Quantcast Tim Sullivan interview - 2001 MANIACS

Tim Sullivan!!!
When we caught some advance footage from writer/director Tim Sullivan's upcoming '2001 Maniacs'; a remake/reimagining of the cult classic Hershall Gordon Lewis film, we KNEW we had to talk to him for our site! Well, he wrote to us and was kind enough to share with us this exclusive interview he did with Italian horror magazine HORROR MANIA, translated here for the first time in english. Special thanks to both Tim for sharing this great interview with us, and of course Robert D'Onofrio, who originally conducted the interview for HORROR MANIA. Enjoy! - by Robert D'Onofrio - reposted by Robg. 7/05
What can people expect from '2001 Maniacs'?

It's a ghostly revenge story about a group of Southerners from a town called Pleasant Valley (population 2001) who were massacred by renegade Northern soldiers. So every year, on the anniversary of their destruction the town resurrects to lure unsuspecting Northern travelers into their town to attend the Guts and Glory Jubilee where they kill them. The town can never rest until it has avenged itself down to the last man woman and child of 2001 citizens.
Herschell Gordon Lewis' take was more of a straight horror piece I thought the best way to make it work today was to include a lot of black comedy. In our movie the townspeople always botch things up, never get enough victims and keep having to come back year after year. And of course they're still stuck in their 200 year old Southern mindset so when black visitors come they have to pretend to gladly wait on them, and they throw their women at some guys to get them to stay only to find out the guys don't want women! So the Mayor has to get his son to enlist a sissy detail!! So we try to poke fun at stereotypes and the way the North and South view each other. I would say it starts out as a dark comedy and just gets darker and darker.

'2001 MANIACS' will obviously have a lot of gore, but I'm curious, are you a big fan of gore in movies?

HELL YES! When I was a kid, I was really into magic. I was The Great Sullivini! Even did magic shows. As a teen, my interest in magic morphed into an interest in special make-up effects. Particularly gore! This all came after seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD and learning about Tom Savini. What is Tom Savini and those like him if not a master magician? So I went from card tricks to severed heads, but it's the same thing. Misdirection and freaking out an audience. That's what I do in MANIACS. Misdirect with humor, then hit them with a bloody murder! It's all an illusion. Even the fear that is instilled in the audience is an illusion. No one is truly in danger of the monster harming them! But for 90 minutes, we have the illusion of danger, all the while safely seated munching our popcorn, clutching our date. Since the days of prehistoric shadow plays thru Greek tragedy thru Shakespeare up until MANIACS, people need that dark place to safely confront their fears and scream out loud. Gory illusions enable that release. In a post 9/11 world where violence and terror splashes across the headlines on a daily basis, we need that catharsis now more then ever.

I know that John Landis did a Cameo on '2001 Maniacs', but Wendy Kremer told me that his scene was cut from the final print of the film, why?

John Landis is one of my all time favorites, both as a filmmaker and as a person. I was recently given the honor of presenting him with the "Lifetime Achievement Award for Fearless Filmmaking" at the Fearless Tales Film Festival in San Francisco. I met him in 1988 on the set of 'Coming to America', for which I received my first "Hollywood" screen credit. I was the Parking Coordinator. Basically, I worked with the locations department mapping out spots to park the production vehicles. Tough work, especially in the middle of a New York snowstorm, which was the weather conditions back then when we filmed that picture. John was my hero for making movies like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF and THRILLER.

I knew he was a big horror movie geek like myself, and grew up reading FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine. So I started talking to John about all things monsters and we quickly became friends. He told me that if I ever made it out to LA, to look him up. So I did. He was kind enough to advise me and guide me in my career, and when I finally had the chance to direct my first feature, 2001 MANIACS, I asked him to play Professor Ackerman, in honor of Forry Ackerman.It was unbelievable. I mean think about it. First time out directing and I am directing one of my favorite directors! The scene is the first scene in MANIACS in which our three main characters are being chewed out by their professor for not taking their studies on the Civil War seriously. John was brilliant. I loved the scene. It worked perfectly. And by the way, David Friedman, the original producer of TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, was also in it, playing 'Dean Lewis'. But what happened was, when we were shooting in Georgia, we ran out of time to shoot the scene as intended - in a big classroom with lots of students. So to make sure we at least got the scene "in the can", as they say, I figured out a way to shoot in the front office of the Civil War Reenactment town where we shot the rest of the movie. Once we got back to LA and cut the movie together, it became obvious that the Landis version was just too "small" a scene to open a movie.

