Thursday, February 28, 2013

Interview with Don Coscarelli

On Monday, February 3rd, I was able to have a short interview with Don Coscarelli.  I had planned to record the interview, but there were a few problems with the conferencing system.  Needless to say, time was very limited, so, I scribbled as fast as I could and tried to be accurate.  I must say I am still pretty excited about it while I write this.  Anyway, sorry I couldn't provide a recording.  

So, here it is:

ASV: What originally got you interested in films?

DC: That is an interesting question.  I guess I had a natural gravitation towards it.  It was biologically implanted in me.

ASV: Were your parents interested?

DC: Sort of.  They used to take me to movies, for sure.  But, they tried to actively dissuade me from science-fiction and horror.  On Saturday nights, if they went out, they would definitely tell the baby-sitter to not let me watch the Saturday night horror movie.  But, she was pretty great at just talking to her boy-friend on the phone and letting me do whatever I wanted.  My parents were super helpful in making movies.  They had an 8mm camera that they would let me use. I would get together with the neighbor kids and at first we started with simple projects and then we moved on to make backyard epics.  

ASV: At All-Star Video we are devoting the whole month to your movies, so I just rewatched Kenny & Company.  Both Kenny & Company and Phantasm have such a sweet patience with characters.  Were these based on people in your own childhood?

DC: Absolutely. They were pretty much right out of my childhood. I also took some stories from kids that I knew. But, it was really just true life.

ASV: Like the scene with the dog.

DC: That was pretty much exactly how it happened. I took a recent memory and just put it in.

ASV: It felt so real. I feel like every kid has a memory like that.

DC: Yep. That's what I was trying to do. The pacing wasn't so demanding back then either. I was thinking about all the movies that I loved and just trying to emulate them. There was a real sense of trying to create a slice of life. It was a different period for kids. They weren't consumed by online content all the time. It was a more relaxed pace. I took a ton of my early memories and then tried to emulate great films. I was looking at The Last Picture Show and french films like 400 Blows. The real question now is, does the audience have the patience it did back then to watch something like that. If I wanted to make a movie like that, would I be willing to take a chance? I mean, that's why John Dies at the End is edited the way it is.

ASV: But, I wouldn't say it's poorly edited. It doesn't look like MTV or something.

DC: No, but the pacing is very quick.

ASV: With Phantasm, you started to create your own style. It’s not exactly horror or science-fiction, but “Coscarelli-esque.” How have you cultivated that style? How would you describe it?

 DC: You know, it's hard for me to answer that. I think that's what critics are for. I would say that the movies I have been making lately have been an attempt to embrace the unexpected. I try to make them different, surprising. I don't want to talk badly about other filmmakers, but so many movies now are completely predictable. We've all seen so many movies, that you know what's going to happen next. Sometimes you even know what they are going to say, and then they say it. I want to try and make something different.  

ASV: So many of your films are extremely ambitious, both in scope and idea. How do you find funding while keeping creative control?

DC:  Truthfully, I don't know.  The business is changing so rapidly.  When I started shooting this movie, I expected it to be projected in 35mm in theaters.  Instead we worked out this deal with Magnolia, having it put on Video on Demand for a short time and then a very limited theatrical run.  It's always been hard to make films independently, but now I look back and think it used to be so easy.  Before the DVD market started to go down, we could make a movie with Bruce Campbell and get it put on DVD.  With the Video On Demand stuff, there are benefits and downsides.  The benefits are that it's instantaneous and that lots of people get to see it.  The downside is that it is so easily pirated.  There are all kinds of people from around the world that are sending me messages saying they loved the movie, but I know they didn't buy it.  I really don't know how independent movies are going to survive.  I don't know what to tell young filmmakers.  It's hard out there.  I wish I could be more positive.

ASV:  With that in mind, how did digital filmmaking change how you approached John Dies at the End?

