This is an email interview conducted with Tom Sullivan on May 27, 2010. It covers his involvement in the early Super-8 days, as well as his work on Within The Woods, the Evil Dead trilogy, and beyond.

Tom Sullivan makes appearances at a couple of US conventions per year, showing his 'Evil Dead Museum' containing a number of his personally owned Evil Dead trilogy props, he also signs items and sells various reproduction artwork prints. You can see photos of people's past visits in the 'Features' section. For news on Tom's upcoming appearances you can view his official website; DarkageProductions.com

Tom working on the stop-motion animation 'Book of the Dead' for the title sequence of Evil Dead II (1987)

To begin, how did you first become involved get to know the rest of the gang, are you still in contact with any of them?  
I met Sam and Ivan Raimi, Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel, John Cameron, Josh Becker and Mike Ditz at Michigan State University in 1978. I found an article in the college paper about the MSU Creative Filmmaking Society which was formed by Sam and Ivan as a way to raise some money by showing Sam's Super 8mm films. I went to one of the showings and introduced myself.

Tom's poster artwork for It's Murder (1978)
I see the 'Ladies of The Evil Dead' and Bruce every year or so at Horror Convention Appearances. It's always a blast. Sam is busy as a bee in L.A. I haven't seen him since a kind invitation to visit the set of Darkman and getting to watch Liam Nesson work during the laboratory scenes with his assistant. Cool. Sam gave me a tour of the sets and it was amazing.

You worked on Within The Woods, but did you take part in any of the Super-8 shorts made previously to this?  
Yes. I did some vocal sound effects for a scene in It's Murder. I mimicked pills dropping into a glass of water. And I did a poster that was reproduced in 'The Evil Dead Companion'. I also did a title for Clockwork, a suspense thriller short about a creepy homeless man invading the home of the lone Cheryl Gutteridge.

Had you been doing your own special effects or Super-8 movies prior to Within The Woods?  
I was usually doing experimental shots in stead of finished films. There are just a few finished films with stories. I did a dinosaur film about some soldiers from Vietnam who find themselves in a lost world with dinosaurs. No story but lot's of dinosaurs. The soldiers show up in one forced perspective shot. I did some split screen live action/stop motion shots in Super 8mm.

Do you have any particular memories of shooting Within The Woods?  
I guess the most memorable thing, was when I walked through the house we were using and I heard Bruce crying and was told not to disturb him. I was informed he had reached the 'Latex Point'. Bruce didn't enjoy the lengthy make up session and decided to wear the make up for the weekend shoot. One of his eyes was covered and he was marinated in caked mud and sweat. Make is fun for the first hour and bearable for a couple more. After 12 hours you are ready to rip it off. So after two days...the latex point. I felt really terrible for him.

Casting Bruce's arm in Within The Woods (1978)

Bruce in full monster make-up; Within The Woods (1978)

Was it simply a given that you would work on The Evil Dead having done the effects for Within The Woods, or did you just take one job at a time without any expectations?  
Nothing was certain. I know they were looking for other effects artists but they wanted to be paid, apparently.

Where was the join between Sam's creative vision and your physical talent, did he just give you a vague idea of what was required, or hold you to a very specific criteria?  
I went by the script and would devise a solution to the effect and show Sam a drawing and explain it. Sam left me with no meaningful preproduction time so I had to make things up the night before it was shot. Fortunately, I'm a genius so it all worked out. Imagine the results if I had time to actually prepare.

Did you have any personal issues in taking part in such a violent film, and creating such gory effects?  
Growing up I avoided gory and violent films. I had a read an article about Night of the Living Dead in Reader's Digest that declared it a weapon of mass destruction so I avoided it. I wouldn't even see 'Jamed Bond' films thinking I'd get warped. Silly me. I got the job to do The Evil Dead and decided I should see what I was getting into. So I saw Dawn of the Dead. I was freaking out during the first 15 minutes until they land the chopper for more fuel and a Zombie played by Jim Krut, steps up on a box and his head is shaved off by the helicopter blades. I got it. This is actually fun. The rest of the film is a deft social satire so I was on the right track. And Tom Savini's effects are a banquet of great gags.

Tom's demon sketch concept artwork for The Evil Dead (1982)

Do you have any particular anecdotes of shooting The Evil Dead?  
Sometime during the middle of the shoot I was alone at the cast and crew house doing make-up designs on myself in the bathroom. The doorbell rang and it was an elderly couple who told me that a car was on fire a hundred yards away. I freaked out thinking some of my friends were burning alive so I ran down to the fire and circled it. Fortunately no one was inside. I reported it to the police and for weeks had investigators waking me up in the middle of the day to question me. The culprits were some jerky kids who had stolen some other kid's brand new car for a joy ride and instead of ditching it somewhere the idiots torched it. They are probably getting out of jail about now.

