[Originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of DEADLY Magazine. Read part 2 of the retrospective here.] Think back to your worst memory of high school. If it doesn’t involve a giant bone-crushing baby, rock and roll zombies, or a Satanic guidance counselor, then you didn’t go to Crowley High, the setting for the beloved TV series Todd & The Book of Pure Evil.
Comprised of two seasons that originally aired from 2010–2012 on Canada’s Space network, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil follows Todd Smith, a heavy metal-loving high school stoner who, along with his best friend Curtis, major crush (and strongly independent) Jenny, and the brilliant Hannah, is forced to face the monsters and evil powers unleashed by The Book of Pure Evil.
The twisted tome (believed to be bound in the foreskin of Judas) can be found by the tormented, the humiliated, and the depressed—making high school its perfect home. For 26 episodes, Todd and his friends (collectively known as “the Gang”) hunt the book and fight the monsters spawned by the treacherous text, including a human-eating birthday cake and a rabid homunculus. Along the way, Todd seeks advice from Jimmy the janitor (Jason Mewes), navigates the schemes of his cult member guidance counselor, Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins), and is harassed by The Metal Dudes: three mysterious guys who infinitely loiter in the school’s parking lot, waiting for a prophecy involving Todd and The Book to be fulfilled…
Though it was canceled well before its time, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil continues to grow its audience through positive word-of-mouth and home media sales, and its cast of beloved, bizarre characters will return soon in the animated feature, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End, a project made possible through a successful Indiegogo campaign. To look back on Todd & The Book of Pure Evil as its cult status spreads, I caught up with series creators Craig David Wallace and Charles Picco, who discussed the show's origins, inspirations, plans for the scrapped third season, and much more.
Though it didn’t air until 2010, Todd & The Book of Pure Evil is based on the 2003 short of the same name. How did you come up with the idea for the short?
Craig David Wallace: I was part of a program at the Canadian Film Centre where they take a certain number of writers, directors, editors, and producers and basically throw them in an incubation program where they throw ideas around and make stuff. At the time, I had rediscovered heavy metal and I was reading the classic exposé on heavy metal, Lords of Chaos, so that was always floating in my head. I was walking by some of the writers and one of them, a guy named Max Reid, was talking about that book with someone else. So eventually he and I decided to come up with an idea for a short.
Around that same time, I kept thinking of young Sherlock Holmes and young Indiana Jones, and I wanted to do young Faust. And for me, young Faust was this 15-year-old heavy metal kid who just didn’t fit in. And that’s all I had, really, so I just started from there. And so we ended up writing this little short film called Young Faust.
Right when we were coming up with this idea, a friend of mine in the program had cut out this thing from Entertainment Weekly for the Showtime movie of the week, and it was called I Was a Teenage Faust. I brought this up at a legal meeting and everybody’s jaws dropped and it kind of turned my life into hell for three weeks, because all of a sudden now we couldn’t call it Young Faust. It got kind of crazy. We had to keep pitching titles to the legal department. At one point Max was pitching Dario Demonicus, but I felt like that was a little too close to Donnie Darko. Encyclopedia Satanica was pretty fun, but by far my favorite out of all of them was Faust Times at Crowley High. I was so heartbroken when they wouldn’t let me do that one.
Eventually I demanded that I get on the phone with the legal department and I had this list of names that I just went down: "Can we call it this? Can we call it this?" And when I said Todd and the Book of True Evil, they paused and then said, "Yes, you can do that." When I told my producer, he said, "Something’s missing… Pure Evil." And that’s how it all came together.
Charles, how did you get involved with Todd & The Book of Pure Evil?
Charles Picco: I ended up at the Canadian Film Centre a year later than Craig and Max and our producers. The first or second day they assembled all of us in the theater and screened some of the short films that had been made the previous year and one of them was Todd, which I think had just gone through the Toronto [International] Film Festival, and I was just blown away. I was thinking, "Oh my god, why was I not in the same class as these guys?" I felt I should have been there a year before.
So come graduation in December of 2003, I was developing this horror film called The Welcoming, about a country-western band that ends up in a town populated by Satanists. Anthony Leo, our producer, approached me and said that he and Craig wouldn’t mind developing this feature idea that I had. But at the same time they were beginning to develop Todd the TV series.
We’d hook up for coffee or a beer and we’d talk about the script and I’d finish up and they would continue talking about Todd and I was thinking, "I really hope they ask me to work on this thing" [laughs]. I knew that these were the guys I wanted to work with forever and I knew that Todd could be a brilliant TV series. About a month later, in February 2004, we finished up a meeting with The Welcoming, and I was packing up my bag to go and they said, "No, we’d like you to stick around and talk to us if you’re interested in Todd." And that’s how it began. It was really the beginning of my career.
While writing the show, what kind of creative process did you both have?
Charles Picco: We wrote most of the series in Craig’s apartment in the kitchen and in my apartment in the office.
Craig David Wallace: We would work for hours and then we would go through John Carpenter’s back catalogue. Charles would say, "Oh, we could do something like this,” and I would say, "Oh, I never saw that," and then we would stop working and watch whatever it was.
Charles Picco: We would always end the workday watching a John Carpenter or Dario Argento movie.
Craig David Wallace: Or early [Brian] De Palma.
Charles Picco: We watched Phantom of the Paradise, which became an influence on us with “The Phantom of Crowley High” [the first musical episode of Todd & The Book of Pure Evil]. So it was always work for a few hours, then drink, and then watch movies. It was always affecting the work we were doing the next day. And it went on like that for 4–5 years.
With the series sadly canceled after the second season, what story ideas were you guys forced to abandon?
Craig David Wallace: The best writing I have ever done was some of the stuff Charles and I came up with for season three. We fleshed out all of that season. We had the whole arc. And then we brought all the writers in to break out lines for the first five episodes. Those episodes were very, very strong.
So when we weren’t renewed it was so heartbreaking because we had awesome stuff. But pretty much the entire arc we had for season three has now been turned into the feature film. So I’m very happy that stuff’s coming out. But because it’s a feature that’s meant to tie up a lot of the emotional ends, certain episodes are all gone. They had to go, and we had amazing stuff.
In an episode titled “Wanda Gets Waxed,” they [the Gang] went to a wax museum and people were getting killed and turning into wax statues. We had “Art of Darkness” that followed this kid that doodled a Viking on a motorcycle.
Charles and I are really big fans of Conan the Barbarian, the John Milius/Arnold Schwarzenegger one, and on the director’s commentary of that film—which I swear is the best director’s commentary of all time—John Milius talks about how [Robert E.] Howard would write all the Conan novels and pulp novels so quickly, because he would imagine Conan standing behind him with an axe saying, "If you don’t get this written by sunrise, I’m going to chop off your head." And that’s what drove him forward.
So we had this whole episode about this kid who’s drawing this Viking who stands behind him and he’s going to cut off his head unless he draws what he wants him to draw. And it turns into this whole thing where he kidnaps Hannah and it was nuts, it was so much fun.
We also had the Man-Cat episode, where a cat gets The Book of Pure Evil, which is awesome [laughs]. It became this man with a cat’s head that attacked people and ate them.
Charles Picco: And Garry [Campbell] came up with a really dark episode about teen suicide. It would have been a good third season.
Craig David Wallace: I had this very ambitious idea that we would shoot season three and season four back-to-back because our actors weren’t exactly teenagers when we started and they definitely didn’t look like them by the end. I was thinking, "Dude, we have one more year before this is even remotely acceptable." We just had to get them out of high school.
We wrote two season arcs and then we realized there was no way we were going to get two seasons in a row and would instead get probably one last season, so we combined them. It had a lot of great stuff. We really fleshed out the mythology, we were going to bring some characters back who had died—as their siblings—and find a way to tie it all together. It was super fun.
Charles Picco: The Gang would have stuck around town and Todd and Curtis would have probably gotten jobs at the gas station, Hannah would have gone to community college. The idea was to keep them in Crowley Heights because once The Book is out of the school it’s still running amuck in the town and it was our intent to learn more about the area. It would have been a continuation of the storyline by expanding the world, like learning about the mayor or the powers-that-be in the town. But that would have been in seasons four or five.
Check back soon for Part II of our Todd & The Book of Pure Evil retrospective, including more content from our interviews with Craig and Charles, as well as stars Alex House, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Bill Turnbull, and series composer Shawn Pierce.