May 25, 2017
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The book is better than the movie

Local writer wins award for adaptation of ‘worst movie ever made’

By Christine A. Verstraete



While most kids feared the monster hiding under the bed or in the closet, Kansasville resident Stephen D. Sullivan not only liked them, but enjoyed making up his own stories about them.

Now 56, Sullivan has the distinction of winning a Scribe Award for Best Novel Adaptation from the International Association of Media-Tie-in Writers for his book, “Manos: The Hands of Fate.”

Sullivan said the 1966 cult classic — called “the worst movie ever made” by Entertainment Weekly — is an “ultra-low budget” film about a cult of undead people living in the desert and preying on travelers.

“Traditionally, movie scripts are a page long for every minute of screen time,” said Sullivan, a movie buff who has more than 3,000 films in his collection.“The Manos screenplay is about 20 to 30 pages total, and the movie is 70 minutes long. It’s famous for endless shots of driving through the desert, bad lighting, bad dubbing and really over-the-top acting. The movie is just so goofy.”

Cult following

Despite its reputation, the film has achieved a cult following and has recently been re-released on Blu-Ray.

And as bad as it sounds, Sullivan said he is proud to have turned it into a readable “camp horror-comedy” novel that includes the original film dialogue plus his own original adaptations of the script.

“It’s the worst,” he said, “but there’s something charming about it. There’s a kind of home-movie feel to it.

“The director, Hal Warren, had no experience. He did it on a budget and didn’t have the sense to stop. He didn’t know what he was doing, but it’s hard for me to say bad things about him.

“That’s the ironic thing. I wrote an award-winning book about it. The hardest part was trying to make it good, and make it funny, but in a way that is still true to the ‘badness’ of the movie.”

Through the project, he also got to know Jackey Neyman Jones, the actress who played the daughter Debbie in the movie and wrote his book’s foreword.

Other works

Previously, Sullivan wrote an original novelization and script adaptation of Bela Lugosi’s 1932 horror classic, “White Zombie.”

His background includes comics writing, including for Marvel’s Iron Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics and Disney’s Darkwing Duck.

He also worked as a writer, editor and artist for the former Lake Geneva-based TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons. He’s written more than 50 novels, including 14 ghostwritten books featuring two famous boy detectives.

In recent years, he started his own company, Walkabout Publishing, which allows him and other authors to publish and keep the rights to their own creations.

Tournament of Death

One of his original projects, Tournament of Death, has become an annual online event during the Olympics. It has him writing and posting new book chapters daily, with his Kickstarter supporters pledging $1 and up, getting various perks, including original art, ebooks and more. See details and his free stories at his website, The fourth tournament event ended Aug. 21.

Then there are his serialized stories like “Canoe Cops vs. The Mummy,” which are also read online in monster filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm’s Mihmiverse podcasts.

Other stories will be coming, but Sullivan has to finish what was supposed to be the first-and-only book, the straight horror version of the Manos film called “Manos: Talons of Fate.” It should be in print by year’s end. For details, see

“My original intention was to write the scary book, then I realized the audience would want the funny book, so I wrote two,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t intend to write the funny one at all. Manos is like that. It’s about creating success out of unexpected places.”


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