NOTE: The following article contains images of an adult nature.
In 2005, Tim Sullivan and Chris Kobin introduced the world to the undead denizens of Pleasant Valley, Georgia, in their film "2001 Maniacs." The story goes that in 1874, a band of rogue Northern soldiers burnt Pleasant Valley to the ground along with everyone in it, and that every year since on the anniversary of the massacre, the ghosts of the townspeople who lost their lives return to lure unsuspecting Northerners to their deaths. Not only is "2001 Maniacs" the first of a film trilogy, but longtime comics fan Tim Sullivan is expanding the franchise into the world of comics with "2001 Maniacs Special" #1 coming later this year from Avatar Press. And with 140 years of hauntings, the series is not wanting for material. Sullivan sat down with CBR News to tell us what's in store for the Maniacs.
Sullivan, who directed and co-wrote "2001 Maniacs," had his heart set on bringing the Maniacs to comics from the moment the first film was greenlit. "In my head I always knew when we did 'Maniacs' that one day I really wanted there to be a 'Maniac' comic book," Sullivan said. "From the minute we started filming I was telling Lion's Gate, 'There's gonna be a 'Maniac' comic book.'" But the studio decided to take things one step at a time.
"I feel like in many ways I'm more of a rock band than a filmmaker, because when you're an independent filmmaker, you make your movie and then you gotta go tour with it," Sullivan said. "You do all these conventions from Comic-Con to Fangoria, and you're out there meeting the fans, and you bring your actors with you, and you put on the show, and you show scenes, and you meet and greet. And it's so much fun, because it really develops a personal relationship between the filmmaker and the audience." It was at one such convention that fate conspired to put the "2001 Maniacs" booth next to William Christensen's Avatar booth.
"[Christensen] was there with Brian Pulido, who I'm a big fan of, with all his 'Lady Death' stuff, and then John Russo, they're doing the 'Living Dead' comics," Sullivan said. "And I just really dug what Avatar did, I loved their 'Halloween,' their 'Freddy Vs. Jason,' their 'Texas Chainsaw,' their 'Living Dead,' I just thought, 'These guys get it.' I kept saying, 'Hey, we should do a 'Maniac' comic.'" Then finally, when Christensen was in L.A. last October for a Stargate convention, he sat down with the filmmaker and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Christensen was adamant that he didn't want the project to merely a be an adaptation of the film and Sullivan agreed. Sullivan realized that with 140 years of Pleasant Valley festivals to draw upon, the source material was endless. "I mean, think of the possibilities," Sullivan said. "We could do one that's set in 1967, and have a hippie van on the way to Woodstock come through, and have the hippies meet the Maniacs, or set it in the roaring '20s, and have some bootleggers and gangsters meet up with them. And we got real excited by that idea, and then it just became obvious that the very first issue should be the very first massacre, and the origin of this all, and hence the first issue is titled 'The Curse of the Confederacy.'"
"2001 Maniacs" is actually a remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1964 "Two Thousand Maniacs!" Neither one of the films dealt with the origin of the Maniacs, and that was an oversight Sullivan sought to correct with the first installment of the "2001 Maniacs" comic. "I basically created a mythology with my writing partner, Chris Kobin, who also wrote the screenplay with me," Sullivan said. "We created this mythology for each of these characters and how it came about, how Mayor Buckman [played by Robert Englund of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame] got his eye patch, and who's related to who."
For the second issue of the "Maniacs" comic, Sullivan is a taking a page from Frank Miller's book and pitting the Maniacs against Al Qaeda. "It's Buckman vs. Bin Landen," Sullivan said. "We're gonna have some Al Qaeda terrorists coming through Pleasant Valley and see if Buckman can do what Bush has failed to do, get Bin Laden."
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, Sullivan would get his weekly comics fix from a local stationary story. "They had that rack that goes round and round with comic books, it's not like that anymore," Sullivan said. "It was like this wonderful spin wheel of all these adventures available to me. And I loved Batman and Superman, but I have to admit, I just went right to the horror comics." Sullivan cited "House of Secrets," "Dark Shadows," "Twilight Zone" and "Famous Monsters" as some of his early favorites.
"But I think everything kind of turned in '72 when they put out the British 'Tales from the Crypt' movie," Sullivan continued. "And then all of a sudden they started putting out reprints of the EC Comics 'Tales from the Crypt,' 'Vault of Horror,' and quite honestly that just blew my mind, it blew everything away. The writing was so good. I'm reading it, it says based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, or based on a story by Ray Bradbury, and that prompted me to start reading the actual text, the original stories, and I really have to say that I think the craft of screenwriting that I have came from reading the EC Comics."
When Sullivan was pitching "2001 Maniacs" to Lion's Gate, the first-time director had to storyboard the project extensively to prove he was up to the task, and he likens the process to comic scripting. "When it came time to do this comic for Avatar, it wasn't necessarily like I hadn't done that before." And when Sullivan first pitched "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror," the rapper signed on on the strength of a "Hood of Horror" comic produced by "Maniacs" storyboard artist Jacob Hair.