Tom with some of his creations for The Evil Dead (1982)
Were there any mishaps or accidents with any of the effects you created for The Evil Dead, or was there anything that you were sure would go wrong, but didn't?  
I was inexperienced in mould making and poor Betsy Baker's hair got caught in the wet plaster during a full head cast. I had to pry the front face mould up and slide my hand with a single edge razor blade and try to slice her hair from the plaster. She survived and the mould came out fine. It was the head I dropped in the foreground after Ash cuts her head off at the cemetery. I was surprised and the success of the stop motion/split screen mattes Bart Pierce and I did. I think we only did one retake during the whole shoot.

If you could go back, was there one specific effect in The Evil Dead that you would have liked to have done differently, or improved upon, or any effects you created which you regret never wound up on the finished film?  
When Deadite Cheryl is behind the front door, bursts through the door and grabs Ash, Ash turns and shoots Cheryl in the face. We see Cheryl take the force of the blast, tearing away part of her jaw. There is a large blood tube that can be seen. Sam had to crop the shot to remove more of the tube. The problem was that I had designed the effect to be easily and quickly reset for retakes. But being inexperience and impatient with the special effects Rob Tapert and Sam didn't' schedule the time to do it correctly and only allowed one take. And now they blame me for the shot when it would have been rest in 3 minutes. No respect for the effects.

Bad feelings arose when many people left the location in Tennessee around Christmas, although you were working on The Evil Dead months after this, was everything amicable on your side?  
I heard that but could never figure out why there would be hard feelings. The reason people left was because we had signed contracts for a certain time to be on location and that time was up. We weren't in cult demanding complete loyalty. We had jobs and lives to get back to. I lost a weeks paid vacation because I took the time off to do the movie. At any rate I don't recall any hard feelings at the time. I wound up working 28 weeks on The Evil Dead for which I was paid for only 19 weeks. I hope they don't have hard feelings for not paying me. I don't. The whole three months of the stop motion animation was done for free by me. Some nice guy huh. I was never asked to create the 'Book of the Dead'. I thought it was important for the actors and the film. Being outside my contract I made a new contract which spelled out my ownership of my props and copyright to my creations which Rob Tapert signed and I still have. It's important for an artist to protect your work. This is what Josh Becker is referring to in his 'Evil Dead Journal'. You can read it in his excellent book 'Rushes', published by Point Blank Press.

Knowing of the huge amount of time & effort that would likely be involved, was the decision to use stop motion animation instead of live action footage for the meltdown scene in The Evil Dead, a big consideration?  
Not for me. Sam's original idea was to have me build some Deadite bodies out of balloons and fill them with smoke. When the Book was thrown into the fire the balloons would deflate and the Deadites would sink to the floor. My argument was that some audience member would make "raspberry" noises and get a big laugh and that would happen at every screening. Also a finale should have a bombardment of energy equal the amount in the film up to that point. Just like a fireworks display. So I designed the finale and Sam approved. Bart and I were left alone to complete the animation and I'm proud of our work.

Animating the medieval winged Deadite in Evil Dead II (1987)
What was your reaction upon first seeing The Evil Dead on the big screen?  
Yes. I was sitting next to my Mom and it scared the stuffing out of her. I thought it was a hell of a movie. We done good.

After The Evil Dead, you created the revised 'Book Of The Dead' & 'Kandarian Dagger' for Evil Dead II and another book for Army Of Darkness, was that the full extent of your roles?  
I did a number of things for Evil Dead II but Rob Tapert told me they had run out of money for credits and everyone had to reduce their credit to one word if possible. I had created the Book, Dagger, stop motion Ghost in the beginning, Ash's hair streak animation, the design, construction and animation of the flying Deadite and much more so I felt as I was being treated unfairly.

When I saw the credits I knew I was. The other effects artists got paragraphs of their contributions. I didn't even get credit for the Book. Again. I didn't have anything to do with Sam's post Evil Dead shorts. I have seen a bunch of them and think they are swell. Just like his early stuff. Gotta love those Stooges.

What was your reaction to the censorship problems The Evil Dead was having in various countries around the world due to your effects, even going as far as some distributors being convicted and fined in UK courts during the early 80s.  
My reaction was one of terror. Sam and I had just arrived in England in 1982 and in our first news conference we were asked about the armed raid on a Mom and Pop Video rental store in England that had happened that week. The Police in England have to go to court and have a judge give them permission to use firearms. That was granted. They raided the store and confiscated The Evil Dead and other films. Do you really need guns to confiscate VHS tapes? That seems a little extreme but of course it is great publicity. As I recall it took until the late 1990's for the good people of England to see The Evil Dead uncensored. I am for letting people know what kind of film they are getting but to ban films is foolish.

