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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: August 1st, 2023 Movie Release Year: 2014

Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist

Overview -

While we wouldn’t have The Evil Dead without guys like Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, or Rob Tapert, it can be argued the franchise would be wildly different without the efforts of Tom Sullivan. Ryan Meade’s documentary Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist is a genuine love letter to the iconic contributions of Sullivan’s work on the film. Add some excellent extra features and Synapse delivers an essential piece for every Deadite fan’s collection. Recommended

Sam Raimi's 1981 film THE EVIL DEAD is a horror masterpiece that has terrified audiences for over 40 years and spawned sequels, a remake, video games, toys and even a television series. The original film's iconic special effects and make-up were created by Tom Sullivan, a Michigan artist and sculptor who became friends with Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell and producer Rob Tapert when they were in college.

Ryan Meade's INVALUABLE: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EPIC ARTIST is a feature length documentary about the life and art of Tom Sullivan and his involvement with the EVIL DEAD film series. Assembled with amazing archival Super 8mm film footage, Hi8, VHS, and vintage audio tapes and photographs, it's a unique and sentimental portrait of a man who helped make one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. Also contains amazing behind-the-scenes footage, original location visits, all-new interviews with Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Josh Becker, Danny Hicks, Hal Delrich, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly and more!

Special Features:

  • OTHER MEN'S CAREERS – A bonus documentary about the life of filmmaker Josh Becker
  • Vintage Tom Sullivan "In the Spotlight" interview (1989)
  • Unedited interview with Tim Philo, cinematographer of THE EVIL DEAD
  • Extended interview segments with Josh Becker
  • INVALUABLE Promotional Trailers
  • Ryan Meade short films: BONG FLY & COSMOS LOCOS
  • BONG FLY Behind-the-Scenes
  • SNAP SHOTS – Motion Stills Gallery
  • New slipcover art by Joel Robinson
  • Reversible cover art

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
105
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.78:1
Audio Formats:
English: LPCM 2.0
Release Date:
August 1st, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

I don’t know what it is about documentaries that often flummox my ability to write anything about them - but once again, I am faced with that conundrum with Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist. Filmmaker Ryan Meade’s endearing love letter to artist Tom Sullivan is simply the perfect extra feature that every Evil Dead fan needs to have in their collection. We’ve heard audio commentaries that discussed Sullivan’s work. We’ve seen the man pop up in a few making-of-docs here and there, but we’ve never heard his full story. 

Make no mistake, Evil Dead features prominently throughout the film, but this is the first time we get to learn about Sullivan’s introduction to filmmaking and art. This is the part of documentaries that always trip me up because I really want to detail what happens, but then I want you all to sit down and watch this movie too so please forgive my vagueries. The film covers Sullivan's origins in stop-motion animation and then learning to draw is engrossing material. Learning what he did on The Evil Dead films right from the horse’s mouth is a true treat. In addition to Sullivan, we get to hear direct from the likes of Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Ellen Sandweiss, and Hal Delrich, among numerous other familiar and unfamiliar faces. 

As a key takeaway from the film, I appreciated that Meade didn’t simply focus only on Sullivan’s contributions to Evil Dead lore. There are happy, sad, and some outright tragic turns his story takes and I appreciated there wasn’t any glossing over of those moments. Sullivan feels like a genuine and honest participant in the venture so fans will get to see a lovely human story on top of learning some new details about their favorite horror films. This documentary really is a treat to fans.

I mean hell, on a personal note, Sullivan’s artwork (and Evil Dead as a whole) had an incredible impact on my life and the lives in my social sphere. As a rural Michigander watching these movies made us believe we could all do it too. A lot of crappy VHS and eventually several Digital 8 tapes were wasted between the years of 1996 to early 2001! I remember helping a friend recreate his own Necronomicon for a stupid homegrown horror movie where we literally paused his worn-out washed-out VHS copy of Evil Dead 2 we had to study Tom’s artwork frame by frame and try to redraw those creepy images.

I have a replica Book of the Dead sitting on my shelf, I bought those incredible Anchor Bay sets (wish I could have afforded the AU import of Army of Darkness), and I recreated the Necronomicon look from Evil Dead for an animation project in college. I had a co-worker who literally has various Sullivan drawings from pages of the Necronomicon tattooed onto his arms and back! It’s because of this fandom and appreciation for one person’s singular contribution that makes a documentary like Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist so fun and endearing.

