Having known filmmaker Tim Sullivan for several years, I should've known that as soon as we got on the phone with each other, my questions regarding his contributions to Chillerama would go right out the window and our chat would instead morph into a casual conversation amongst old friends catching up. But because of our comfortable rapport, Tim was able to be straight forward and candid about the long and complicated history of developing Chillerama; from an idea on the set of Detroit Rock City (which Chillerama co-director Adam Rifkin helmed) to the screening and tour of the completed film all within the last month!
And with Chillerama now playing on VOD and hitting Blu-Ray and DVD November 29th, we also delved into the evolution of his segment "I Was a Teenage Werebear", his loving homage to the beach party movies of the 50's with a dash of Rebel Without A Cause thrown in for good measure. It's amazing to hear about the slow evolution of this passion project and how it was the enthusiasm and combination of these four filmmakers; Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan that finally made it all a reality.
FEARnet: I had actually visited you on the set of Rifkin's Wadzilla, which was a year ago now?
Tim Sullivan: A year ago Saturday was when we finished the last day of Werebears. So Wadzilla was 2 years ago from March.
Dear God, 2 years? [Laughs]
Tim Sullivan: I got to be honest, my favorite thing about this Chillerama process is that it now validates Adam Rifkin's inclusion to the Masters of Horror dinners. [Laughs] Because we'd always joke about why is he there!
Well, now he's got a horror flick under his belt! This started on the set of Detroit Rock City! Can you talk about the idea for Chillerama from back then and how it evolved and changed over the course of the last several years?
Tim Sullivan: Well, it's very interesting, this was originally going to be Famous Monsters: The Movie. That's how this all came about. When me and Rifkin were doing Detroit Rock City, we were making a movie about the 70's. Rifkin and I are 10 years older than Green and Lynch so we came of age in the 70's, which included Mad magazine, Famous Monsters magazine, of course Kiss when they wore make-up and no one knew what they looked like. We grew up on EC Comics and horror anthologies, which were quite the rage. This is before Creepshow. So we realized that we had the exact same childhood, only mine was in New Jersey and his was in Chicago. All of our beloved monster movies we had seen at the drive-in. At the time of Detroit Rock City, Famous Monsters magazine had just been revived, it was making a comeback and we did a whole series of Kiss covers for Famous Monsters. We took photographs of the Kiss guys reading Famous Monsters magazine and in conversations with Gene Simmons and Adam Rifkin, it just seemed like "how come no one's ever done a Famous Monsters movie?" Me and Rifkin started talking about what a Famous Monsters movie would be. Well, the magazine was a tribute to the classic monsters, so we immediately thought this could be an anthology with 4 movies and each one could be a mini-update of the 4 classic monsters - Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolfman. We had our friend Brad Parker who is an incredible well known artist do fake movie posters. There was always The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein. The first one was going to be called The Werewolf Of Alcatraz. And it was going to be an homage to the 1930's black and white werewolf/gangster movies. It was about a guy who was part of a robbery, he was reluctant to be a part of it, and during the getaway he gets attacked by a werewolf, he gets sent to Alcatraz where he turns into a werewolf and the big gag at the end was - he gets killed but before he dies, he scratches someone and it's Scarface. That's how Al Capone got his scar, he's a werewolf! The next segment was going to be an homage to the 50's and that was called I Was A Teenage Vampire. There had already been a I Was A Teenage Werewolf and a I Was A Teenage Frankenstein movie, but never a Teenage Vampire. The third one was going to be an homage to the 60's Hammer Films and it was going to be The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein, we were even going to try to get Christopher Lee. And the fourth one was going to be the 80's, so we were doing the 30/40's, the 50's, the 60's and then the 80's and because we didn't feel that the Mummy would work in the 80's, we decided to make the Mummy a zombie and we created Zombie Drive-In. Then we thought, oh cool, we can have it take place at a drive-in and kids are watching these other 3 movies, but then the drive-in through line becomes the final episode. The idea that the kids at the drive-in become the stars of their own monster movie. It was very clever and I still have the original artwork for those posters. What happened was we came up with that idea, we took it to Gene, Gene loved it and said he was in. We went to meet with the Famous Monsters people and at the time Forry was not really a part of it, it was a bunch of other people and it turned out to be a mess, but they wanted it to be a G rated movie for kids, something like Mad Monster Party. That wasn't what we had in mind, so we decided it's not going to be Famous Monsters, but we have this great concept and all these great posters. So we decided to create our own brand, our own thing. When we were kids, we watched things like Chiller Theatre, Creature Features, Wonder-Rama… oh, Chillerama!