Tom showing off some props (British promotional tour)

Sam with a demon glove (British promotional tour)

Tom (British promo tour)

Sam with more props (British promotional tour)

'Book of the Dead' close-up (British promotional tour)

For some years you have been touring various conventions in the USA with your traveling Evil Dead Museum, how did this first come about, and what can fans usually expect when they visit?  
I kept most of the props I created for The Evil Dead films. I have the original 'Book of the Dead' and some make up & masks from The Evil Dead. I have the 'Book of the Dead', 'Kandarian Dagger', and the Necklace from Evil Dead II, and much, much more. I also bring along my Art Print Gallery of my Evil Dead, H.P. Lovecraft and fantasy artwork.

Tom's Evil Dead Museum & various photoboards
I sell archival quality prints, signed of course. I was an Illustrator for Chaosium Inc., They produce H.P. Lovecraft role playing games. I worked for them for 18 years and own my copyrights and originals. I also have photos, and article on my Evil Dead work and other careers. Come visit, I'd love to give you all a tour.

The Evil Dead has many fans outside America, you've said in the past that you won't to tour your Evil Dead Museum to conventions outside the USA because many of the items are simply irreplaceable. Is this still the case?  
Yes I would love to come and visit fans in Europe. I have had the honor to be invited to and visit Belgium, England, Scotland, Canada and Japan. Sadly Customs has already stolen about a thousand dollars of gifts by fans from my Japan visit so no more of that.

In more recent years, you've made a point of defending your copyright against people specifically selling replicas of your items such as the 'Book Of The Dead' & 'Kandarian Dagger'. It's a given that fans will create replicas of your items, so just so fans and replica prop makers can stay on your good side, could you just clearly set out exactly where you stand on this?  
I have no problem with fans making their own replicas of my Books or Dagger. The big problem is when you sell them. That is copyright theft and when one of my fans reports it to me I send a cease and desist demand and forward the link to my lawyer for his records and consideration. I also file on eBay Vero copyright infringement complaints. I also make an offer to barter for the replica in exchange for a generous selection of my archival quality prints signed with my thanks. By far most of the illegal replica sellers are unaware of the copyright issues and are fans who apologize and don't intend any damage. I have two over flowing boxes of Books and daggers and I will be displaying them at the October 1-3, 2010 Cinema Wasteland Horror Film and Memorabilia Expo in Strongsville, OH. Please visit and I'll give you all a tour. Then there are the outright crooks who don't give a damn about other peoples property and are just plain thieves. If you didn't create it and if you didn't get a license to reproduce it then it does not belong to you. It is theft. Simple as pie. Some illegal prop makers believe they are doing a public service by supplying props not produced by the copyright owner. It is not.

For Anchor Bay DVD releases, you designed 'Book Of The Dead' covers for both The Evil Dead in 2002 & Evil Dead II in 2005, how did this come about?

I met my now good friend Michael Felsher, formerly of Anchor Bay at The Cinema Wasteland's first show. He is a well studied film fan and loves Evil Dead. He asked me about the first 'Book of the Dead' packaging project and it was a great idea. I designed the cover and did the illustrations for the inside. Some fans have discovered the secret hidden messages contained in the pages text. Don't write me about what it says. I was in a trance when I drew them and cannot help you in their deciphered meaning. I love Anchor Bay and appreciate their dedication to making a memorable Evil Dead package. It was also nice being paid many more time what I made off the movie. Michael went on to win a movie trivia contest years ago and his show off prop from his collection was a Book of the Dead replica prototype that I and my Bookbinder of the Dead, Patrick Reese had made.

Framed & signed version of Tom's DVD artwork (one of only 26 produced)

A few years back you sold your own excellent 'Book Of The Dead' replicas, but this was limited to a run of 100 which have long since sold out, do you have plans to sell any more, or replicas of other such items like the 'Kandarian Dagger'?  
Actually we have only sold about 60 of the Book of the Dead replicas and are currently working out the bugs to make the rest of the run. There are also plans to cast the original 'Kandarian Dagger' and have it available as finished hand painted prop (by myself) as well as a kit. We also have plans for other prop replicas as well but those are surprises to come. There is a lot of research & development in process so be patient.

Official 'Book of the Dead' replica

'Book' replica (side view)

Official 'Book of the Dead' replica (inside view)

Well that just about covers your work to date. Thank you very much for talking to us Tom, and please keep us posted on your progress.  
Thank you.