If you’re an Evil Dead fan and you haven’t picked it up yet, don’t let it slip past you. Your Deadite collection isn’t complete without it!

 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist comes home to Blu-ray in a single-disc release from Synapse. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a black case with a booklet featuring other Synapse titles available for purchase. The disc loads to a standard main menu.

Video Review

Ranking:

As the documentary was cobbled together from a variety of sources including new recently professionally shot interviews, archival interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and convention footage - the overall quality can vary a bit from sequence to sequence. That isn’t a bad thing though as important objects, interview subjects, and some locations are all given the appropriate attention. Some sequences are razor sharp, like when Tom Sullivan leads a tour to the remnants of the original Evil Dead cabin and that’s where it counts most. Some of the in-person interviews like with Tom’s sister while he’s on the phone are a little hazy, but nothing distracting to pull you out of the moment or anything like that. You’re here to learn about the man and you get plenty of material of varying sources presented to you.

Audio Review

Ranking:

On the audio side we’re given a respectable LPCM 2.0 track that gets the job done. Most of the time dialog is clean and clear without issue. Anytime someone on-camera is speaking, it’s just fine. A small issue comes up when someone off camera is asking the participant a question, some of the Bruce Campbell bits had this, where that question is difficult to hear. While you can still kinda hear what was asked, it’s still easy to infer the question from the answer. That’s a small quibble really as the vast majority of the film sounds perfectly good. It might not be the most sonically sophisticated or dynamic track ever but for the subject at hand it gets the job done and then some.

Special Features

Ranking:

On the bonus features side, there’s a ton of great stuff to dig into. In addition to Invaluable there’s another very interesting documentary about the life of filmmaker and Evil Dead sound recordist Josh Becker called Other Men’s Careers that’s well worth taking a gander at. So to that end, you’re getting two important docs about key Deadite contributors in one set! It’s a real hoot hearing the stories of how so many key contributors to the franchise virtually grew up next to each other. This doc also buttresses just how cool it is that these guys not only grew up together, made little films together, then went off to college to do their own thing for a bit, but then all came back together to get The Evil Dead made. And here we are 40+ years later still talking about that movie and its unholy cinematic spawn! 

After that, you pick up some extra vintage interviews with Sullivan, a full unedited interview with Evil Dead cinematographer Tim Philo. More Josh Becker interviews as well as some of Ryan Meade’s short films with behind-the-scenes materials for those as well. All told you’re looking at almost four hours of extra content that’s well worth the time - especially Other Men’s Careers. That’s just as great a watch as Invaluable really making this disc a fun double feature. 

  • Other Men’s Careers (HD 1:17:00)
  • Invaluable Trailer 1 (HD 3:26)
  • Invaluable Trailer 2 (HD 3:29)
  • Bong Fly Short Film (HD 18:58)
  • Bong Fly Behind the Scenes (HD 10:29)
  • Mega Monster Bongfly Trailer (HD 2:29)
  • Cosmos Locos Short Film (HD 29:52)
  • Other Men’s Careers Trailer (HD 2:20)
  • Tom Sullivan - Vintage Interview (SD 50:31) 
  • Josh Becker - Extended Interview Segments (HD 6:34)
  • Tim Philo Unedited Interview (HD 48:17)
  • Turkey or Chicken - Bonus Clip (HD 1:27)
  • Snap Shots - Stills Gallery (HD 4:04)
  • Boobie Bonus Clip (HD 00:54)
  • The Cry of Cthulhu - Bonus Clip (HD 2:17)

Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist is an essential piece for every Evil Dead fan to view at least once. But let’s get real here, if you own the movies, you have the TV series on Blu-ray, you’ve played the video games - you probably should have this Blu-ray in your collection too. Not only does this disc from Synapse feature a loving tribute to the artist but soundman and filmmaker Josh Becker also picks up his own entertaining and informative documentary. The short and tall of it is no matter how many commentaries you’ve heard or other making-of docs you’ve seen over the years through multiple disc releases, you’re probably going to want to have this one in the collection to complete the picture. Recommended