Interview: Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan is a brilliant artist and a talented self-promoter. You’re likely to see his “Evil Dead” traveling museum come through your town sooner or later, and you should. His work is under-appreciated, and over-shadowed by Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and the rest of the crew. Yet, fans of the films know full well that the effects were what made much of these movies very memorable.

I’ve known Tom for a while now, primarily online, and had the chance to finally meet him in person in Milwaukee in May 2008. He is a wonderfully friendly and outgoing gentleman, and it is my pleasure to share with you his answers to a variety of random horror and non-horror questions.

Those who know Tom know that he’s a very outspoken guy when it comes to politics and religion, so if that offends you, just walk away now.

GS:: Let’s just get this out of the way. Is there an “Evil Dead” or Bruce Campbell question you haven’t been asked?

TS: How great is Bruce Campbell? See “My Name Is Bruce”. It’s the best thing he’s done and it’s a love letter to his fans.

GS: I did, in fact, get to see the film with Bruce himself doing a fine question and answer session afterwards. A very unique experience. Switching gears: As an atheist who also appreciates paranormal investigation… how do you account for this seeming contradiction?

TS: As an atheist I am without belief in god. I can’t even find a definition of god that isn’t a paradox or just plain silly. For the record I am also without belief in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy.

That said it’s a fun, weird world mostly because of us human primates. We are a species so dangerous I’m amazed parents allow them to have weapons.

As far as I can tell scientific investigation is the best way to understand our World. People make supernatural claims and tests are created to evaluate those claims. Religion falls flat on its face under this process. Ghosts, cryptology, UFOs do better because sometimes there is some form of evidence put forth but interestingly no proof has emerged yet to prove these claims.

These matters are all humans projecting explanations onto the unknown and that is interesting stuff especially for storytelling.

The TV show “Ghost Hunters” is a lot of fun, even though dramatized for effect but their approach of leaving the mediums, sensitives and mystics out of the picture and attempting a forensic investigation is the most rational way to approach the subject.

In short, I have an open mind but not so open my brain falls out.

Besides, Ghosts, cryptos’ and UFOs are a lot of fun. As a storyteller those subjects are gold and should be mined for the purpose of entertainment. Religious films from “The Ten Commandments” to the “Left Behind” series seem to want to dumb down the audience and insist on keeping you that way.

Since magical thinking is the realm of children and useful for propaganda I steer away from that. Suspension of disbelief is crucial but at some point its important after the story is told to let your audience to return to the real world.

Religion doesn’t want it’s seekers to ever leave. If they do they are reminded hell and damnation awaits them. I would never do that to my audience.

I’d love it if UFOs are finally revealed for whatever they are. But even if nothing is ever proved there are the humans making the reports and UFO reports do indeed exist as do reports of angels, demons, miracles etc. If nothing else humans need more study. And stories help explore that. Mine do. I am writing a ghost story now about some paranormal investigators. I’d like to haunt the audience with that story. It’s about our obsession with death.

GS: Those who have seen your artwork will quickly recognize your love for both horror and bashing organized religion. Horror films have long portrayed religion in a negative light or glamorized the devil — is there a connection between these aspects of your life or is it coincidence?

TS: I’m not sure my American Atheist Magazine covers “bash” organized religion. I ridicule it for certain, as do most rational people. As Robert Heinlein said through a character: “One man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh”. As an atheist I am chuckling most the time except when the horrors of religion become unbearable and depressing. I haven’t done a cover like that yet.

As for horror films, believe it or not those things scare me. I prefer fantasy, adventure, drama, sci-fi and comedies. I’m tired of endless lines of victims being hunted down and the torture porn movement leaves me cold. I like good stories well told.

I’m not sure horror films glamorize the devil. Nothing is more moral than a horror film. In “Dracula” and most vampire films the devout usually survive or their sacrifice saves others. The lines are clearly drawn and consequences happen when those lines are crossed.

Even when evil survives at the end of a story it is a warning for awareness and caution.

GS: Are your MySpace contacts ever shocked to find how outspoken you are on political issues?

TS: Yes. They are stunned. I see fascism as the only game on Planet Earth. Sadly, America is one of its most devoted followers. There is plenty of history and evidence that our representative democracy doesn’t represent people but corporations. Humans are shut out of the process over profit. I’m not aware of a political system that has ever worked except for one class of people at a time. Usually the upper class. The Uppers are dismantling the middle class currently. The crash was designed to wreck the lives of the middle class and turn over wealth to the wealthy. So kids keep voting Republican and Democrat! Even pigeons know when to quit hitting the button that gives them the electrical shock. Humans are a bit slower.

GS: You grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois, on the north side. What is a childhood like in Wheaton?

Tom: I moved there in the second grade and moved away at the end of my Juinor year of High School. I had a lot of friends and great neighbors there. That’s where my interest in artwork started. I watched every Harryhausen film I could and read all the Famous Monster Magazines I could find. I have fond memories of Wheaton.

GS: An unusual fact about Wheaton: the Theosophical Society of America is headquartered there. Are you familiar with this group, or were you at the time you lived in Wheaton?