It was actually my sister that came up with that title. Gene added his name so it became Gene Simmons' Chillerama. We went to MTV. We set it up immediately as a series. We pitched it in the room as an anthology, but they wanted us to create recurring characters. The thing that was Chillerama initially we threw out the window and came up with this new stuff that ironically was a lot like what Supernatural became. It was The Breakfast Club meets Supernatural. We wrote the first script for MTV, everybody loved it and then they realized they could make a lot more money doing reality television. So Chillerama as a show went into turn around. We weren't allowed to touch Chillerama for a decade. But come 2009, the rights reverted back to us and at that point, I had done 2001 Maniacs, Rifkin had done his stuff and along the way, we became friends with Joe Lynch and Adam Green at these Masters of Horror dinners. I was reminding Rifkin that 10 years were up and we got the rights back and we started explaining it to Green and Lynch and the four of us just looked at each other and it was like a light bulb went off. We should do this together. Each one of us could do an episode. Green was about to start Hatchet 2 and thought he could help put it together with the financiers on that project, but the catch was, we were going to have to do it for next to nothing, but have 100 percent freedom. From that point, the segments became obvious. Green was going to do Diary Of Anne Frankenstein. Lynch wanted to do his homage to Troma and do Zom-B-Movie. Rifkin didn't feel like doing the werewolf thing, he wanted to do a giant monster movie that was a cross between Jack Arnold and Woody Allen so his was Wadzilla. At this point I was going to do the Teenage Vampire idea and it wasn't originally a musical. It was more of a veiled look at the gay subtext of movies like Rebel Without A Cause. I had toyed with those themes in my films. Driftwood is basically about a kid who's haunted by the ghost of a gay kid who was murdered for being gay and I've always had gay characters in the Maniacs films. It was actually the three other directors who said here's your chance to do something you may never get the chance to do again, so go for it. Rifkin and I were talking about how expensive it would be to shoot at a high school, so he suggested shooting it on the beach. When I went to school back in Jersey, I just assumed every kid in California went to school on the beach! Why not make it a musical? Alright. Lynch called me and was like, "What is Zac Efron got horny and turned into Ron Jeremy?" (Laughs) "It would be a werebear!" Once that all came together, I had the ingredients, I put it in a blender and out came I Was A Teenage Werebear.
Although you didn't initially intend this, now it seems like it morphed into an homage to all those beach movies of the 50's.
Tim Sullivan: Exactly. It never was going to be that. Up until around 1958, a lot of people forget that the protagonist in horror were never teenagers, they were always adults. I mean, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff – if you look at the original Frankenstein or Dracula, it's not teenagers dealing with these monsters, its adults! Rebel Without A Cause was a big deal because it was the first film where a teenager became the main character of a film and that was 1954. A few years later, you had The Blob and if you watch that, Steve McQueen is pretty much doing a James Dean, and then you had I Was A Teenage Werewolf with Michael Landon and pretty much the formula was these teenage angst movies where the authorities never believed the kids and think they're bad and then they added a monster element to it, which was very clever when American International did that. That was originally what I was going to pay homage to and have the monster be a metaphor for being gay or an outsider. But then what happened when we realized we could shoot on the beach, we realized here's a chance to make an episode of Chillerama so different from the others and why not make it a musical? I've never written a song in my life. I can't read music or play an instrument, but I love music. I was obsessed with Grease and American Graffiti and Happy Days growing up, so just by necessity, I realized I could write songs as poems, as lyrics, I could do that and then I was listening a lot of 60's music and humming melodies in my head and next thing I knew, I wrote all these songs! I don't know how it happened! [Laughs].
