EXCLUSIVE: Tim Sullivan Drags Us Into 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams
When opening the keep case to Tim Sullivan's latest cult masterpiece 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, which arrives in stores on DVD July 20th in both an Unrated and Rated edition, there are liner notes that describe Tim's own frustrations with the first film, 2001 Maniacs. Which arrived way back in 2006. Despite that creepy, gore-soaked thriller garnering a garage full of fans and going on to become a much-heralded cult oddity, Sullivan simply wasn't happy with the finished project. He felt too many cooks had crawled into the kitchen, and his vision was clouded by other creative forces beyond his control.
That's why here, four years later, he has returned with 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. It's his vision. The film he wanted to make. An ode to Southern culture and an adoring nod to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the schlock master behind the original Two Thousand Maniacs!
We recently caught up with Tim to chat about the film. Here's what this new gore maverick had to say for himself:
I just finished watching your movie this morning!
Tim Sullivan: And you still want to talk to me? (Laughs) After watching the movie?
I set up this interview before I had a chance to watch it. Now I am disgusted and horrified by the man on the other side of this phone!
Tim Sullivan: I know! Well, I always say that this film is not for the easily offended. But if people know me? They are not easily offended. So, there you go.
I wouldn't say the film starts out slow. Within fifteen minutes we're seeing a saw blade rip into a vagina. Backwards. Watching that scene? It's really well done for a low budget gore picture. How did you manage to put such bloody mayhem to good use?
Tim Sullivan: First of all, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams is a continuation of my adventures in the land of, what I call, splatstick. That horror comedy Herschell Gordon Lewis did so well back in the 1960s. Before Herschell Gordon Lewis, there were those E.C. Comics. Tales from the Crypt. Where murder was the punch line to a deadly joke. We had some of that in the first film. And it got a really good response. I felt that with 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, I really wanted to push this film in that direction. When you are an indie filmmaker, especially a horror indie filmmaker, you cannot compete with the budgets of Avatar, or whatever latest Michael Bay remake is out there. You can compete with audacity and political correctness. As my good friend John Landis always tells me, "Hit for the cheapest special effect!" (Laughs) These films are really about the kill scenes. The first one had some pretty good kill scenes in it. When I set out to do this, I really wanted to, first and foremost, come up with show stopping moments. The most outrageous way to kill people. The Maniacs are very clever. They don't just kill people with a knife or a gun. No. They have to put on a show. They have to make it like a county fair. That's where this gore came from. My writing partners and I put ourselves in the minds of the Maniacs. "What would the Maniacs do?" When we came up with the barrel role, it was a direct nod to the original Herschell Gordon Lewis film. In the first film we made, we had a girl drawn and quartered. This time, we wanted to cut her right up the middle. But lets not flinch! Lets not cut away at the point of impact. At the same time, we wanted to make it completely stylized, so that it is offensive, but it's also not in good taste. My production designer and I worked really hard to give each murder set piece that you see in this film its own vibe. And look. We storyboarded them intensely. The Bristle carve was meant to be all white, and very Kubrickian. We had this image of it being all washed-out, and white. Then all this red blood comes in. The electrocution scene? We wanted it to look like the Batman TV show from the 60s. With canted angles, and purple colors. Every murder set piece is its own thing. I am very influenced by Dario Argento. I don't like this trend of torture porn. Where the blood is almost brown and black, and murky. I just want it to be bright red, colorful, and cartoonish.
Despite the low budget, you actually capture quite a unique and interesting look on film.
Tim Sullivan: Like I said, we had very little resources. And we had twelve days to do it. But what we lacked in resources and time, we made up for it with blood, sweat, and passion. And boobs.
Robert England was in the first film. Now, you have Bill Moseley taking over for him. Why did that switch occur? And what do you think Bill brought to the table that Robert didn't?
Tim Sullivan: When we did the first movie, The Devil's Rejects was out at the same time. Rob Zombie was a good friend of mine. What happened was, we were doing all of these joint appearances. There would be the 2001 Maniacs tables. And then there would be The Devil's Rejects table. Bill Moseley and I just hit it off. He said, "I want to be a Maniac in your next movie." The role that Nivek Ogre plays was going to be Bill. Just the one scene with the Bristle carve. There was a cameo for a character called Dr. Tickles that Bill and I came up with. Now, I love Robert Englund. If he hadn't done the first one, there wouldn't have been a movie to make a sequel to. Unfortunatly, when it came time to make the second one? And we had a lower budget than we had anticipated? Unfortunatly, for Robert's people, it was more about the buck than the Buckman. (Laughs) They passed on us. You have to say to yourself, "Do we just move on? Or do we give up?" No! I am not going to give up. I called up Rob Zombie and asked him who he thought could play Buckman. He said, "Well, you already have Bill Moseley in there. Just move him up a notch." I called up Bill, and he said, "Fuck yeah! These are big shoes to fill, but I would like to give it a shot. I want to bring my own thing." Robert played Buckman larger than life. There were a lot of hand motions. He was quite over the top. Bill made it a little more real. He made it a little subtler. This film is a little different...No, it's a lot different from the first one. Bill was perfect for this film. He studied the subtle bad guy in a Western. He played it that way. He let the Maniacs be the crazy people around him. He was the straight man to the craziness going on around him. Where Robert was more of the Maniac to the straight man. If that makes sense. Robert's great. We just went for a different tone in this one. The situations? The set pieces? It is so over the top, I wanted my actors to, no matter how over the top everything got, keep it straight. Play it as though it were a drama. That will make it funnier. If you act as though you know you are in a comedy? It won't be funny. It will be forced. Bill typified that.