TS: I knew Billy Graham went to Wheaton College and John Belushi went to Wheaton Central. In fact, John was in my sister’s CCD (Catholic Sunday School) class and she hated him because he picked on her and her friends. But other than I couldn’t understand a college for make believe mythology I never really thought about it. What’s the value in having a degree in a lack of critical thinking? Some folks have a PhD in that subject. At least they have a piece of paper proving it.

GS: I’ve heard rumor of an early film you made called “Time Eater”. What is it, and can fans ever hope to see this production?

TS: If I ever get a documentary together about me I’ll include my early experiments. “Time Eater” was an unfinished movie about US soldiers in Viet Nam who end up fighting dinosaurs. It amounts to about 10 minutes of stop motion footage, an exploding volcano and maybe 2 shots of soldiers and a dino. There was no story… but the big mystery is how in hell did you ever find out about “Time Eater”? I had the greatest art teacher ever in N. P. Lee who not only let me use his Super 8mm camera but named the film. Years later I figured out he was being sarcastic.

GS: You’ve said that one horror film that affected you, perhaps your favorite, was “The Haunting”. Tell us
about this influence or the work of Robert Wise.

TS: That movie freaked me out as a kid. Wise has such a diverse career in film genres. Horror, Sci-Fi, drama of all kinds, Musicals and all great films, too. That’s a career to admire. And he edited “Citizen Kane”. Nuff said.

GS: Sell “The Dread” to us… and what was it like to reunite with Ellen Sandweiss?

TS: Ellen is a good friend and fine actress, and I am looking forward to seeing her career take off. I just bought “Brutal Massacre”, a comedy about horror film making she and the other “Ladies” are in and they all shined.

Ellen is a great trouper and like all the actors in “Evil Dead” they made my make up and effects work so well. In “The Dread” I play a slightly insubordinate psychologist and Ellen is my authoritarian administrator and we have a scene together before we are both horribly mutilated. I got to rig her death scene. Just like old times.

I am waiting for “The Dread” to be released. I’ve seen it and it works. We also lucked out having Sally Pressman star in the lead. Sally is a stand out star in the series “Army Wives”. “The Dread” was her first film and she is very good in it. In fact I liked the entire cast.

GS: Tell us about “A Sheer Agenda” and producer Justin Cash Kirkpatrick, whom you collaborate with frequently.

TS: From what I’ve heard “A Sheer Agenda” is being held up for reasons I don’t know. Justin is a creative director putting his film “Buddy Be Bop VS The Living Dead together” [see below]. It’s his first film and it’s been interesting watching his process. The film has a way to go but has some great gore and rock and roll music.

GS: Tell us about “Dog” and whether or not you share screen time with Debbie Rochon.

TS: “Dog” for me was an evening running around a junkyard in Jackson, Michigan as a homeless person who gets meets the junkyard Dog. My friend James Korloch, a special effects artist and screenwriter recommended me to director, Timothy Gates and it was a short and sweet shoot. I had recommended make up and special effects artist, Chris Bowen to James and Chris made some suits and handled the effects. He knocked it out of the park from what I’ve seen and heard. I don’t know about a release date yet.

Sadly, I had no scenes with Debbie Rochon.

GS: Lastly, tell us more about “Buddy BeBop versus the Living Dead”. Little has been leaked on this, but the title should catch people’s attention.

TS: I’ve seen rough cuts and it has more work needed but should be ready before too long. BBBVSTLD is a 1950s’ B and W zombie flick with Rock and Roll music.

I got my nephew Kyle [Riordin] a part in it. I play Mr. O’Brien (I named myself after the special effects creator of King Kong) who manages a roller skating rink and my complaint department is a baseball bat named Karen.

It’s got its own gore reel with an epic zombie massacre in my rink.

GS: My waking hours are spent digging up dirt on David Hasselhoff. Have you had the good fortune to cross paths with this Teutonic god and/or do you have a story to share?

Tom: The Hoff and I have never met. I liked him in Click.

GS: Do you ever get confused with horror director Tim Sullivan, Tom Sullivan the Republican radio host or
Thomas Sullivan Magnum (Tom Selleck) from “Magnum P.I.”?

TS: Yes. Not so much Tom Selleck’s character but I recently got hate mail (Subject: You Nazi Piece of Shit!) for the right wing radio host. I also got an email from a fellow who claimed he built my pool in Arizona. He mistook me for the inspiring blind singer, actor, writer and speaker, Tom Sullivan, who is also a hero of mine. They made a bio pic of his life starring Marc Singer. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Singer and told him if a bio pic is made of my life he is to star in it. I think he should have the monopoly on Tom Sullivan biographies. Tim Sullivan is a real talent and a lovely actress once emailed me about a long chat we had in a Convention I had been too. She confused me with Tim.

GS: Aside from the films listed, what upcoming projects (horror or otherwise) should the fans keep an eye out for?

TS: Well, I can make a special announcement here. I have been asked to write and direct a horror film in a haunted attraction that is actually haunted. Its’ a ghost story and the location is The Homer Mill. Its gonna be gory. Title and other details will be announced later. Filming will start next Summer.

GS: Thanks Tom, for chatting it up with us today. Those who want to know more about Tom are encouraged to find him on MySpace or Facebook, where his political rants will leave you either appalled or pumped, depending on where you stand.

For more of a professional aspect, be sure to check out Dark Age Productions )

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