DC:  It really didn't change that much.  It's not that much cheaper.  The one thing that I liked is that you are able to take longer takes.  You can go a long time without cutting.  You don't have to capture some effects directly, you can do stuff after.  The major difference I notice is that film looked better.  But, I'm a realist.  I understand that no one will be shooting on film in ten years.  

ASV:  For our site, we always share a recipe or particular food that we believe goes great with watching that particular film.  What do you think would be the ideal meal to eat while watching John Dies at the End?

DC:  That's great.  I actually already have a recipe for Soy Sauce Cupcakes up on the website for John Dies at the End.  So, check out the website, and get that recipe.

ASV:  Thanks Don, I really appreciate it.

DC:  Thanks for the kind words.

ASV:  Best of luck.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Directed by Don Coscarelli
100 mins.  Color.
Available On Demand and in Select Theaters.

I first heard about John Dies at the End about two years ago.  I have been waiting expectedly since.  I wouldn't say it's brilliant or deep.  But, it's fun, original and entertaining and I loved it.

This is a film about fighting evil, drugs, a sweet dog named Bark Lee, giant insects and monsters made out of frozen meats.  Coscarelli saw the fun in two friends taking on an evil that could destroy the world.  Directly in the vein of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, John Dies is about the heroes who come out of obscurity, and who can only rely on each other.

Like all of Coscarelli's films, this is a hard one to summarize. It's hard to talk about what the film is really "about" without just doing a play-by-play of each scene in the film and trying to make something out of the madness.  (I won't dothat to you, though) It's told out of order, jumping back and forth, at times is seemingly episodic and leaves you in the lurch.  Feels about right.  Phantasmesque in story-telling, Bubba Ho-Tepesque in style and humor.   The thing that feels different about these heroes is that they are completely apathetic.

As much as I hate to say it, I could see this as a dorm room movie that will get huge with dudes who have the munchies.  I only say that as I think it would be a shame if this movie were relegated to college stoner status.  It deserves better than that.

The Set-Up:

The film opens with a riddle involving an axe handle and a large decapitated undead dude with a swastika tattoo on his tongue.

Arnie Blondestone (the always great Paul Giamatti) shows up to a chinese restaurant to interview David Wong (a very deadpan Chase Williamson).  Inexplicably, Dave explains that he knows exactly how many grains of rice are on the plate that the waitress is carrying, he knows where it came from and who grew it.  The first statement, luckily, from Blondestone is "You don't look Asian."  My first thought, exactly.  Dave's response, "I'm not.  I changed it to be harder to find.  Wong is the most common name on the planet."  Fair enough.  Blondestone is a reporter and Dave explains that he wants to get the truth out.  He wants to share the exploits of him and his friend John.

In an internal monologue to the audience, Dave relays what he doesn't think Arnie could handle.  The fight he and John had with a monster made out of the meat in the freezer, a penis door-handle, a girl that turns to snakes...  Yep, we're in Coscarelli territory here.

Dave is currently high on The Soy Sauce, a sentient other-dimension mystery drug that causes the user to know things that otherwise would be impossible and "bend" reality.  It heightens senses.  He knows the exact change in Arnie's pocket and the dream he had last night.  As John will later tell Dave, "I'm remembering stuff that hasn't happened yet."

And then we start at the beginning, and the prospect that John may help bring about the end of the world.

The Evaluation:

The film is crazy, yes.  There is a Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure feeling to it all.  (That is not a bad thing)  But, just as Phantasm was surreal and existential, so here Coscarelli refuses to make a simple stupid story.  Playing with the notion of time and reality, he calls into question fate and self-determinism.  For instance, take this monologue from the Detective (played by the awesome Glynn Turman, aka Mayor Royce from The Wire)

"There are some very dark things happening.
And, I've got this lonely feeling like I'm the only one who knows, the only one who can do anything about it.
Everybody's got a ghost story.  UFO or Bigfoot.
You know what I think?  I think there's both real and not real at the same time.
I'm not a Star Trek fan.  I don't know much about other dimensions and all that.
I'm an old school Catholic.  I believe in hell.  I believe it's more than just murders and rapists.
I believe in Demons.  Worms.  Vile Shit.  The grease trap of the universe.  The more I think about it, the more I think it's just not down there.  That it's right here.  With us.  That we just can't perceive it.
It's kind of like a country music station.  It's out there.  In the air.  Even if you don't tune into it."