It might have worked three or four scenes in, but up front, it just didn't give the movie the scope I wanted. So my producers were cool enough to allow the scene to be reshot in LA with a huge classroom and tons of students. Unfortunately, John wasn't available to do the re-shoot, but he gave me his blessing and the scene was shot with the awesome Peter Stormare taking over the role. Peter was the killer in FARGO and is now playing the Devil in CONSTANTINE, among a ton of other great stuff. Although I regret losing John and Dave, the scene with Peter is, however, more along the lines of what was originally in the script. And yes, the Landis version will be available on the DVD.

How were you first involved with the movie? Did H.G. Lewis take part in any way to the project?

I had just finished co-producing DETROIT ROCK CITY and was looking for my next project. One day, some guy walks in my office named Chris Kobin, and tells me he has the rights to remake the films of HG Lewis. Well, at the time, Bob Zemeckis was remaking the William Castle movies (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL/THIRTEEN GHOSTS), so the notion or remaking the films of HG Lewis appealed to me. Especially the idea of doing them in an independent fashion, away from the big studios that always try to censor and dilute. Rather than commission a script, Kobin and I decided to become partners and write it ourselves, which was a blast. There's something to be said about working with a total stranger. You don't bring a lot of baggage into the relationship, and you can't hide behind friendship if you don't live up to your side of the deal. So within a month we had a script that got a lot of buzz. I initially just expected to set the movie up and move on, but five years later, it seems to have become an unanticipated odyssey. Next thing I knew, everyone was telling me to direct it. I was nervous, but secretly thrilled, as directing has always been my end game.
So we set the picture up with Blockbuster, and then the deal fell apart due to a corporate shake-up within the company. I then set the film up a second time with an independent producer, but that deal also fell apart when the financing fell out at the last minute. Man, I didn't know whether to keep going or let go, but my determination (or stubbornness?) got the best of me and I finally set the film up with BloodWorks and Raw Nerve. This time everything worked out. Through it all, HG Lewis was very, very cool. Chris Kobin had optioned the MANIACS rights him and Dave Freidman, and there were many times where I wouldn't have blamed them for not renewing those rights. It did seem like the film was never gonna happen. But they continued to believe in me and the script I wrote with Kobin. They were very supportive, yet hands off, executive producing pretty much in name only. Their spirit was always felt. After all, they created this genre knows as the "splatter genre", and I was determined to make them proud.

I think one of the greatest moments for me was when Dave Friedman came to LA and watched the film with me and Chris Kobin, just the three of us. When it was over, he turned to me and Chris and said, "If this is my last hurrah as a filmmaker, I'm going out in a blaze of glory. You guys made a modern film, but you kept the joke intact." Man, after all those years of starts and stops, I wanted to cry. What more can you want than the original filmmaker giving the blessing to your remake?

In '2001 Maniacs', together with some icons of Horror Movies such as Robert Englund, you have some actresses in their debut. Could you tell me why did you choose a cast of newcomers? How was the casting and the atmosphere on the set?

From day one I envisioned Robert Englund in the role of Mayor Buckman. In fact, I wrote the part for him. I've known him for years, having met him in the offices of New Line Cinema where I worked in the mid 90's. When the script was done, Robert read it and said he would very much like to play Buckman. The part of Granny Boone was written for Lin Shaye, whom I adored and admired having worked with on DETROIT ROCK CITY. Once I had Robert and Lin, I was allowed by my producers to cast whomever I felt was the best performer for all the other roles. As you know, this is show business. The business side of things dictates that you must have a "star" or "stars". Well, Robert and Lin were our two stars. They filled the quota that the money people needed to be able to sell the film. So as I said, this allowed me the freedom to pick fresh talent for the other parts. Some of the actors, like Adam Robitel who plays Robert Englund's son, Lester, and Ryan Fleming, who plays Hucklebilly, were friends of mine who happened to be actors and who I knew would be perfect. Others, like Jay Gillespie who plays the lead, Anderson, and Dylan Edrington, who plays his best friend, Nelson, were discovered in the audition process.