About people being offended after they watch the film...You have Lin Shaye stroking a corn cob, and doing quite a few other lewd acts. This is a woman who is obviously not offended by you or what you are bringing to the table.
Tim Sullivan: Yes. Lin Shaye has been in everything I have ever done, from Driftwood, to Detroit Rock City, to 2001 Maniacs. She is my good luck charm. If I am twisted? She can push me even further. We push each other. She is just so gung ho and game. She gets it and she goes for it. She never does anything that isn't true to her character. But Granny is a feisty ol' gal. She is a horny ol' gal. Lin just gets in that zone. She is fearless. Some of the greatest bits in the film were all adlibbed. She added the corncob joke. I don't know if you saw the end bit, but there is a payoff to that. It was completely her idea. She went nuts with the butcher knife and the chickens. She just goes for it. When it comes to her art, everything goes.
What about some of the other people in the film? Did you ever run up against any resistance? Christa Campbell? She is completely covered in blood within the first few minutes...
Tim Sullivan: That was her idea! She and Nivek Ogre? When we were doing a rehearsal for that scene, they started doing this Go-Go dance. Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head. I was like, "Oh, my God! Blood Bath A-Go-Go! That is exactly what we need!" This is a celebration. What better thing epitomizes that than two people dancing while they are showered with blood? The two of them just went for it. It was orgasmic for them. When we shot that scene, and it was over, everyone applauded. They were so high. The thing about this film? You cannot go halfway. It's either hot or cold. You are either all in or you're not in. You love it or you hate it. From the actors, to the financiers, to the distributors, to the crewmembers...If you are timid, if you are afraid, you need not apply. If you are going to do it, you need to go for it. Throw caution to the wind. Join us, and leave your abandoned at the door. Everyone did. Everyone started to push each other. One person wasn't sure if they wanted to do nudity. Then they would see someone else do it. Then they all wanted to do it, "How about me? I want to show my butt! I want to show some nudity! I want to be showered in blood! I want to kill someone! I want to get killed!" It was amazing!
That is too funny. Now, I want to ask you about someone else in the cast. Are you a huge Jar Jar Binks fan? I see that you have Ahmed Best in here...
Tim Sullivan: (Laughs) I did not know. I was looking for an African American actor that would definitely get that we were mocking racist portrayals of ethnic characters in film. If you look at old films from the 30s and 40s, the way that blacks are portrayed is just horrendous. I wanted to find someone with a sense of humor. My casting director said, "I got your guy. Oh, by the way? He is Jar Jar Binks." I said, "You are kidding me." He said, "No. And as much as he appreciates what Jar Jar did for his career, he would really like to do something that is completely opposite from it. He would rather be known for this than for Jar Jar." Ahmed could sing. He has a great sense of humor. He is handsome as hell. I was just thrilled to have him. Of course everyone wanted him to do the Jar Jar voice. And he would not.
You can't get him to do it?
Tim Sullivan: Nope. There was one point where these kids came up to him on the set, and he told them he would do it if they cut hair off of Hucklebilly while he was sleeping. They went into his trailer and cut a whole bunch of his hair off. They brought it too him. I was mortified. We had to put fake hair on him for the next scene. Because they really chopped off a lot.
Is that why he's wearing the coonskin hat?
Tim Sullivan: Exactly. You are exactly right.
Is Hucklebilly's voice overdubbed?
Tim Sullivan: No. That is his real voice. In the first film, it was tweaked. But no, in this one, that is his voice. He can do that. He's pretty much got that character down, both on the screen and off. (Laughs) He is a troublemaker. God bless!
I was reading in the liner notes about your appreciation of HG Lewis. He was the one that created Two Thousand Maniacs! And I know, back in the day, while he was making these crazy, gory films, he, along with K. Gordon Murray, was making these insane kids' movies that were almost as scary. Do you have any aspirations to go off in that direction and make a film for children? One that is maybe a little scarier than the usual fare?
Tim Sullivan: I thought I did make a movie for kids. 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams isn't for children and families? I purposely made this film for young children. I don't know what you are talking about. (Laughs)
Very young children, maybe. I know if I showed this to my niece, who is one and a half, she would be mesmerized by it.
Tim Sullivan: This is very funny. I kid you not. Being in the position I am in, I get to interact with some wonderful people. So many of them have become my friends. There is one kid named Brandon Grambling in Arkansas who actually has had a child, and he asked me to be this kid's Godfather. I am now the kid's Godfather. He sent me a video of this kid, who is six months old, sitting in a swing in front of the TV, watching 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams. He is smiling. I kid you not. I guess I have made a film for certain types of kids out there who are going to grow up and be horror film fans.
That is awesome!
Tim Sullivan: Yes. I just want to say that we are really excited about the sold out premiere tomorrow night. We hope that everyone will cast a vote for indie horror by getting this movie when it comes out on Tuesday. These kinds of films are the alternative to the mainstream stuff. But if people don't buy them, we won't make them. If you want a third one? Buy this second one!