Interview with '2001 Maniacs' Director Tim Sullivan

April 7, 2006 -- Tim Sullivan's "2001 Maniacs" hit DVD stores last week, and is being well received as the directorial debut of a true horror fan and experienced film producer. It is also the first remake of an H.G. Lewis movie.

 

What was the impetus to remaking "2001 Maniacs," and since it is a remake and not a sequel, why call it "2001" and not just "2000"?

It was 2000, I had just finished producing DETROIT ROCK CITY, and one day, this guy came into my production office and said, "I’ve got the rights to remake the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis." The guy’s name was Chris Kobin; I had never met him before but, at the time, Robert Zemeckis was remaking all of the William Castle pictures and the idea of doing H.G. Lewis on a smaller budget seemed appealing. We needed a script so, rather than commission one, we just said, "Let’s write it ourselves," and thus began a writing partnership with Chris Kobin that’s lasted five years. We basically co-wrote the script to 2001 MANIACS via the internet, email, going back and forth over a period of about three weeks. We were always trying to one-up each other with the jokes and the gross-out stuff. Once we finished it, we felt we had something, but knew it would never be made by a mainstream studio–it was just too audacious and over-the-top. At the time, we were coming off the ‘90s with what I call the "cocktease" horror movies, the MELROSE PLACE horror movies like SCREAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and VALENTINE: it was when whatever WB or Fox star happened to be on hiatus that week, they’d make a horror movie. I just felt that we came a long way from the ‘80s, where the monster was actually on the poster and not some pouty ingénue. So Chris Kobin and I decided to write 2001 MANIACS as the film that we used to try and go see when we were sixteen-year-olds. I had known Robert Englund from my days at New Line; he immediately said he would play the lead role of Mayor Buckman before I even wrote the script. So, basically, armed with Robert Englund and armed with the script, we set-up a deal immediately at Rhino Films where they asked me to direct it–which blew my mind! I was so excited, I certainly didn’t expect it! We thought, okay, we'll make this movie and get it out in 2001- Might as well call it 2001 MANIACS as a nod to the new millennium. And then began the five-year journey to finally get the movie made. The film was ready to go twice. The first time, financing fell through; the second time, the sets burnt down. Third time, BloodWorks and Raw Nerve stepped in- and the film finally got made. At this point, it had been talked about and referred to as 2001 MANIACS for so long, we just stuck with it, and I guess that makes me the 2001st Maniac.

I read one interview with you where you mentioned you watched Creature Feature as a child. Was that the same Creature Feature in the Bay Area with Bob Wilkens?

This was The East Coast, New Jersey, and the host of CREATURE FEATURES was called the Creep.

Is watching late night TV as a child where you got most of your exposure to horror?

Yep. Creature Features and Chiller Theatre every Saturday night at 8:30. It was always such a toss-up, and you didn't have TIVO so you could watch one and tape the other. Creature Features always had the old Universal Black and White classics from the 30's and 40's. You know- Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Chiller had the B movies from the 50's. The AIP. Teenage Frankenstein and Werewolf. My cousin and I used to have sleepovers, paint Aurora models, read Famous Monsters and flip back and forth between Creature Features and Chiller Theater!

Was there one film you were obsessed with growing up?

The first one I ever saw was the original DRACULA when I was five years old. Between that and DARK SHADOWS, I've been obsessed with vampires ever since. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jonathan Frid, Robert Quarry all the way to Keifer Sutherland and Tom Cruise. I love 'em all. And yes, a very unique vampire movie is on the drawing boards for me as we speak.

When was the first time you saw HG Lewis' "2000 Maniacs"? Or the first time you saw an HG Lewis movie?

Once I became a teenager, the splatter genre hit full force. FANGORIA cam along and suddenly I was hearing about all these exploitation pictures that FAMOUS MONSTERS tended to stay away from. This was when I first heard about HG Lewis. and became determined to see his films one way or the other. VHS was just beginning, there wasn't anything like Netflix. But there were these great Grindhouse cinemas on New York's 42nd street. So I would take the train into New York from New Jersey on a Saturday afternoon, tell my mom I was going to the Empire State Building or something, and then go see 60's and 70's splatter movies for a buck. The first time I saw TWO THOUSAND MANIACS was at one of these theaters, in 1979 on a double bill with DAWN OF THE DEAD. It was a goregasm of crimson delights- and I was hooked.

