I wasn’t supposed to see the movie Phantasm. It was a Friday in the early 1980s. I was at a video store with a friend and my mom. All I wanted was something to watch for the weekend. My friend picked up this horror movie called Phantasm and told that I should rent it. He said that it was really good and that I would enjoy it. So I had my mom rent it. I watched Phantasm once. It was weird but I didn’t think it was scary. Then I watched it again. And again. I didn’t really like the film but it stayed with me. Later, my friend told me that he didn’t actually think I’d like Phantasm. He had told me to rent it as a joke. As time went on, I could never describe it to people except to say that a tall, bald guy tries to kill a young kid for over an hour, and in the end pulls him through a mirror and yells “BOOOOOOOOYYYYYYYY!!!”
Many years after this in 2007 my mother died. The Phantasm DVD had come out in 2006 and this movie spoke to me like I had never seen it before. It was certainly no joke. Suddenly, Phantasm wasn’t a horror movie at all but a wildly, gothic tone poem about love, life, and loss.
As one of the few truly independent voices in cinema, Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli has a had career to truly be admired. He was never sucked into the studio system but he worked within it. Coscarelli found a way to make most of the movies he ever desired to make, and he still seems to have as much gumption as ever to make more. With the release of his book True Indie, the master filmmaker has finally put his story down on paper. We recently caught up with him on the eve of the release of “True Indie”, as well as the eve of Bubba Ho-Tep screening at Beyond Fest.
Evan Jacobs: With Bubba Ho-Tep screening at Beyond Fest what’s it like to have created another film that will live on in a similar way to other to films like Phantasm and The Beastmaster?
Don Coscarelli: I’m excited to attend the screening at Beyond Fest in support of my memoir “True Indie.” I have not seen Bubba Ho-Tep with an audience for years. The response to Bubba Ho-Tep‘s 15th Anniversary has been simply overwhelming! It is so gratifying that not only did audiences “get” the film at the time of release, but it now seems to have stood the test of time. Ossie Davis, Bruce Campbell, Ella Joyce and the rest of the cast are just superb in the film. The only sad note is that all of our senior actors from the film are now gone.
Evan Jacobs: Does a screening like this make you re-energized to make Bubba Nosferatu?
Don Coscarelli: Bruce Campbell has stated very clearly that his days of playing Elvis are over. And I think now that Bubba fans have heard this directly and publicly from Bruce that they accept it as final. Yet many folks (including you) continue to ask about a sequel. That indicates there’s still a lot of interest. So the challenge is how to design the role for a new, and probably much younger actor in the role. Challenges always energize me.
Evan Jacobs: How did “True Indie” come about?
Don Coscarelli: A brilliant editor, Peter Wolverton, at St. Martin’s Press (who also edits books by the terrific David Wong and Bruce Campbell) came to me with the idea that I should write a memoir about my life in indie film. I get a lot of questions from aspiring filmmakers about making indie films and breaking into the business. I realized that I was in a particularly unique position to write something from personal experience about this subject. I’ve seen a lot during my moviemaking tenure and witnessed some seismic shifts in subjects from distribution to technology. Also, a couple very dear horror legends have recently passed and none of them wrote a memoir. (I would have loved to read them!) If figured it might be something to do now, while I was still pretty young.
Evan Jacobs: What was one story you wanted in the book above all the others? One that over the course of your varied career you’d never told?
Don Coscarelli: Probably why my film The Beastmaster is not a f**king Conan rip-off! Just kidding there (maybe!). Probably the story I enjoyed revisiting and telling in True Indie is the true story of me and my neighborhood best pal, selling our first feature film to Universal Pictures and getting our own office on the Universal lot at the ripe age of nineteen years old. We finished our film on the studio lot and not only were we put in command of a crew of a hundred union film technicians, but we had personal access to the support of one of the most powerful studio bosses of the era. By the way, I’ve never had an office on a studio lot since.
Evan Jacobs: If you could pick one of your films to be put in a time capsule to be found 300 years from now which one would it be?
Don Coscarelli: Obviously Phantasm, as that was my first breakout film and had a strong impact on audiences worldwide. But I might just also select my little-seen kids film Kenny & Company, which is a fairly honest depiction of my own childhood.
Evan Jacobs: Were you nervous writing “True Indie” given the fact that your are still making films and perhaps you might leave a monumental one out?
Don Coscarelli: When that happens, I will be happy to write a revised and updated version of “True Indie” to cover my future epic.
Evan Jacobs: Could you imagine your life without filmmaking? Let’s say Phantasm doesn’t meet with the success it did? What does Don Coscarelli do? Another film? A regular job?
Don Coscarelli: I try not to define my life by my choice of profession. Family, friends and learning about this magnificent wild world (and universe) we live in are certainly enough to keep me occupied and give me deep satisfaction. I like to think that if I had applied my efforts and perseverance to a more normal business, I might have had some success and maybe even made some serious money.
Evan Jacobs: Conversely, if Kenny & Company had been a smash might that have changed the trajectory of your career?
Don Coscarelli: Hmmm. What if audiences had demanded I make four sequels to Kenny & Company? Interesting to ponder.
Evan Jacobs: After all these years do you still enjoy scaring people as much as you always have?
Don Coscarelli: Of course I do. At the zoo, I have to restrain myself from giving friends a little nudge when they are leaning toward the cages. If you’re timing is right, they always scream bloody murder.
Evan Jacobs: Alright, I am a devotee of Phantasm. I have a very personal connection to that film. It is so strong that I did a podcast called THE PHANTASM MINUTE, which is yet to be released and it breaks down the themes and ideas in the film minute-by-minute. How do you feel that somebody is that passionate about something that you’ve made?
Don Coscarelli: Well, that’s an unexpected turn. Obviously you have great taste in movies! All kidding aside, I’m very proud of Phantasm. Strangely, as all the years have passed I almost feel like a fan of the film myself. I’m sure I would enjoy your podcast. I love watching what Michael, Bill, Reggie, Kat and Angus accomplished in Phantasm. These close
collaborators became life-long friends of mine. So, watching Phantasm is like watching a family reunion. And, of course, passion is one of the key elements that make this life worth living. If it’s a passion for Phantasm, hell, all the better!
“True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking” by Don Coscarelli is out now.