As far as Sullivan is concerned, properties that are comics first and movies second are becoming the new paradigm. "Studio executives have very limited vision sometimes, if you bring them an original screenplay, they don't know what to do with it," Sullivan said. "But if you take a screenplay and you turn it into a comic book, then you go to an executive with the comic book, and go, 'Look, there's the movie.' The bottom line is, comic book properties are the top selling movies in Hollywood right now, and, you know, why not take those screenplays you haven't been able to setup as a screenplay, make a comic book deal? This is what Stan Lee did, this is what Avi Arad did, become a producer. Let's make a comic book, let's nurture that property, and let's take it to a studio and let's set it up as a movie."
Sullivan is used to producing his "Manicas" films on an indie budget, but with the "Maniacs" comic, the sky's the limit. "With the comic books, there's absolutely no limitations," Sullivan said. "I could have 300 Northern soliders burn down Pleasant Valley in a grand inferno, and in a movie, it might be two soliders, and Robert Englund, and one firebar. It was so freeing. We could do really beautiful overhead shots from above the town and just really let our imagination fly." And, of course, it takes literally hundreds of people to produce a film, but a comic only goes through three or four hands.
"But also, what's interesting about a comic book is, you design the pages so they really balance against each other," Sullivan continued. "I don't just think of panel by panel. Even though I'm not an artist, I would draw my own pencil sketch as badly as I do, but I would look at it and see how the pages were gonna balance out against each other. It's about the way each panel looks by itself, but also for me the way it looks when you have the two pages open, that's something you don't have to think about in a movie."
Sullivan has found that he can push the envelope a lot farther on a comics page than he can on screen. "William [Christensen] gave me the freedom, me and Chris Kobin, to be uncensored. So there's what you'd expect from the 'Maniacs' franchise, but times a hundred. The joyful celebration of sexuality that is in the 'Maniacs,' and the over the top, politically incorrect humor, and the extreme 'Tales from the Crypt' violence of poetic justice and vengeance and retribution, that has been pushed to the limit. Some of that stuff in a film might be offensive, whereas in a comic, as grotesque as some of the images are, it actually approaches a beauty."
The beauty of the book is due in no small part to the contribution of artist Raulo Caceres. In fact, Sullivan is so enamored with his collaborator's work that he invoked "Wayne's World" - "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy!" Sullivan has never met the Spain-based artist, or even spoken with him. "But I cannot wait to meet Raulo, I cannot wait to just give him a big hug and say, 'God, man, thank you for everything. You took my vision and made it real,'" Sullivan said. "[Raulo] is one of the leading, top artists in Spain, and this is his first American book," Sullivan said. "And the way it's been is, Chris Kobin and I write the actual text and dialogue, then I go off and design the shots, the same way I would with my cinematographer, and I do my little pencil sketches, then I actually scan them, and email them to William, along with the text. He then sends them to Spain, where an interpreter translates it into Spanish. Then Raulo does his thing, and it gets sent back to me, so in many ways, Raulo is serving as my cinematographer. And then he sends it back to me, and it's obviously an improvement, obviously, it always exceeds my expectations."
Then Sullivan took a moment to tell CBR News about the next chapter in the Maniacs saga, "2001 Maniacs: Beverly Hellbillies," which goes into production this June. "All I can say is, it's more boobs, more blood and more laughs," Sullivan said. "What happens is, the sheriff plows over the detour road, so the guests aren't coming, so the Maniacs figure, 'Well, if the north won't come to the south, the south will come to the north.' So they pack up 13 of their best Maniacs, and drive over to Barstow, CA, and set up the Pleasant Valley Civil War Traveling Road Show. It's like a carnival, so it's a lot of fun." The film will feature two new Maniacs, played by Tony Todd and Bill Moseley, and those characters will make their first appearance in "2001 Maniacs Special" #1.
"We're also excited because Robert Englund and I and Chris Kobin and Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister who is a heavy horror fan, we are going to be appearing on a reality show that's gonna start airing in a couple of months called "Battle of the Bands" that Bodog has been doing," Sullivan continued. "It's sort of like 'American Idol,' but Rock 'n' Roll, and on the road, not just a studio, and they come to a different town, and there's a challenge every week. And the challenge for the Hollywood episode, they had six bands that had to come up with a theme song for the opening title sequence of 'Beverly Hellbillies' and then me and Robert and Dee and Chris picked the best and then recorded the song with them. So, that's very cool. We got a lot of support for the second film, we got the comic, we got the reality show, we got collectible figures that Horror Idols is doing, Clayguy has a Buckman figurine that's amazing, Rotten Cotton has a T-shirt, so my plan of taking over the world with the Maniacs is happening."