big ‘King Kong’ fan, right? But we were driving up, talking about this sequence and it became obvious that we both had really different opinions of it. I’m thinking, going stop motion is the way to do this. He thinks, ‘No, I love stop-motion, but this calls for bladders and pumps and cable-stuff now.’ Rick Baker and Rob Bottin is what people want. They don’t want stop-motion anymore. So this became an argument. How do you make that look cool? How do you do the melting down and everything, without making an incredible amount of work for yourself? By the time we get to the location, north of Lansing, we’re hardly talking.

“We go inside and Sam goes, ‘How’s it going?’ And we growl back. Immediately the argument comes back up, and we’re actually getting heated. Not to the point of fists or anything, but really both adamant about our positions. And it just struck me that all of a sudden, ‘Hey!’ It was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment. Someone’s walking down the street with chocolate, bumps into someone with peanut butter. ‘Let’s make some holdout mattes and we’ll combine them. So when blood and bile and hair is falling, that’s live action, and the decrepidation of the bodies of the Deadites will be stop-motion!’ And Bingo! Suddenly we’re on the same page. Not only are we doing stop-motion and his stuff, but we’re bringing glass mattes and things. Suddenly we’re using techniques of Willis O’Brien! And from then on we were in such the same groove that it was a joy. And we couldn’t believe what we were producing. It was so cool.”

Of all his work on The Evil Dead, it is the multi-pass “body-rot” sequence at the climax that Sullivan is most proud. “I’ve got a book – this scholarly, expensive History of Stop Motion Animation Films by Neil Pettigrew – and I’m listed as one of the hundred animators. I’ve actually emailed him, and he thought that I am one of the last of the Golden Age of Animators. The Golden Age meaning pre-digital. One guy can do the animation. If I wanted to do digital, I’d need an army. With compositing and digital, you can actually fuss with how each film is progressing, using a toggle, you can actually follow the progress and go back and change frames. Do things to edges. But there’s no more of the give-away rear-screen or front screen, no more bad mattes. It’s all flawless, it’s all real time.”

More than twenty years later, The Evil Dead continues to live a healthy life on home video and DVD – including a nifty version recently put out by Anchor Bay Entertainment, in a latex cover designed by Sullivan himself to replicate the film’s “Book of the Dead”. For fans, it was a chance to actually own their own “Book of the Dead”.

“The movie will not die. Exactly like those quivering, spasming pieces of meat in the movie itself. Who’d’ve figured? Twenty years later, my weekends are shot, because I’m called to do these conventions and things. I love the fans.”

And to what does Sullivan attribute all this undying love? “I gotta tell you, ultimately there’s this amazing team of friends and collaborators on this movie. That’s really what made it. Definitely, Sam and Rob were at the helm, and it’s Sam’s movie. He put all the energy into it, and I just did my best to go over the top. Looking back at my work, yeah this is Cinemagic quality stuff. There’s so much of it, but it couldn’t have been more amateurish, simplistic, stock-in-trade kind of gags. Making arms with tubes in them so you could cut them, your rubber mask stuff. Really, it had the basics and I fought for and got in the stop-motion finale. I’m incredibly proud of that. And the best part of that was Sam was in New York and Bart Pierce and I got to go ahead and work out – I designed the sequence and we got such good feedback, and we both got to do shots that we both wanted to do. We got to do our own edit of the sequences as they went along and juiced it up. Then we gave it to Sam and he added some great reaction shots of Bruce – ‘splat’. I hadn’t though of that so it was brilliant. Sam’s always looking for that punctuation point.”

Get the rest of the interview in part four of TOM SULLIVAN AND “THE BOOK OF THE DEAD”>>>




Posted on October 6, 2003 in Interviews by
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