So that's how that all came together, huh?
Tim Sullivan: Yeah, and we embraced it. Chillerama was always going to be a little tongue in cheek, but never quite as humorous as it became. Let's be honest, if you look at Hatchet or 2001 Maniacs, they're just as much comedies as they are horror films. I would argue my Maniacs films are comedies disguised as horror films. And Rifkin is a comedian. Joe is a comedian. In order to do this, especially at the budget we had, we knew that it had to be a spoof. So in addition to paying homage to a horror film director, we were paying homage to a comedian as well. So Rifkin's was a homage to Jack Arnold (Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and Woody Allen. Mine was an homage to Roger Corman and John Waters. Green's is an homage to James Whale and Mel Brooks and the Marx brothers. And Lynch's is definitely Lloyd Kaufman (Troma) and Sam Raimi. It may not seem it, but Chillerama was very well thought out. We spent many nights at the Rainbow Bar & Grill talking about this over many burgers and beers and Diet Coke's because Rifkin doesn't drink. (Laughs) We spent a lot of time geeking out on our love of different genres of film and the key is a drive-in movie isn't just a horror movie, they include those beach movies and comedies and etc. You never know what you're going to get in a double feature drive-in bill. We decided this would be a love letter to the whole drive-in movie going experience.
That's also been a big part of how you guys are presenting the movie with this tour at drive-in's across the country. How's that part of it been going?
Tim Sullivan: I've been on the road quite a bit lately with the movie. Lynch and Green just started their show Holliston, so they unfortunately haven't been able to partake in as much of the tour as they would've liked to, but me and Rifkin kick started it, but now I'm kind of the last man standing. [Laughs] I just came back from 3 weeks in Europe. It's been absolutely exhausting but absolutely worthwhile. I remember one time Peter Criss of Kiss told me that when they were on tour, it was just one plane and one hotel after the other, but then for those 2 hours that they were on stage, it's exhilarating and that's what this has been like because to go back in time and go to these drive-in's in the mid-West, I felt like I slept and woke up in 1978. I couldn't believe it! I think a lot of people in California get really jaded at seeing filmmakers or actors at the movie theater. "There's Eli Roth at the Arclight" or "there's Clu Gulager at the New Beverly", but in the rest of America, people don't get the chance to meet the people that make the movies they go to see. So to be able to go literally into the heartland of America and bring Chillerama and meet & greet these fans has been such a joy. It's been so much fun seeing people our age in their 30's and 40's coming to these screening with their kids and bringing them to show them the experience they grew up with. It's been so wonderful to bring this to Europe too because they don't have drive-in's there, and while Grindhouse was a great representation of grindhouse movies, there never was a grindhouse theater in the actual film. Joe did such a good job of conveying the nuances of the drive-in. Lining up, getting the speaker set-up, turning the radio to the right dial, the concession stand, etc. Really at the heart of this was the four of us lamenting and grieving and mourning the loss of the experience of watching a horror film, whether it's going to a Blockbuster and spending 20 minutes to pick out that title for the evening or going to a drive-in and sitting there from 8PM at night and staying there until 5AM watching an all night dusk till dawn show or going to a grindhouse theatre on 42nd street. We have very few of those places left. Nowadays, people watch stuff on their iPhone's and iPads and are not really paying attention and these people are not getting a show. They're not getting the communal experience.
If you do a follow-up, you should have the horror host doing the wraparound segment! Another nearly forgotten entity that deserves tribute in the next Chillerama!
Tim Sullivan: Believe it or not, we did that with this one! I had Zacherly in New Jersey. For Rifkin, he had a guy named Svengoolie. He was Chicago's horror host. He's still alive and is in Wadzilla! Rifkin tracked him down and put him in his segment as the newscaster on the tv. So we did pay yet another tribute in Chillerama.