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BEAR MARKET ANNIVERSARY | Downturn Leaves Trail of
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Tim Sullivan

In turnaround

March 16, 2003|Thomas S. Mulligan

What does it say about American culture if Venice filmmaker Tim Sullivan can't get financing for a remake of the 1964 splatter classic "2000 Maniacs"?

What it said to Sullivan is that raising funds for low-budget independent movies -- never easy -- has gotten tougher since Wall Street laid an egg.

At 38, Sullivan is a 20-year horror veteran. His first break came in his hometown of Metuchen, N.J., on 1983's forgotten "Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn." Sullivan's job, wielding a Black & Decker hand pump behind the scenes, was to make sure the blood gushed on cue and on budget.

His current labor of love is "2001 Maniacs," an update of the original by H.G. Lewis, who ruled the drive-in with such immortal titles as "Blood Feast" and "She-Devils on Wheels." The plot: Confederate zombies take revenge on present-day Yankee tourists.

Sullivan -- director, producer and co-screenwriter -- thought he had it all nailed down last spring when he signed as his star the biggest name in horror, Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame.

He also had found a wealthy investor who, despite the bear market, committed $300,000 to the project. It was a crucial piece in a financing puzzle that included bank loans and deals with two small studios.

As the June 2002 shooting date approached, the crew began building sets. Costume and special-effects people set to work. Sullivan and Englund did a promotional appearance to generate some buzz among horror fans.

Then, on the very brink of filming, came the real horror: "Our financier -- the stock market caught up with him," Sullivan said. "His stocks just toppled. The money he'd earmarked for 'Maniacs' suddenly became his emergency living money."

The deal was off. Said Sullivan: "I did my day of mourning. It was time to send everybody home. Tear down the sets, pack up the costumes, pack up the severed heads."

Nine months later, with Wall Street money even harder to come by, Sullivan is hoping to interest a studio in a scaled-down "Maniacs," with a budget of perhaps $1.2 million instead of the original $2.5 million.

A couple of characters will be dropped and some action sequences trimmed. However, there are some compromises he won't make. The script said eight murders, and eight murders there will be.

"If I have to choose between a decapitation and a motorcycle chase," Sullivan said, "I'm going with the decapitation."

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