Blu-Ray Spotlight — Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist

celluloid consommé
6 min readAug 1, 2023
Blu-Ray Box Art image courtesy of MVD Visual.

Fans of the Evil Dead franchise may be familiar with the name Tom Sullivan. For anyone who’s not, he effectively headed the art department, coordinated makeup effects, and animated sections of the films. Ryan Meade’s documentary about the special effects master is rough around the edges, but the more you’re here because of Evil Dead the more you’ll let it slide. The way the interviews are cut together are actually quite fun. Woven in between talking heads segments is some truly amazing footage of Sullivan and others working on various sets, short films, or tours of Sullivan’s studio with remaining artifacts from the three Dead films.

It does turn towards Sullivan’s personal life after the 70 minute mark or so, and his history with depression, isolation, and loss. This may not be entirely desirable from an audience who is likely coming for the making-of aspect of the documentary, but the film never makes the claim to only cover that part of Sullivan’s life. But to be a fan of how Evil Dead looks and feels is in part a connection to Sullivan himself, and some of what he was processing does come out in the various grotesqueries of Kandarian expression — be it flaky, pus-soaked rotting tissue, a grim sacrificial dagger, or a winged, atrophied deadite decapitated in mid-air.

Video

The documentary is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The video itself is AVC-encoded and during newly shot footage looks fairly decent, the only detriment to a better picture being lighting within the frame. Some shots exhibit heavy grain, but that could either be another filter placed over the footage, the camera shooting at a high ISO, or both.

As it is essentially a patchwork of different times in Tom Sullivan’s life, footage from nearly every decade since the ’70s are included. Older footage looks to be simple transfers and no real restoration work has been done, but the footage is perfectly clean enough to make out the details we need.

Video sources shift from digital to analog, while various filters are placed, in short bursts, on the digital-shot footage for effect. This heavy presence of post-production can seem off-putting, but within the rhythm of the whole piece it’s a strangely humorous presentation of Sullivan looking back on his life. The editing can actually be pretty funny.

Audio

Invaluable comes with a single English-language linear PCM stereo track. The mix can get quite busy at times, with subjects talking over some loud music and sounds at conventions and audio sources that were poor to begin with. At times burned-in subtitles help to clarify dialogue but isn’t always there when you’d need it. Unfortunately there are no subtitles present on the disc, but audio clarity is mostly good in this mix.

Special Features

The special features offered here include Invaluable’s director Ryan Meade’s own short films, extended interviews, and an entire local access broadcast episode featuring Tom Sullivan sometime in the 1980s well after Evil Dead 2’s release — the best feature on the whole disc. To put it frankly, the extras create an odd mixture here. The volume of special features is truly a gift, but the short films from Meade should be approached carefully. Themes of sexual assault/abuse, homophobia and then some are farmed for comedic purposes and will likely not land with everybody (author included).
The complete list of special features are below:

  • Other Men’s Careers: a feature-length documentary on the life and work of Evil Dead sound recordist Josh Becker, who would go on to work on the Xena series and direct Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel, and Ted & Sam Raimi in his own films (1 hr. 17 mins.)
  • A “vintage” interview of Tom Sullivan on a local access cable channel, complete with locally made commercial spots. Two high school students interview Sullivan, covering his work on the Evil Dead films and the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game (50 mins. 31 secs.)
  • Tim Philo Extended Interview: the entire block of interview footage with Evil Dead and Within the Woods’ director of photography (48 mins. 17 secs.)
  • Cosmos Locos: a short film by Invaluable’s director Ryan Meade, starring Josh Becker and Tom Sullivan (29 mins. 52 secs.)
  • Bong Fly: another short directed by Meade, starring Richard DeManincor (18 mins. 58 secs.)
  • Bong Fly Behind the Scenes (10 mins. 29 secs.)
  • Josh Becker Extended Interview Segments: a short set of clips of Becker unused in the final cut of the film, but still enlightening information (6 mins. 34 secs.)
  • Turkey or Chicken: a short, funny story about how the Kandarian dagger was originally made and a strange stench that came from Sullivan’s room after making it (1 min. 27 secs.)
  • The Cry of Cthulhu: promo for a novel set with the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, of which Sullivan lent his artistic talents to each book and box cover, as well as the aforementioned novel (2 mins. 17 secs.)
  • Boobie Bonus Clip (54 secs.)
  • Snap Shots — Stills Gallery (4 mins. 4 secs.)
  • Invaluable Trailer 1 (3 mins. 26 secs.)
  • Invaluable Trailer 2 (3 mins. 29 secs.)
  • Other Men’s Careers Trailer (2 mins. 20 secs.)
  • Mega Monster Bong Fly Trailer (2 mins. 29 secs.)

Final Thoughts

This is a no-brainer for fans of any and all varieties of Evil Dead. The documentary itself is solidly informative for most of the runtime, providing insight for the creative processes and how Sullivan realized the look of deadites, the Kandarian dagger, the Necronomicon, its writings & illustrations and so on.

It is essentially a portrait of an artist, and Meade does a good job of separating the haul of new sources and interviews with the cast and crew of the Evil Dead films from something much more personal which kicks off with Sullivan himself recalling it. Despite its amateur nature this is a very good documentary focusing on the unfairly neglected pivotal role Tom Sullivan played in the creation of the beloved original horror films. This release comes highly recommended.

Disclaimer: MVD Visual has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist is available on Blu-Ray now, as of Tuesday, August 1st from Synapse Films, courtesy of MVD Visual.

Purchasing directly from Synapse or DiabolikDVD is the only way to get a slipcover so if you care about those, get one early from those retailers directly soon.

Other links to shops that aren’t Amazon:
DeepDiscount | Forbidden Planet | Oldies

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