Release Date(s)2014 (August 1, 2023)
Studio(s)Virus International (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A+
Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist delves into the career of Tom Sullivan, who was responsible for many of the props and special effects in The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, as well as many of the films’ posters and memorable home video artwork for Anchor Bay’s DVD releases. Filmmaker Ryan Meade speaks to a number of him and his collaborators, friends, and family, highlighting what a driven and hardworking individual he is. He’s also characterized as one of the nicest and most caring people during the making of those films, and the documentary further explores his personal tragedies and continued daily existence as an artist and frequent horror convention attendee.
Participants include Bruce Campbell, Robert Tapert, Ted Raimi, the late Danny Hicks, Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel, Don Campbell, Bart Pierce, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly (aka Sarah York), among many others. A bit of lost audio of Sam Raimi being interviewed by a Japanese interviewer is also occasionally sprinkled in, though once again, his absence is felt.
The best part about Invaluable is not just learning more about Tom Sullivan, but getting access to a lot of footage and photographs that would otherwise go unseen or be discarded. Plenty of time is devoted to various horror conventions, of course, but the real treat is seeing some of Tom’s 8 mm home movies and short films, especially those having to do with the Evil Dead films that aren’t readily available. In one case, Tom re-discovers a small film reel containing Evil Dead II special effects test footage, which is brief, but tantalizing. One of the best sections of the documentary comes when Tom is given permission to seek out what’s left of The Evil Dead cabin, something that’s otherwise been forbidden because it sits on private property. It’s never stopped die-hard fans, but Tom, as well as Bruce Campbell, emphasize that they wish fans would leave the site alone, and avoid possibly being shot. Tom also bemoans fans not being able to see a good quality version of the original Within the Woods short film (which was used to raise money for The Evil Dead), as it showcases a lot of his early special makeup effects work.
Yet even at a little over 90 minutes, Invaluable as a whole is not necessarily a solid documentary through and through. It’s much more of a celebration of Tom Sullivan, his work, and that period of filmmaking, even if it’s unfocused and goes off on multiple tangents. There’s plenty here to learn about and appreciate, particularly on the subject of Tom’s personal life, which is examined more fully in the latter half. Fans of the Evil Dead franchise will certainly find plenty here to latch onto and connect with, and for good reason. Any chance to single out those responsible for the creation of those films, especially those lower on the totem pole, is most certainly “invaluable.”
Invaluable consists of varying qualities of footage, from film-sourced to digital, and given the age age of both, carries an inherent softness. However, it all blends well enough and you tend to forget about it after a while. It’s presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is generally pleasant to look at. Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with no subtitle options, though there are sections of footage that are subtitled for clarity or emphasis. The quality of the audio is the same as the video, meaning that not all of it is created equal, but it works well enough for discernment.
Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist on Blu-ray sits in a black amaray case along with a 2023 Synapse Films product catalog and a double-sided insert with new artwork by Joel Robinson on the front and a promotional still of Bruce Campbell from The Evil Dead on the reverse. That same new artwork is also used on the limited slipcover version still available on Synapse Films’ and DiabolikDVD’s websites. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Other Men’s Careers (77:00)
- Invaluable Trailer #1 (3:26)
- Invaluable Trailer #2 (3:29)
- Bong Fly – Short Film (18:58)
- Bong Fly – Behind-the-Scenes (10:29)
- Mega Master Bongfly Trailer (2:29)
- Cosmos Locos – Short Film (29:52)
- Other Men’s Careers Trailer (2:20)
- Tom Sullivan Vintage Interview (50:31)
- Josh Becker Extended Interview Segments (6:34)
- Tim Philo Unedited Interview (48:17)
- Turkey or Chicken – Bonus Clip (1:27)
- Snap Shots – Still Gallery (4:04)
- Boobie – Bonus Clip (:54)
- The Cry of Cthulhu – Bonus Clip (2:17)
In this reviewer’s opinion, the main feature is upstaged by the other documentary that’s included as an extra, which is Other Men’s Careers. Detailing the sordid life and career of filmmaker Josh Becker, it interviews many of the same folks, plus a few more. It’s a much more focused and effective effort, and since it’s Evil Dead-adjacent, should be receiving just as much attention. Hardly a mere companion piece, it’s essential viewing. Also included are a pair of Ryan Meade’s short films Bong Fly and Cosmos Locos, as well as various outtakes and unedited interviews from the main documentary. Fascinating also is a vintage interview with Tom Sullivan conducted for the Michigan cable TV show In the Spotlight (which curiously sources recognizable horror film scores for ambience, likely without permission). Last are trailers for the documentaries, as well as trailers and behind-the-scenes material for the short films.
Learning more about the folks behind some of our favorite horror films is definitely not a bad thing, and all of the content available on this new Blu-ray release of Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist (particularly Other Men’s Careers) is definitely worth your time. Whether you’re a horror fan or a film fan in general, do check it out as it’s highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons