It is the holidays, when little silver balls are hanging from trees only to hunt you down and drain you of your very ruby essence. The Tall Man leaves all us little boils and ghouls gifts tucked away in local mausoleums and he even has a sleigh (slay?) driven by the deformed undead. But have you seen Phantasm: Ravager (2016) yet—the new film in the series? It’s out on Blu-ray this month. What started out as a fan film is now the last chapter in a series that has been hurling through the depths of another dimension since the late 1970s, and always a fully creator owned IP. These are Don Coscarelli’s balls and don’t you ever forget it. At Fantastic Fest Diabolique sat down with Coscarelli and Phantasm: Ravager’s director David Hartman to talk about the end, beginning and Angus Scrimm.
Diabolique: Why does the world deserve Phantasm: Ravager?
David Hartman: [Laughing.] For me, personally, as a fan, I consider myself a true fan, before I knew any of these guys, this was a series that meant a lot to me.
Diabolique: Why did you want to work on it?
David Hartman: I grew up with it. So, my first kind of mentoring in horror was getting Fangoria Issue #2, and getting to see images inside it that scared me, before I knew anything about the movie. It freaked me out, because it was so unconventional. And then finally getting to see the original Phantasm (1979) years later, when I – there was a guy at our video store that would give R-rated movies to underage kids –
Diabolique: – God bless him! –
David Hartman: [Laughs.] – I know, right? They don’t exist anymore, or they’re arrested. But anyhow, I finally got to see the film, and you relate immediately. All the characters are relatable. To me, Don’s got these awesome plots and this weird stuff going on, but it’s a character-driven series. I want to see more of Reggie, I want to see more of Mike, after Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), I still wanted more. I’m thankful for these guys to include me in that.
Diabolique: How did you meet Don Coscarelli?
Don Coscarelli: I’ll go back – I was making Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), and I was introduced by an editor to a friend of Dave’s, Michael Smith, who had offered to do some visual effects for us – at no charge, so what’s not to like? And Michael brought in Dave and the idea was I had this vision that I wanted a main title that looked like Ben-Hur (1959), you know that carved-block thing, and Dave took it, and worked with his wife Kathleen, who is also an artist, and they did this highly detailed illustration of Bubba Ho-Tep letter block, and the first came out so nicely, that I went to him and I said, “Can you do some animated hieroglyphics?” — Some sort of off-color language from this Egyptian guy, and Dave created those – I think the line was “Eat the dog dick of Anubis” [laughter]. So there was like a mouth eating, and then there was a dog, and there was a dick –
David Hartman: I remember you saying, “Hey, do you guys know how to do wire removal?” And I was like, “Hell yeah, I know how to do wire removal!” Then I go home to Google ‘Wire removal’. [Laughter]. ‘Cause it was an opportunity to work with a master –
Don Coscarelli: – Oh well, I wouldn’t go that far.– [laughter]. But, in any case, we started working, and Dave was real super-inventive. Then I got to see his body of work, because this guy always impressed me, because with me, I’m just stuck into almost a Hollywood type of thing, where [frustrated voice:] ‘Ah, I have to have financing before I can make a movie’. Dave and his gang of visual effects and animation guys, they go out and they make a short movie every week, and they find a new piece of software, they go out and shoot a movie, and I liked that ethic that they were constantly refining their methods.
David Hartman: Instead of watching. We could watch a B-movie, or go out and make some.
Don Coscarelli: And they had this weird sense of humor: he had done this whole series with this guy, Dan Harmon, who became the writer of Community (2009-2015), and he, Dave and Dan had collaborated on this series called Laser Fart (2004) that was all about this superhero that would fly through the air with this laser shooting out of his ass. So there’s an irreverent sense of humor, and we had a meeting. He’s a good guy, liked his family.
Diabolique: What was different about shooting this time around?
Don Coscarelli: I think it was more that I enjoyed it. The thing is that movie-making is fun. Student filmmaking is fun. Hollywood movie-making and big crew movie-making is not fun, because the first time I ever experienced that, as I’d made this little low-budget movie that Reggie was in, called Jim, The World’s Greatest (1976) decades ago. Universal Pictures picked it up, and they gave us three days to do some shooting to finish the ending, and I remember going out there on the set with this Universal crew – we were spending more on those three days than we spent on our entire movie. We were in this alley, and there was some trash and junk and I started grabbing stuff to move it away, and the AD is like, “Hey you can’t do that. You’ve got to get the art [department] guy to come over and do that, you’re not supposed to touch that.” It’s like, ‘What?’ It’s ridiculous. But then, what was great about this movie was – like for instance, do you remember that car chase sequence at the beginning with the sphere vs. car?
That entire scene – except for Dave putting in some visual effects – the only person that wasn’t there was our stunt-guy Bob Ivey. The five of us shot that entire scene. We had my van. We had this really cool camera mount. We had it on my van. I was driving the pursuit car, Reggie was appearing to drive in reverse, but the stunt guy was on the floor steering while Reggie was shooting out the door. Dave’s on the camera. We spent two days out in the desert, just the five of us, shooting that scene. It was a Hell of a lot of work, we were totally dehydrated by the end of the day. But wow, that was sure fun! This was how we made the movie, and it was so much fun.
Diabolique: How long did it take?
Don Coscarelli: Our first day of shooting, we started shooting at Reggie and Gigi’s house –
David Hartman: – The thing was, because we were shooting with modest means, it’s not like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna shoot this in nine days.’ Get it done, and then it’s all in the editing. We worked on weekends. For me personally, running an animation production, doing Transformers Prime (2010-2013) –
Don Coscarelli: – And then I ran away and made John Dies At The End (2012). For a year and a half we just stopped, which was not a good –
David Hartman: Yeah, there were two years of just nothing.
Diabolique: [To Don Coscarelli] Years ago, you worked with Roger Avary on a script for an unproduced Phantasm sequel. Can you revisit any of that material, or is that locked in the world of studio rights?
Don Coscarelli: It’s only locked into the world of larger budgets, because it’s epic in nature. I used to say that we just needed to find that visionary executive out there who would commit fifteen to twenty million – it wouldn’t have to be a hundred million, but it would need like fifteen or twenty to make – and unfortunately we never did find that visionary executive. He may not exist – or she. What surrounded it – it’s an amazing story – ’cause I was making this movie Survival Quest (1998) in the late 1980s, and we needed some production assistants and found a couple guys from the South Bay who came and started working. They were a part of this little film collective, of filmmakers, and one of them brought his friend over one day, and it was Roger Avary. And another brought his friend over one day and it was Quentin Tarantino, and all these guys wanted to be filmmakers and were writing scripts, and commenting, and helping each other with their own movies. The funny part about it was that Roger and Quentin did not want – they were wise enough – they did not want to be PAs on the movie. They wanted to jump right in. But what was cool was that one of their friends was assistant editing my film, and we had a computer in my office, so Roger and the friend would come in – because this was before everybody had their own computer – and they would be using the computer to write their screenplays.
So anyway, I’d known Roger since he was twenty, and for their brilliance, he and Quentin won a screenwriting Oscar together [for Pulp Fiction (1994)], and in most of those circumstances, honestly, you know you’d go, ‘Hey Roger Avary, you just won the Oscar, what are you gonna do next?’ And they’re supposed to say, ‘I’m going to Disneyland!’ And I went and had lunch with Roger at a Mexican restaurant down in the South Bay, and he goes, “I want to write the kick-ass end-all Phantasm sequel!” So he went to work for about three months, and worked on this thing, and it was really impressive, and I loved it, and saw it, and we just couldn’t get anybody to fund it. And poor Reggie knew about it, and I was telling him about it, and I didn’t even want to let him see the script because it was so top-secret, I felt so bad about that. It was a big blow, because we were all thinking with Roger’s help we could, you know, go out, but the problem was there was no business model to make three movies with the third one being a direct-to-video movie, and then the fourth one becoming a twenty million dollar sequel. It was probably not realistic from the beginning.
Diabolique: Was the script was written in that style, that Tarantino had developed, that rhythm –
Don Coscarelli: – Yeah, Roger had a lot of influence on that too. There was a whole subplot – basically what happens is the United States had been invaded by the Tall Man using this alien virus. So the center of the country is all a wasteland. Reggie’s trying to find Mike, and he’s gonna go into the wasteland. You have to give up your American citizenship to get into the wasteland – you can go in, but you can’t come out. So he’s headed in, and at the same time, government operatives are sending in their S-Squad, a suicide squad, that they’ve got this quantum phase device that they’re gonna take, and they’re gonna drop it into The Tall Man’s dimension and blow it up. So Reggie ends up butting heads with these guys, in the wasteland, and then they team up. We couldn’t get the funding together, so we then lowered the budget, and in the meantime I’d gotten to know Bruce Campbell, because I was thinking about using him in Bubba Ho-Tep, and Roger and I thought, ‘Oh, let’s get Bruce Campbell to play the leader of the S-Squad, we’ll combine the Evil Dead and the Phantasm franchises’ – and at five million bucks, we still couldn’t get an executive to fund the thing! Wouldn’t that have been great?