Tim Sullivan is a science fiction writer (The Martian Viking, Lords of Creation), raconteur and all-around cool dude. As an actor, he can be seen in a multitude of pictures from the microbudget era, including Twilight of the Dogs, Hollywood Mortuary and Deadly Scavengers.He also wrote some scripts (V-World Matrix,Eyes of the Werewolf) and even directed a little (Vampyre Femmes). I asked him to write something about his work in those days and what he did instead is write this affectionate love-letter that touched my heart. I haven’t seen Tim in better than a decade now, and I often ache for his conversation and company these days.
I’ve known Ron Ford for over a quarter century, maybe closer to thirty years now. We first met while working on a movie called The Laughing Dead at Old Tucson, Arizona. Old Tucson was a full-service-Western-town-outdoor-and-indoor-standing set that had been built in the late thirties for a movie called Arizona with William Holden and Jean Arthur, and added to over the following decades. There was a Spanish Mission, complete inside and out, a town square, as well as the requisite main street with wooden sidewalks and saloon. By the time we shot there, Wild West Shows were staged on the streets and a national high school cheerleader convention once messed up our sound while the girls led cheers for imaginary sports fans.
It was a great place to work. Unfortunately, Old Tucson burned down some years later, and as far as I know they haven’t rebuilt it. But in those days it was like living in a cowboy fantasy to be there. I’d seen so many Westerns shot on those sets that it was like being at home in some strange way. We had a blast.
Ron and I kept in touch when he and his wife Paula moved to LA, where I was living at the time. Not too long after it became apparent that The Laughing Dead would never find an American distributor (I hear there’s a Thai DVD available, but I haven’t seen it), Ron told me he was planning to make a shot-on-video feature with a guy named Mark Gordon, who would be a producer and shoot the thing as well. He had the equipment and knew how to use it, so we set out to make Alien Force, starring Tyrone Wade, an Australian body builder and all around nice guy, and the beautiful and talented Roxanne Coyne. Somehow Ron got the guy who used to play Robin to Adam West’s Batman (Burt Ward) to play an alien in a wild costume.
The main problem, as seasoned actor Michael Wayne (who joined the cast to play the villain) pointed out to me one day, was two directors. For some reason, Mark kept butting in on Ron, even though Ron was well prepared and knew exactly what he wanted to do, was well liked by the cast, and had written the script.
Need I add that Ron started his own production company, Fat Free Features, as soon as possible?
Twilight of the Dogs, written by and starring Tim Sullivan
There he made his magnum opus, Hollywood Mortuary, in which Ron played a Bela Lugosi-like actor named Janos Blasko, and I essayed the role of Pratt Borokoff, lisping away as I’d been doing since first seeing Boris Karloff in the early sixties and trying to imitate his voice for the amusements of my classmates. It’s a film for fans of classic horror, and Randal Malone makes the most of his lead role as a makeup man who becomes an undertaker, Pierce Jackson Dawn. It was inevitable that he’d find the secret of bringing the dead back to life, of course, and he gets to work on Borokoff and Blasko pretty soon, making them do his evil bidding. He wants nothing less than fatal revenge on the studio moguls who ended his movie career.
I call him Janos to this day.
Ron Ford and Tim Sullivan as Janos Blasko and Pratt Borokof in “Hollywood Mortuary”
We had tremendous fun, even though much of Hollywood Mortuary was filmed during one of the worst heat waves I’ve ever suffered through. One thing you can always depend on with a Ron Ford Movie is a family atmosphere, and that was abundant on this shoot. Another thing you can always depend on is that he’ll get the picture made come hell or high water. Ron never quits.
And that’s not all. When I directed my own feature a couple of years later, Ron was there to help in every way he could. Did I mention his generosity and kindness?
If it isn’t obvious by now, let me just add that I’m very happy and proud to call Ron “Janos” Ford my old friend.
* * * *
Thank you, Pratt old thing. I feel the same way. A few editorial things: I am no longer married – not for 8 years now. Old Tucson was indeed rebuilt, and Tim was delightful in all his roles in Alien Force and all the pictures he appeared in. Don’t listen to his modest self-deprecation.