There are so many elements here that are fun to watch, it's hard to not just tell you everything.  The great cameos and outstanding story-telling. But, it seems that something like this should just be watched to be enjoyed.


  • Coscarelli originally heard of the novel based on a recommendation from Amazon.
  • Chase Williamson's first movie.
  • David Wong, the name of the author of the book and main character, is actually a pseudonym for Jason Pargin, author on
Set Yourself Up:
  • I think Stir-Fry is the way to go here.  Make up some rice and vegetables.  Then, cover it some Soy Sauce.

You can watch it by renting it on iTunes, VUDU, Amazon, XBOX, Playstation, Direct TV, etc....
You can also find theaters that are playing it here:

Opens at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis on March 8th.

-J. Moret

Monday, February 25, 2013


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Directed by Don Coscarelli
51 mins.  Color.
Masters of Horror DVD, 2005

I’ll start this off by saying I am not a huge fan of the Masters of Horror series.  I think that first season with Dario Argento’s Jenifer and John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns was better than the later ones, but still not great.  I think the real problem is the format.  One hour micro-budget for “TV” that all had a digital look with that horrible new horror editing.  (You know exactly what I’m saying.  Super slick.  Fast cuts.  Lots of bad CGI.)  

Coscarelli’s entry, Incident on and off a Mountain Road, was the first episode in the first season of Masters and doesn't start extremely strong, but ends well.  It starts with Ellen (Bree Turner, known for lots of TV, looks a bit like Jennifer Love Hewitt...) driving down a deserted dark curvy road in the mountains.  She is spacing out listening to music and comes upon a car that is parked in the middle of the road.  She crashes into the car.  

It then cuts to Ellen having lunch with Bruce (Ethan Embry of Can’t Hardly Wait, that Jennifer Love Hewitt movie that you loved as a thirteen year old because you got to look at JLW for 90 minutes) and their relationship is established as weird and awkward.  Bruce says all kinds of weird crap like “I’d like to shoot those scumbags” and etc, but Ellen seems to find him charming (because he was in Can’t Hardly Wait, of course).  The dialogue is also very strange.  For instance:
E: “I just love the rain.”
B: “Well, you look really good in it.”
They then have a weird MTV style sex scene that seems strange in a Coscarelli movie.  Otherwise when I’ve seen him approach sexuality it tends to involve Reggie Bannister and be funny.  This one is done with flashes of lightning (which is a trope that portrays most of the chase shots as well).  

It then cuts back to Bree on the dark road.  She is unconscious at the wheel and when she comes to she tries to start her car.  It won’t start and she heads out to look at the other car.  No one is in the other car and blood covers the front seat.  She sees that a trail of blood heads off the road and she follows it.  At the other end she sees a dark hooded figure, and calls out to see if he’s okay.  She then sees that the hooded figure is dragging a woman, she calls out for help.  The hooded figure takes off his hood to show that he’s a hacked out bald giant with bad teeth.  We will later find out that he’s called Moonface.

It then cuts back to Ellen and Bruce, now they are taking a run together.  Bruce is going on like a weird creep talking about how Ellen needs to be ready to do the unexpected if someone attacks her.  He describes how to shove a stick in someone’s eye if needed.  It starts to become clear that this guy is obsessed with self-defense.

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Moonface chases Ellen through the woods, and the style does not feel Coscarelli-esque.  Here’s where the Masters of Horror production pushes in.  They all feel and look like this.  Pseudo slick and without soul.  But, just as I was getting frustrated, it gets interesting.  Ellen stops and makes a booby trap with a pair of scissors that stab Moonface in the eye.  She then finds a six foot hole, and quickly breaks a branch, making a punji stick.  She pulls herself out and then removes her underwear.  She uses the elastic and fabric to make a slingshot type booby trap.  She waits.  The other woman who had been screaming for help comes down the hill, and Ellen tries to stop her but she falls onto the punji stick.  It impales her leg.  Moonface uses Ellen’s booby-trap against her.

