People write to us all the time asking if we have new openings for writers. The usual answer is “right now were all filled up, thanks” but when UK writer Barry Keating dropped us a line with an offer to do more comic coverage, we kind of couldn’t resist.
Barry knows his shit, you see, and can write with the best of them (check out my interview with him about the Re-Animator comic he’s working on here), but we realized we needed to test him. The subject of the test?
As you know, the sicko director is working on both a sequel to 2001 Maniacs as well as a brand-new comic adaptation of the Maniacs’ adventures for Avatar Press. So we threw Barr at him to see what he could find out, and the results follow. Fire up that grill!
Barry Keating: You’ve said before, in previous interviews, that Maniacs was destined to be a comic from the moment you started filming…
Tim Sullivan: When I first started the whole idea of 2001 Maniacs, I always saw it as more than just a one-off flick. I always saw it as a franchise. When I was a kid, I was hooked on Planet of the Apes. I had all the toys, the comics, the records, bubble gum cards; I never thought of it as “crass commercialism” … Hell, I was too young to even know what that meant. I just felt it was awesome to be able to have supplemental, physical collectibles that could serve as a souvenir of the film experience. And I know that still, for myself, I dig going out and tracking down items I can surround myself with that remind me of a film I love. So from day one, it was my goal to have all that stuff for Maniacs.
Now first and foremost, you have to make a film worthy of that stuff. I hate when the toys are cool but the movie sucks. But if you make a cool movie, then why not have cool toys and comics? So yeah, I didn’t set out to make a movie; I set out to make a franchise. And thankfully, the fans have responded to the film in a way that shows that 2001 Maniacs does have franchise potential, characters and storylines that go beyond just one visit to Pleasant Valley!
BK: Absolutely! And obviously it’s found its home at Avatar, how did this come about; you and William hooking up and trashing out the deal?
TS: Being an indie filmmaker is like being in an indie band. You’ve got to go out and tour with your movie the same way a band tours with its records. And so, after 2001 Maniacs came out, me and whatever maniacs I could round up would hit any fan convention that would have us. It was awesome getting to meet the fans face to face and developing friendships out of those encounters.
One of those fans was William Christensen from Avatar Press. Our booth was next to his a couple of times, and we just shared a mutual enthusiasm about what we do. I mean, we love comic books and monster movies and we get to make them for God’s sake! And so we circled each other a couple of times like to people trying to get the muster to ask the other out on a date. Finally, William popped the question at a Stargate convention and I said “HELL YEAH!” There were other companies that were courting me, but my gut told me that Bill truly got what I was trying to do with Maniacs, and I knew that Avatar pushed the limit and would not impose any limits on me, so we began what I call “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”…
BK: You’ve gone on tour with the film; do you think you’ll do any treks to Cons with the book?
TS: For starters, we’ve got the mother of these cons coming up, the San Diego Comic Con, and yes, I will be there with Mayor Buckman himself, Robert Englund, greeting fans and unveiling the book for the very first time. I cannot wait.
BK: Cracking stuff! And of course Robert’s offered up his likeness to the books. That must have been super important to have that?
TS: Man, Robert has been there with me from Day One. Along with my writing and producing partner, Chris Kobin, the only constant through-line in this whole crazy dream of mine has been Robert Englund. There could never have been, and never will be, 2001 Maniacs without him. His enthusiasm fuels this franchise, and his presence completely bleeds thru every page of the comic. You can just hear his voice when you read the panels; truly amazing. And he just LOVES the book; loves the artwork, the story, everything. And that gut instinct of mine tells me the fans are gonna love it too.
BK: You’re playing around with all the different time frames in the books, the first issue being the origin/first massacre tale. Was this the natural choice to in terms of introducing the book to fans or were there any other ideas bandied about?
TS: When Bill and I first discussed the idea of doing a 2001 Maniacs comic, we knew up front we didn’t want it to be an adaptation of the movie, as everyone already knew that story. There would be no surprise. We also knew we didn’t want it to be like Twilight Zone with Buckman serving as Rod Serling, introducing unrelated ghost stories, so the obvious thing to me was to go back to the beginning, back to Pleasant Valley in 1864, and tell the story of how these people lived in an oasis of denial, frolicking and oblivious to the War Between the States raging right outside borders. Then we could show the massacre of Pleasant Valley by renegade Northern soldiers which we only talked about in the movie, you know, show how Mayor Buckman got his eye patch, how the town was cursed and what their first revenge was like … As every year the Maniacs come back on the anniversary of the massacre to extract revenge, future issues will tell the story of various years and various “Guts and Glory Jubilees”. So we might have, say, 1967, and show a bunch of hippies on the way to Woodstock taking a detour into Pleasant Valley. Or maybe set one in the Roaring Twenties and have James Cagney type gangsters going up against the maniacs!