What can you tell us about HG Lewis' involvement with this movie -- if he had any that is.

He was always there as a figurehead. Once he read the script he kind of let me run with it. He and original producer Dave Friedman blessed the script. They were wonderful. Herschell wasn't able to come to the set. But Dave Friedman did come down to Georgia. I call him Uncle Dave. He has been such a mentor to me. I love the guy. He is one of the sweetest, kindest souls I've ever met. He has a wealth of inspiration and information. He truly is a P.T. Barnum of film. They used to make these films directly for the drive-in to bypass the middle-man of a distributor. They would write letter, as if they were priests, condemning the films, to get people to go see them. There is so much to learn from him. Actually David did play Dean Lewis in the opening scene of the film, which was a tip of the hat to H.G. That scene didn't make the finished product. But it is on the DVD and it's a lot of fun.

I hear you are a religious guy. I have often thought the horror genre is the only really religious film genre, with spirtuality almost always a character in the films. I'm curious if you feel the same way, and if you consider PASSION OF THE CHRIST a horror film as well.

I might have said I consider myself spiritual - religious, no. There is a big difference. And yes, I definitely agree with you- Some of the most spiritual films are horror films. For it is often that only in being faced with evil, that we realize the existence of good. Only when we meet the Devil up close and personal that we embrace that there is a God. In this regard, I think that THE EXORCIST is not only one of the greatest horror films ever made (in my opinion, the greatest), but also one of the most spiritual. It truly shows a group of people having a crisis in spirituality who come to be strong in their faith and belief only after confronting the ultimate of evil. By that same criteria, I do consider PASSION OF THE CHRIST a horror film. Not only in its themes, but also with the way Gibson shot it. The scenes where Judas is being tormented by the Devil is some of the most frightening stuff I've ever seen. And the flogging and torture of Christ? Man, it gives HOSTEL a run for its money in the "extended sadism" department. You could almost call it THE JERUSALEM CRUCIFIXION MASSACRE.

So would 2001 Maniacs even qualify as a religious horror film on some level?

That might be stretching it-- But I will say this. There is definitely an undercurrent of social commentary in the film. This film is about a community that is the collective victim of a terrorist attack. A Southern town brought low by Northern renegades. In this town's quest for blood vengeance, they become the very "maniacs" that wronged them. And as a result, they never find peace, but instead are damned to repeating this ritual of vengeance year after year after year. Sound familiar? (Can you say 9/11 and Iraq?) So beneath the blood and guts and T& A and over the top humor, there definitely is a theme going on. It was there in Lewis' original, and I made it even more prevalent and resonant in my version. Is that a spiritual theme? I'll leave that to others to decide!

What can you tell us about your forcoming film DRIFTWOOD? Is it another horror/comedy?

Hell, no! It's the total opposite of MANIACS. A complete 180. It's a character driven, supernatural thriller in which Ricky plays a kid obsessed with death since the loss of his older brother. His parents can't relate to him, so they decide to toss him into one of those Attitude Adjustment Camps that have been popping up since Columbine. Once he gets in there, he's tormented by the Warden (Diamond Dallas Page) and the Warden's sadistic sidekick (Talan Torriero form LAGUNA BEACH) and then, he begins to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who may or may not have been murdered there. I'm really proud of it- Really happy to be able to show these actors in a way that their fans are not used to. All three of them kicked ass. Mike Richardson produced this for Dark Horse Indie, the new film division of eh comic book company that published HELL BOY, THE MASK and SIN CITY. We just screened it for him the other day, and he was so pleased, he's going to take it out theatrically in the Fall. I guess you can say if MANIACS represents my guts, DRIFTWOOD represents my soul.

EVERY ONE CAN KEEP UP WITH TIM SULLIVAN AND "2001 MANIACS" BY GOING TO http://www.myspace.com/2001maniacs.