We must have seen hundreds of actors for every role. After the success of FREDDY VS JASON, every young actor in Hollywood wanted to be in the next Robert Englund horror movie. Well, as I said, I picked whom I really felt was the best. I knew that we wouldn't have much time for a lot of takes, as this was a low budget film with a short shooting schedule, so I wanted actors who were gonna get it right the first time. I was blessed with my cast. They are an incredibly good looking group of upcoming stars. Talented and full of energy and enthusiasm. Everyone was so excited about either getting killed or killing!  Those that "die" had to endure a lot having their body cast ahead of time. Those that "killed" had to wear a lot of make-up as well. It was a very messy set, with lots of fake blood being thrown around. Everyone went home red and sticky everyday. It was freezing in Georgia, where we shot it, and let's just say there were a lot of scenes that do not involve much clothing, but everyone was a trooper. They showed up, got naked. Got killed. And did it all with a smile!
You took part in '2001 Maniacs' also as an actor, tell me about the experience, do you intend to repeat it?

What can I say? I'm a ham! I play Coffin Harry in a brief moment when the hero and heroine are trying to leave town. They move in for a kiss, only to look up and see me nailing their coffins. It's a typical moment that you see in Clint Eastwood westerns like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. It was tough, I tell you. It was hot as hell, I had to wear this overcoat and top hat, wear lots of make-up, and then wear that outfit for the rest of the day while directing. Worst of all, the character had to bang the nails without looking at what he was doing. I must have smashed my thumb twice.  But, yeah. I love performing. Love being in front of a camera. And as far as repeating the experience, sure. Matter of fact, I was just asked by a filmmaker friend of mine, Philip Nutman, the infamous FANGORIA journalist who also wrote the brilliant zombie novel WETWORKS, just asked me to play a defrocked priest in his upcoming movie WITCHBITCH.

How did you get to write the new Tobe Hooper film? Has it anything to do with the 'Masters of Horror' group? Can you anticipate something about it?

Thanks to my friendship with John Landis, I've been blessed to be a member of the "Masters of Horror" group of horror film directors that meets periodically over dinner to talk about the horror genre past and present. Tobe Hooper is a member of that group. Well, I recently interviewed him for an internet column I do for UpcomingHorrorMovies.com called Shock and Roll. We were discussing the DVD release of "Funhouse" and started talking about clowns and freaks and how scary that kind of stuff was. Well, next thing I know, Tobe calls me up and asks if I would like to write a film for him as part of his "Tobe Hooper Nightmares" series. I was flabbergasted. So, of course I said yes. I just handed the script in, which I also wrote with Chris Kobin. I'm sworn to secrecy by Tobe to keep the story under wraps, but I can say that the film features a deranged family of very unique psychopaths who take a suburban family hostage. Imagine if the creeps from TEXAS CHAINSAW invaded the Brady Bunch! It's dark, gritty, yet still has that sardonic humor that marks the kind of writing I do with Chris Kobin.

We watched a lot of 1940's gangster movies to get in the mood, so the film will have that film noir CAPE FEAR flavor. I love what I call "hybrid concept" versus "high concept". I love combining genres. Comedy and horror. Gangster and horror. For me, life is not a genre. You don't wake up and say, "Today, my life will be a comedy. No drama or action, please." No. You just roll with the punches that life offers. Sometimes it's humorous. Sometimes it's dark. That's how I would describe 2001 MANIACS. That's how I describe my project with Tobe. And that's the kind of storytelling that excites me most.

I am also a big fan of KISS, what can you tell me about your relationship with Gene Simmons?

I saw KISS in 1977 as a kid and it changed my universe. I was a chubby boy, didn't feel like a rock star or super hero. But when I saw those guys on stage, larger than life, flying thru the air, spitting blood, breathing fire. I knew that I had to somehow work with those guys. I became a fan and have remained so ever since. In fact, I just took the stars of 2001 MANIACS, Jay Gillespie and Dylan Edrington, to meet KISS after their recent LA show. You see, I made a pledge as a member of the "KISS Army" to spread the word of KISS. So every time I see them in concert, I have to bring someone who never saw them before.