BK: And Issue Two sounds batshit crazy too! Buckman versus Bin Laden!
TS: Because that’s probably as politically incorrect as one could get, and 2001 Maniacs is all about being non-PC. There has always been a decidedly satirical and political view in the world of Maniacs. I mean, Robert Englund’s character is called George W. Buckman for starters. So I think the idea of having these very “red state” characters go up against the terrorists would be a lot of fun. Maybe Buckman can do what Bush has failed to do, namely destroy Bin Laden. In fact, I think he already has, and that’s why our soldiers can’t locate him! And yes, the deaths will be quite nasty. Think Pig Roast and pork …. If the first Maniacs comic doesn’t reserve me a spot in hell, I am sure this comic will guarantee it!
BK: So what books did you grow up on then? Where you a child the EC reprints?
TS: It was all about the EC comic book reprints. Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Shock Susspenstories; man, I had a paper route just to be able to afford the hard cover reprints. And I had them all. I would sit in my tree house and devour every word and every picture. I know that’s where I learned to be a filmmaker, because comics are truly like screenplays. You have your exposition, your dialogue balloons, and your art, which is basically a storyboard. Now, they are coming out yet again with EC reprints, but this time in colour. Man, I feel like a kid again. In fact, I just took a vacation to Idyllwild with Thomas Dekker (he’s the new John Connor in the upcoming Terminator TV series and will also be starring in my next film, Brothers of the Blood), and it turns out he’s an EC freak, so we just sat there on the balcony overlooking the woods, silent and intent as we each read our EC comics. I felt like a kid again. And in re-reading this stuff, I can so see the influence of EC on my work. Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines’ prose was so “noir” – so staccato and understated. And that is exactly how I write, especially the murder scenes! God bless EC!
BK: As an indie filmmaker it must be quiet freeing in comics to just say “Fuck it!’ I’m blowing everything up!” or have some awesomely elaborate kills that would just cost way too much too shoot?
TS: You hit the nail on the head. It’s total freedom. Freedom of budget. Freedom of time restraints. Freedom of censorship. When writing the sequel to Maniacs, which is called Beverly Hellbillies, I was constantly thinking of how I was going to shoot everything, and how much time I would have and how many extras I could afford and how many different locations … It’s definitely a challenge, but I also think it really makes you work harder as a filmmaker and makes every decision you make more honest and calculated. It’s easy to have an unlimited budget and shooting schedule, but I think that often makes filmmakers lazy and the final product without soul. But yeah, it was really nice to just burn down Pleasant Valley and tons of outrageous kills that would cost a fortune to film.
TS: Raulo Casseras is a goddamn genius. No if’s, and’s or but’s. I owe our collaboration entirely to William Christensen. William discovered Raulo and gave him the opportunity to do his first American book- which I am honoured to say is Maniacs.
BK: Have you guys hooked up yet? He’s based in Spain, right?
TS: It is surreal to me, but not only have haven’t we hooked up, we have never even spoken! The way the book is created is that I write a page by page script which describes each page panel by panel. This includes the actual exposition that will be printed in the book, but it also includes my descriptions of each panel for Raulo to use as a basis for his drawings. It’s as if I am “directing” the book and Raulo is my “cinematographer” and “production designer” and “costumer” combined. I also would draw crappy little stick figure versions of each page which I would email to Raulo to give him an idea of the page layout. I also made sure he had tons of photographs of each actor and character from all kinds of angles, and of course, he was given a copy of the first film. The results have astounded and exceeded my expectations. It truly is nothing less than art. The likeness of the actors and their costumes is flawless down to the minute details. Thank you, Raulo, wherever you are!
Huge thanks to Tim Sullivan for taking the time to chat with us about the book! Keep your eyes out for the first 2001 Maniacs comic, which should be in better comic stores everywhere this month! Check out Avatar online here, and don’t forget to make friends with Tim Sullivan via the 2001 Maniacs MySpace page!
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
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