In the midst of this action, the film keeps cutting to survival training Ellen has with Bruce.  And, he keeps getting creepier.  He is increasingly critical of her and she eventually tells him she is going to leave him.

Ellen is dragged to Moonface’s house.  Its a very Texas Chainsaw-esque scene.  Then, we get Angus Scrimm.  Man, I love that guy.  Here, he provides a much needed different character.  He is tied up in the basement and explains to Ellen that she is one of many.  He points out two other skeletons behind her.  Ellen witnesses Moonface drilling out the eyes out of the other woman who was impaled by her punji booby-trap.  She then sees that that all the bodies had their eyes drilled out.  

Now, I’m going to ruin the end for you because it is the best part of the movie and made the movie worthwhile for me.  Scrimm helps Ellen escape and she uses the skeleton of a baby as a weapon (!).  She then kicks Moonface out a window and he falls into a waterfall.  She heads up to her car, gets it started and then goes to the trunk.  She opens it to reveal Bruce’s dead body.  There is a flashback of Bruce beating and then raping Ellen, with her replying by strangling Bruce to death.  It then comes back to the car, Ellen drags his body to Moonface’s house, and then drills out his eyes.  She also kills Scrimm.  (that seemed unnecessary to me)

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I understand what Coscarelli saw in this story.  The tough woman who makes booby-traps and ends up killing her creepy abusive husband and a serial killer is pretty awesome.  The possibility to work within the same TV series as Argento, Tobe Hooper, Joe Dante, Takashii Miike and John Carpenter would definitely be attractive.  Likewise, he had never really done a straight-forward horror film.  Everything else he has done is much more genre-melding.  He had wanted to work with Joe R. Lansdale’s short story after doing so well with Bubba Ho-Tep.  It also plays into Coscarelli’s fear of the wilderness, ie: Survival Quest.  All that being said, It doesn’t exactly work.  But, there are great moments and it’s worth watching because of them.  

The Trivia:

  • Shot in just 12 days
  • Coscarelli says he wasn’t interested in the blood and mayhem (as is usual), but upped the ante on the drilling of the eye when he heard what Dante and Argento were doing in their episodes

Set Yourself Up:

  • Set your expectations for a Masters of Horror episode.  This isn’t a feature, and is probably best if considered a short and followed up by Bubba Ho-Tep.  
  • Buy some gummy eyeballs from

The Hype:

  • It’s Coscarelli.  

The Goods:
There are quite a few good features on the disk.  There is a short documentary about Coscarelli’s career, a featurette with interviews about working with him, on the set interviews with John DeSantis (Moonface) and Ethan Embry.  There are also trailers, commentaries, etc..

-J. Moret

Sunday, February 24, 2013


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Academy Award Winner, Norbit

We're in the midst of a month devoted to Don Coscarelli, a decidedly non-Oscar director, so it may seem strange to do a post about an organization that celebrates itself once a year while we watch.  Well, it is.  But I'm doing it anyway.

I'm obviously not one of the first people to say that the Academy Awards are mostly irrelevant.  I say mostly, because the smaller films that they nominate for best picture do get a big jump.  Films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook, for instance, had very minimal exposure until their best picture nods.  Subsequently, they have gained a completely new audience.

By pretending that America makes the best films, (outside of Amour, one of a very very small group of foreign language films to ever be nominated) the Academy has basically made it clear that they do not want the best films that came out in a single year to win.

In fact, in the last twenty years they have nominated Avatar, The Gladiator, Juno, Dances with Wolves, Ghost, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Babe, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings (all 3), Chicago, Seabiscuit, and The Blind Side, just to name a few embarrassing titles.  What does it even matter if you win best picture when you share it with Titanic?  I can name about fifteen films from 1990 that are more deserving than Ghost.  In fact, I would say most films that came out in 1990 were better than Ghost.  For instance, Days of Being Wild would have been a nice addition.  And, if you're going to nominate a Swayze movie, Road House or Next of Kin would have been better.

