Tuesday, August 1, 2023


 by Anthony King

Another documentary specifically for Dead Heads.

The Synapse Films release of Ryan Meade's documentary about Tom Sullivan, creator of the make-up effects in the first three Evil Dead movies called Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist is a touching tribute to a largely unheralded artist and craftsman, yet it simply doesn't warrant its 105-minute runtime. Steve Villeneuve's Hail to the Deadites (2020) showcased the fandom surrounding the franchise started by Sam Raimi that has spanned five films with more on the way and a television series. Six years prior, though, Meade's documentary was the first to highlight the franchise's diehard fans, starting with himself.
In recent years we've had a spate of documentaries dedicated to our favorite stars (in front of and behind the camera) of the horror world. To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story (2017), Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story (2022), Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019), and the In Search of Darkness series are only a few of seemingly dozens of the past decade that have begun to crop up. While I appreciate the love given these stars from the filmmakers, some of these documentaries are of much higher quality than others. Unfortunately, Invaluable falls into the lesser category. Meade was able to get interviews with dozens of actors and crew members involved with The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead 2 (1987) including Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel, Josh Becker, Theresa Tilly, Ellen Sandweiss, and many more. Hearing their recollections about the production, especially about working with Sullivan, are sweet. We spend a chunk of the movie revisiting shooting locations in Michigan and Tennessee, which are interesting. And there's a tragic part of the story that endears the viewer even closer to Sullivan, an already affable and lovable subject. But again, the fact this documentary runs well over 90 minutes is almost a crime for those of us who are simply general fans of the Evil Dead movies.
Aesthetically speaking, Invaluable is not the prettiest documentary to look at. Meade's editing techniques give an unneeded frantic quality to sit-down interviews. His camera angles are almost nauseating at times. He never makes the effort to present this as anything more than a fan scraping for crumbs of something he holds near and dear. And if that's all this is, then job well done. Synapse releasing this with several bonus features tells me there will be a market, however big, for this sort of thing. There are several cringe-worthy moments, though, that make this a tough sit for the casual fan. Some interviews included – Sullivan excluded – feel like desperate attempts of former actors and crew members trying to make themselves relevant, clinging to something only diehard fans may recognize them for. This is all in service for the man of the hour, Tom Sullivan. We spend most of our time with Sullivan, in his basement looking through totes of old art projects, props (including the original Book of the Dead), and pictures. Meade, for some odd reason, has Sullivan conduct some of the interviews, so the sitter is having to talk up Sullivan while he is sitting directly in front of them. His talent is undeniable, though, and the impact he had on the Evil Dead series is... well, invaluable.

Synapse has included as one of the bonus features another feature-length documentary from Ryan Meade about childhood friend and collaborator of the Raimis and Bruce Campbell, director Josh Becker, called Other Men's Careers. At 77 minutes, this is how long Invaluable should have been. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Meade has turned out a better documentary in Other Men's Careers. Gone are the odd camera angles. Gone are the quickly stolen interviews on the horror convention floor. The poor sound quality of some interviews (including Becker) is distracting and disappointing, but I am far more impressed with this documentary than the film that is being sold as the feature presentation. Here we see clips of Becker's early films starring the Raimi brothers and Campbell, and chronicle, in timely fashion, Becker's less-than-illustrious but no less interesting career in film.
Also included in the bonus features is a short film by Ryan Meade called "Bong Fly" (2013) co-starring Richard DeManincor of The Evil Dead. It follows three stoner friends who prank call a cop who busts up their party. It's not good but I can appreciate the work that went into making it. There's also a 10-minute behind the scenes featurette of "Bong Fly" which is completely unnecessary. Another short film of Meade's is included called "Cosmos Locos" (2011). This is a cheap spoof on John Hughes movies that also feels like Kevin Smith's early films, but it's much better than "Bong Fly." There's an archival interview of Tom Sullivan from 1989 from a public access show called In the Spotlight. It's as cringey as one would think, yet carries the spirit of American Movie (1999). There are also extended interviews from Josh Becker and Tom Philo filmed for Invaluable that didn't make the final cut.

I appreciate the chance to learn a little more about a brilliant artist I'd never even heard of. Unfortunately I can't give this release a strong recommendation unless you fall into the camp of the diehard Evil Dead fans.

Bonus Features
Other Men's Careers – A bonus documentary about the life of filmmaker Josh Becker (77 min.)
Vintage Tom Sullivan In the Spotlight interview (50 min. / 1989)
Unedited interview with Tim Philo, cinematographer of The Evil Dead (48 min.)
Extended interview segments with Josh Becker (6 min.)
Invaluable Promotional Trailers
Ryan Meade short films: "Bong Fly" (19 min.) & "Cosmos Locos" (30 min.)
Bong Fly Behind-the-Scenes (10 min.)
Motion Stills Gallery
New slipcover art by Joel Robinson
Reversible cover art

Blu-ray release date: August 1, 2023
103 minutes / 2014
1.78:1 (1080p)
Mono PCM Audio (English)
Subtitles: none
Region: All region

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