Crazy, I know. But once a fan always a fan. You see, KISS taught me that we all may look like Clark Kent on the surface, but inside our hearts, we are all Superman. We can do anything. And if a chubby little KISS fan from New Jersey could grow up to co-produce the KISS fan movie, than I guess anything is possible.So that is what my relationship with KISS and Gene Simmons is all about. Dreams coming true. I met Gene for the first time when I was going to NYU film school. I lied and told him I was a reporter for FANGORIA.Well, he agreed to do an interview with me, making the lie reality, because I did become a journalist for FANGO, and my interview with Gene was my first article. Gene LOVES horror movies and is an expert on the subject, so that has been the bond between us ever since. Throughout the 80's and 90's, he always wanted to produce movies, so when I was working at New Line, he passed along the script for DETROIT ROCK CITY. I was able to convince the studio to make the film, for which I was given to job of Associate Producer. It basically began my career in the film business which led to 2001 MANIACS. So I thank KISS for inspiring me, and I thank Gene for turning that inspiration into reality. We remain friends, as I remain friends with all the members, but Gene will always be a "father figure" in my life.  A role model and mentor. He taught me to make art firstly for yourself. Please yourself first. He said that he created KISS because there wasn't a band out there like that, and he wanted to see a band with make-up and costumes. Well, when I wrote 2001 MANIACS, there hadn't been a film like that for some time, that kind of gross out horror comedy that was so fucking cool in the 80's. Movies like AMERICAN WEREWOLF, EVIL DEAD, FRIGHT NIGHT, MOTEL HELL! So I made 2001 MANIACS basically for the 16 year old inside of me. Just as Gene formed KISS for the 16 year old inside of him.

What do you think of Italian Horror movies? Which are your favorite titles?

This is so cool to be interviewed for an Italian horror magazine because Italian horror movies are my absolute favorite. Ever since I first saw BLACK SUNDAY as a kid, I have been obsessed with the way you guys made horror movies. I can't get enough. Bava, Argento, Fulci... SUSPIRIA is not only my favorite Italian horror film, it's one of my top ten horror movies period. You guys understand that true horror is not just about blood and guts (which, of course, you do so well!), but first and foremost about atmosphere. The color of horror. The sound of terror. Man, I have this remastered surround sound mixed DVD of SUSPIRIA and I simply cannot watch it alone. The sound design is more terrifying than most anything I've seen.  A master like Bava knows how to be subtle one minute and graphic the next. Argento's giallos to me are as influential as Hitchcock. And Fulci... Whoa. He truly knows how to take levels to extreme. Sometimes the plots are a bit fuzzy. The characters broadly sketched. But even in the weakest Italian horror films, the pure SENSE of horror is always there. And sometimes, it is more important what you FEEL during a film than what you are thinking. I know it's a matter of time before Hollywood begins remaking Bava and Argento and all the rest, and all I can say is, I have a feeling they are not gonna get it right. They are gonna be gory without being stylish and atmospheric. That's why I want to take a shot at a remake (laughs)! I've got a great idea for expanding the "wurdelak" episode of "Black Sabbath" into its own feature!

Any news about the remake of 'She Freak'? Is Asia Argento confirmed to the project?

SHE FREAK is a project dear to my heart. In fact, its my homage to the Italian horror film. That's why I was thrilled to hear from my producer that Asia Argento read the script and was interested in playing the title role. However, the plan for this to be my follow-up to MANIACS has been put on hold, as the Tobe Hooper project, as well as an urban horror anthology hosted by Snoop Dogg which I've created and am producing with Blood Works, have taken precedent. I will make SHE FREAK, and when I do, hopefully Ms. Argento will still be interested and available.

What do you think of the recent big budget Horror movies from Hollywood, as 'The Ring' or 'The Grudge'?

What can I say? In both cases of RING and GRUDGE, I preferred the original Japanese versions, however I do acknowledge their ability to effectively scare PG-13 audiences who like their frights a little slicker and what I call "sanctioned by Hollywood". Personally, I like my horror more independent and R rated. The passion just seems to be more prevalent in films made outside the studio system, particularly in the case of horror films.

Consider the best horror movies ever made: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. TEXAS CHAINSAW. HALLOWEEN. FRIDAY THE 13TH. All made independently. So in today's horror market, give me SAW. Give me SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Give me HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES.  Edgar Wright, James Wan. Rob Zombie... These guys are the next John Carpenters and David Cronenbergs. That's my aspiration with 2001 MANIACS. And that's my aspiration for myself as well.


Special thanks to Tim Sullivan & Robert D'Onofrio
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