Likewise, the Academy may nominate some very good films, but they have a long history of picking mediocre safe films to win.  For instance, in 1976, a fantastic year for film, they picked Rocky.  Now, I like Rocky, but I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that it's more important than Network, Taxi Driver, or All the President's Men.

At the same time, a science fiction film has never won (2001: A Space Odyssey, I'm looking your way), a horror film has basically no chance (The Exorcist was nominated and Silence of the Lambs won, no other horror films have ever been nominated) while biopics (A Beautiful Mind, really?), musicals (Les Miserables) and epics (Lord of the Rings) mop up.  If you're not Woody Allen, you won't win for a comedy either.

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Best Picture Nominee, 1995

Amour may be the best film (personally haven't seen it yet), but it has no chance of winning.  I would argue that The Master is probably the most important and will be the one that will be discussed in years to come.  However, you can count on Argo or maybe Lincoln.  I am going to make my bet now and say Argo wins best picture.  It seems to me that the Academy is on a self love fest.  They will nominate any movie that is about the love of movies or the worthwhile nature of movies (The Artist, Hugo..).  In Argo, Hollywood comes off as the hero and they love that crap.

This year, films like The Master, Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom were snubbed for the likes of very very mediocre Les Miserables and Life of Pi. Likewise, where is the very deserving Matthew McConaughey for best supporting actor for Magic Mike?

Really, I don't even care that much.

So, why am I going to watch?  For the same reason I watch the World Series even when the Twins stink.  I love movies.  There is only one night a year that is set aside to celebrate film.  Perhaps I'll get a quick shot of Lawrence of Arabia or a moment of Christopher Nolan on the set of the Dark Knight Rises smashing that plane apart.  If we're lucky we'll get to see Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell.  It's a chance to yell at the screen and discuss the merits of a certain film while denigrating another.

So, with that in mind, I'm hoping Django Unchained wins Best Picture (The Master is not nominated), Roger Deakins wins for Skyfall (damn, that movie was beautiful looking), Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor and NO for best Foreign Film.

-J. Moret

Friday, February 22, 2013


Directed by: Don Coscarelli
2002, 92 Minutes

This is what people say about BUBBA HO-TEP: It's a crazy movie about an Elvis Impersonator and a Mummy.

Crazy is a word people use when they don't understand something. I'm not saying that some of what occurs in the film is not "crazy." I'm not saying I don't use the word "crazy." But BUBBA HO-TEP takes a wild premise and truly turns it into something human and very poignant (yes, I said it).

BUBBA HO-TEP is based on a novella by Joe Lansdale.

Screenwriter/Director Don Coscarelli is in my estimation, the only person on the planet that could have taken this story and given it the care, heart, and passion necessary for it to work. Coscarelli is most famous for the PHANTASM series. A series of films that is widely known for it's creative twists on a tired genre.

BUBBA HO-TEP does the same. The film takes what would be an absolutely ridiculous premise and turns it into something completely unexpected.


Our Hero
The story primarily takes place in a run down, filthy Texas funeral home (which with color timing, looks like a dingy pyramid chamber). The main character in our story is Sebastian Haff (Played by Bruce Campbell). Sebastian is wicked old. He looks like Elvis. He also claims to BE Elvis Presley. Sebastian is like most old men. Angry and ready to die.

Sebastian tells his Nurse, (Played by television veteran Ella Joyce) the whole story. He is Elvis. He found a great impersonator named Sebastian Haff. They traded identities. The new Elvis couldn't handle the temptations of fame and ended up dead on a toilet. While the real Elvis moved to a trailer park and opted for the simple life.

Elvis/Sebastian finds there is another famous resident in his nursing home. JFK (Played by the incomparable Ossie Davis). JFK's story is that the government dyed him black and put him into hiding.