Vista Street Entertainment is one of the distributor/producers that I often created product for in the late 90s and early 2000s , the golden age of microbudgetry. Jerry Feifer, who owns and runs the company, specialized in erotica – erotic action, erotic comedies, erotic horror – all-erotica, all the time. He is perhaps best known for the Witchcraft series. Parts 13, 14 and 15 have recently finished shooting. However, back in 1999, I wrote and directed part 11. To date, it is the only movie I ever made on 16 mm film that was released. Jerry and I had worked together before, peripherally, through some of the projects I did for producer David Sterling. I learned that Jerry was planning to do another Witchcraft film, after a break of a few years. I told Jerry that I wanted that project, since it was, even at that time, known as the longest-running series in horror. It seemed like it would be a nice feather in my cap. Jerry, in the spirit of movie showmen, gave me a counter offer. He said he had a nearly impossible project for some Korean investors. They wanted to shoot an erotic version of Terminator, with a buxom female terminator, that would be designed to include actual effects sequences from the Terminator movies, copyrights be damned. The name of this masterwork? “Turborator.” For a pretty non-existent budget I would have to deliver new buxom ladies willing to shed their tops pretty much on a daily basis for the shoot. It would be a nightmare of logistics, organization and sweat and sleepless nights, Jerry told me, but if I pulled it off, I could do Witchcraft XI. I went him one better. I said if I pull off “Turborator,” I want to make “Wichcraft XI” on film. He agreed. Nightmare doesn’t start to cover it. The trials and tribulations of “Turborator” could be a whole other blog post. Hell, it could be a book. Needless to say, though, we got it all in the can. I used my pseudonym Mac Cobb in the credits. There was a sympathetic rapist in the horrendous script that I did not want association with. I should probably be flogged for committing it to video at all, but there it is, full confession. I felt kind of dirty about it then , and now. Okay, really filthy.
I don’t know what became of “Turborator” in Korea, but Jerry used scenes I shot for it in two other incomprehensible mashup movies using scenes from other projects with the same actors in them. One was “Red Light Stalker,” and the other was called “License to Kill,”James Bond be damned. The formula for a witchcraft movie is that it be a horror film with what Jerry calls “love” scenes every 15 minutes at least. That means topless simulated sex, which pretty much kills the pace if you have any pretense of telling a real story. But that was the formula that came with the job, and I did my best to tell a full story in spite of the boobage. The previous entry in the series was a vampire film. I wanted to take the series back to it’s origins, witches, and to make as serious a horror film as I could under the circumstances.
With my theater background, I naturally thought of Macbeth and the three weird sisters who predict Macbeth’s fate in the beginning of the play. I came up with the idea of having a drama teacher who is actually a Satanist using three University students as vessels to resurrect a trio of evil witch sisters who were buried on the grounds where the university was later built. I wanted to call it “Witchcraft XI: The Weird Sister,” like in Macbeth, but Jerry thought that Shakespeare stuff was too highbrow, and changed it to “Wichcraft XI: Sisters in Blood.” C’est la mort.
I also pushed the level of gore in the series. Jerry was not fond of the red stuff, but I talked him in to letting me take it a little further than he was comfortable with. I was shackled with some of the casting and some I had control of. It was a mixed bag, but it was always great to work with old friends like Stephanie Beaton, Mikul Robins and Joe Haggerty. I also brought in silent screen star Anita Page, in one of her last screen roles, as an ancient nun who guards the key to the gateway to hell. Anita had been in some of my earlier films, along with her caregiver, Randal Malone. I knew her quite well. Jerry was amazed and thrilled to find that she was in the movie. He was a fan!
In the end, I delivered less footage than any other director who had ever worked for Jerry. I thought he would be pleased, I planned my shoot so efficiently that I save him money. He surprised me initially by getting angry, telling me it couldn’t possibly cut with so little coverage shot. But the coverage was all there, just not a lot of takes, because I rehearsed a lot more than I usually did before shooting, for the very purpose of not wasting expensive film. Jerry ate his words when of course it did cut, and he was very happy with the film. He continued to hire me for other projects after that.
Steven Warren was a make-up effects guy that Dave Sterling introduced me to. He was young, very young, like 18 I believe, maybe 19. He was nervous and awkward and really nice and bursting with creative energy. I liked him a lot. He created some wicked gnarly decomposing witch-things that out of stone knives and bearskins. Okay, not quite, but he just grabbed his kit and improvised and beautifully creepy things emerged that delighted me. In the film story, the witches are intent on raising the monster demon Abadon. Spoiler alert, they do! Originally I had intended to use a stop motion puppet for our giant monster, just because I grew up on Harryhausen films and because they are awesome. That did not work out on our budget, however, so Steve and I improvised in his back yard. He threw a monster costume together that he wore himself and I shot him, lying on my back and using the sky above as a blue screen. It was the only shot in the movie not shot by our DP Scott Spears, and also the only one that that was shot on video and not 16mm film. A short time after we wrapped, Dave Sterling called, waking me up to tell me that Steven had hanged himself in his closet that morning. Apparently he had been having girlfriend troubles and didn’t know how to cope. I was pretty heartbroken. We all were. In the end, we dedicated the film to Steven. It’s a shoddy memorial to such a beautiful young soul, but it’s the best we could do.…