Two Invaluable Evil Dead Stories

I remember stumbling across BD-R copies of an indie, self-released documentary about Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan on EBay a few years ago.  I was very intrigued, but a little wary that it might just be a glorified Youtube video some amateur horror fan decided to make a fancy cover for and sell to us suckers.  I came this close to biting the bullet a couple of times, but never quite pulled the trigger.  And now I'm glad I didn't, because Synapse has picked it up and given Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist a proper, pressed special edition.  And, though the packaging doesn't give it as much attention as it's due, they've also gone and included the director's follow-up documentary, which is possibly even better and more exciting: Other Men's Careers, about the life and work of Josh Becker.
Invaluable is written and directed by an up and coming Detroit filmmaker named Ryan Meade, but besides being the subject, Sullivan is a producer and appears to be closely involved with the project (he's clearly behind the camera for some of the interviews), netting the film highly valuable access.  While some interviews were clearly grabbed at conventions and/ or shot on somebody's phone, we also get proper HD interviews with fan favorites like Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi, lots of vintage footage like Sullivan's childhood stop motion animations & early Sam Raimi 8mm shorts, rare artwork, and Sullivan good naturedly trekking around old shooting locations, even those only to be found deep within the woods.  Consequently, this film is able to dive pretty deep, giving us more than we've already seen on our DVD extras.  It gets into the more personal aspects of his life, like the loss of his wife and mental health issues he suffered after a serious car crash, and doesn't shy away from tackling the more difficult questions along with documenting all his popular and obscure artistic ventures.
Then, I don't know why they did it like this, but Synapse lists Other Men's Careers as a "bonus documentary" among the special features of Invaluable.  But it is every bit as good, if not better, than Invaluable itself.  Honestly, before seeing either film, I was already more interested in an exploration of Josh Becker's career.  He has an extensive filmography and rarely gets the coverage he deserves.  But even with that aside, this is a better film just in terms of being more polished.  It's a more recent film, Meade has been able to attract more major players like Lucy Lawless, Sheldon Littich and Joseph LoDuca into the mix (in addition to pretty much everybody who participated in Invaluable), and there's less low-fi footage of someone being cornered at a festival and more, high-end sit-down pieces.
We once again get to see plenty of rare, early efforts like student films and 8mm shorts, and this is film gets even more candid than Invaluable.  I was actually shocked how honest and critical people were willing to be about Becker, considering this is largely a "we're all friends here" environment.  This delves in the personal side just like Invaluable, getting into Becker's drinking problems and inability to hold onto a Hollywood career, but plenty of people are surprisingly open just calling him a bad writer, flat out.  But, at the end of the day, there is still a love and respect for the man and the artist, and if you're anything like me, you'll come out of this wanting to track down whatever Becker films you missed over the years (see also my Theatrical Musings page for a recent reflection on his overlooked TV movie Harpies from 2007, which is at once awful and delightful).
And instead of looking at the two in competition with each other, the two films actually compliment each other quite well, building on the same larger narrative of this Detroit cinematic microverse.  Becker contributes a lot to Sullivan's doc, and Sullivan returns the favor.  And while both got a little left in the dust by Sam Raimi's blockbuster career, their stories are very different.  Sullivan is sweet and remains in good spirits despite serious personal challenges, while Becker is bitter as Hell.  In both cases, though, it's a large part of their charm.  And while you could easily just watch either film in complete isolation from the other, in some ways they feel more like two parts of one larger, over-arching documentary which tells a more complete story than either of its halves taken on their own.
Synapse 2023 BD.
Top two: Invaluable; bottom two: Other Men's Careers.

Both films are 1.78:1, though the AR shifts around as both docs include mixed media from a variety of sources, giving very mixed picture quality.  Some shots look crisply high def, and others look like they over-compressed footage from a flip-phone.  We get some full-frame, some 2.35 and they occasionally make the annoying decision to window-box some widescreen clips.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn they just dropped all their footage into a timeline and never adjusted any of it.  The frame rate is also a little wonky on Invaluable, possibly due again to the mixed media, or just a faulty output setting from the editing software, resulting in intermittent ghost frames (see that first shot of Campbell).  I assume this is an issue with the original film, and not Synapse's presentation of it, as the problem seems to be resolved when we get to Other Men's Careers.

Both films offer the audio in full LPCM with, unfortunately, no subtitle options.
There are a substantial amount of extras, too.  Most are from Invaluable, not Other Men's Careers, though the distinction can be pretty slim, since it's often the same people talking about the same shared time periods in their lives.  There are some short deleted scenes/ interview clips with Sullivan, Cheryl Williams, Campbell and Becker.  Then there's the complete, unedited 50-minute interview with DP Tim Philo that covers his whole Evil Dead experience, and a vintage local television piece on Tim Sullivan that we saw clips of in the doc but turns out to run for nearly an hour.  There are also two short films by Meade, which I'd liken to amateur Kevin Smith.  Imagine Yoga Hosiers without the professional experience.  But one of them, Cosmos Locos, might still be of interest even if that doesn't sound appealing to you, because it features cameo appearances by Sullivan and Becker.  There's also a little behind-the-scenes footage for the other one of those shorts, plus trailers for all the films on this disc and an Invaluable stills gallery.  Synapse's release includes reversible artwork and the first 1000 copies comes in a slipcover.
If you only watch one documentary about a celebrated special effects artist this year, make it... Jurassic Punk.  But if you don't see any reason to arbitrarily limit yourself to just one, you should definitely pick up Invaluable, too.  Both of these films were pleasant surprises, and I was already expecting something pretty entertaining.  I hope Meade keeps making these; I'd love to see one on Scott Spiegel, say, or Nathan J. White.

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