The most bizarre part of all this is that it works. Campbell and how he explains his story makes for the most believable of Elvis conspiracies. Davis plays JFK with an heir of royalty. He doesn't try to BS a ridiculous Boston accent. He plays the role with the regality it deserves.

Enter Bubba Ho-Tep. The lazy redneck mummy. He looks like Billy Jack in mummy form. He's come to the nursing home as a path of least resistance. It's easier to steal souls from the old and feeble than the strong.

Elvis and JFK join forces to stop the mummy onslaught.


Yes. This is an absurd premise. While I have never read the novella upon which this movie is based, the story takes all of the wackiness and more than manages to represent a very mature and and complex story about one's will to survive and what it means to grow old.

Coscarelli somehow took a premise about Elvis, JFK, and a mummy that sucks souls from assholes and turned it into something meaningful on the screen.

While I am focusing on the more serious aspects of the film, there are quite a few jokes and funny moments. The humor and tone of the film remain light and entertaining. There is certainly a comedic edge to the film that ties everything together.

This review is extremely biased. BUBBA HO-TEP is one of my favorite movies of all time. I will be the first to admit, the premise got me in the door, but the outcome of the story and the heart this movie displays changed my view of what a movie could portray and how a movie could make me feel.

My final comment will be that this is certainly not for everyone. Fair warning: this is not an action movie. The premise is out there, but it is a much more "real" feeling movie than most will expect. It has something to say. This isn't Elvis with a machine gun shooting hordes of mummies. If you are looking for a romp, best look elsewhere. This is more arthouse than summer blockbuster or horror romp. The movie is totally "crazy" for not being what anyone expected from the premise and it's all the better for it.

We don't give ratings here at ASV. But I give BUBBA HO-TEP my highest recommendation. 10/10. A+. Thumbs Up. Doggie wearing a spaceman suit. 5 Stars. Best movie ever man.

-M. McSlam

Monday, February 18, 2013


Directed by Don Coscarelli
90 mins. Color.
MGM DVD release, circa 1998

MPW-39204 (500×741)

The Phantasm series is one of the craziest things ever put on celluloid.  The first five minutes of Phantasm IV is a big reminder of how totally wild and original it all is.  Similar to II and III, it starts with a narrated flashback to put you in context.

This movie is a departure from Phantasm II and Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead.  It feels a bit more similar to the seriousness of the original Phantasm.  This may be because a lot of the unused footage from the 1978 classic shows up here.  It is also because it is the life’s work of a man that has spent two decades building a world and mythology that has since provided mostly questions and very few answers.  That being said, Coscarelli does not set out to here to tie up all the loose ends.  Phantasm IV: Oblivion is more science fiction spiritual journey than wild horror comedy.  It has a dreamy quality.  A very surreal mixing of all the tropes and themes put forward so far with the uneasy existentialism of The Tall Man’s appearance in our world.  

In some ways, it reminded me of Return of the Jedi (1983).  Of course there are other similarities that can be drawn to the seminal science fiction saga, not least being the robed look of the dwarves that are eerily similar to the Jawas.  That being said, the first Phantasm film was in production at the same time as the original Star Wars, and I don’t think one had any influence on the other.  In Phantasm IV, Michael returns to the audience, all dressed in black.  He has been on a journey, similar to Luke Skywalker, and returned with a bit deeper understanding of his “powers.”  He is learning to move things with his mind.  That is probably as far as I want to take that analogy, but as a similarity in tone, it seems worth mentioning.

The American west, or as much of the world as we see really, has been ravaged by the Tall Man by now.  Every place they come upon has been deserted.  Graves have been emptied and Mike’s only interactions with other people are his visions and memories.  In this way, we get to see some really beautiful images that were removed from the original.  Reggie and Michael in his ice cream truck, driving through the blackness.  And, in that place, the Tall Man appears in Michael’s car and offers a depressing reminder, “You have no one, but me.”

Meanwhile, Reggie has been released by the thousands of flying spheres as the Tall Man realized he has no use in Reggie’s death.  He is back on the road, trying to hunt down Michael.  He gets pulled over by a highway patrolman who turns out to be a member of the Tall Man’s undead army.  One thing leads to another, and Reggie big time blows up the cops car with a flare in his gas tank.  It’s pretty killer.  He then continues on, saving a hot babe from a car crash.

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"Wow.  Some Cops can be real assholes."

Mike wanders death valley, has visions of the Tall Man operating on him during the Civil War and begins to work on his last will and testament. He proceeds to set up a noose and attempts suicide, flashing back to him attempting to hang the Tall Man in the first film (never shown).  The Tall Man pleads with Mike, assuring him that he will leave forever if Mike will cut him down.  Eventually, Mike is presented with large number of portals.  Jody (his dead brother who is now a sphere, but seems somewhat un-trustworthy, as he later tells Reg not to trust him) tells him which one leads to the origins of the Tall Man.  Mike goes through and finds a sweet old man named Jebediah (Angus Scrimm)  in the 1800s.  He seems to be the creator of the dimensional fork, and asks Michael if that’s where he came from.  

Reg shacks up with the hot babe he saved from the car crash, Jennifer, and you get some sweet images of him with a beautiful ape drape and some wicked jammies.  Reggie wakes up to find Jennifer’s boobs are apparently spheres, to which Reg replies, “Far out.”  He is then forced to kill her.

The awesome only starts there.

Michael has to make some tricky choices with regards to Jody.

Coscarelli pulls some surprising twists that may not please everyone, but I loved.  

Reggie is awesome.

As this is the “end” of the Phantasm series, Coscarelli deliberately leaves a ton on the table. Other series, such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or Friday the 13th, manage to burn down their credibility by giving easy answers that inevitably leave the viewer feeling unsatisfied. I have no doubt that the Phantasm series would feel the same had Coscarelli gone the usual route: Explain away the main villain, kill off the major characters so you can replace them with cheaper younger stars, have a baby in the 4th film, etc.. Instead, we grow old with the characters, watching Coscarelli dream up what happens next as we do.

Of course, there are the characters from Phantasm III that seem to be the set-up to take over the series (Rocky and Tim), but Rocky simply decides to leave and Tim is pulled off and never seen again. (It was originally planned to have Tim be violently ripped apart at the beginning of this film, but budget didn't allow.) Just one more way that he undermines what we would expect, and what makes this series all the more interesting.

Coscarelli talks about the Phantasm movies as one might expect. They have been a blessing and a curse. Originally inspired by his obsessive watching of horror films, especially Invaders from Mars, Coscarelli was able to create a completely unique world of his own. It managed to get him on the map and helped him to gain the independence he so desperately wanted. However, as most directors run into, he was pigeon-holed into having a hard time getting funding for anything except more Phantasm sequels. However, never at any point do these films feel like a paycheck.

And, as we move on from the Phantasm films, he changes gears. Taking on major historical figures fighting mummies, a foray into low-budget television horror and totally crazy drug adventures, these Phantasm films and the themes he's been working with play into all of it.

phantasm-angus-scrimm-and-reggie-bannister1.jpg (470×283)

The Trivia:

  • Filmed in only 23 days, the production was a marathon. One particular sequence, the deserted Wilshire Blvd, was shot illegally on Thanksgiving morning in ten minutes.
  • The dwarf that gets shot in the face by Reggie is played by Don Coscarelli's daughter, Wendy.
Set Yourself Up:
  • To finish strong, it makes sense to go all the way. Hot dogs. If you're in the Minneapolis area, there is no better place than The Weinery. That or buy Cheddar Brats from Everett's. Grill or fry that up. Make up some Ore Ida tater tots. Finish up with Orange Sherbet in a stainless steel bowl.
  • Keep it serious. Only invite Phantasm lovers who aren't going to ruin it for you.

The Hype:

  • By now, you should've separated your friends into two groups: Those that love Phantasm and those you no longer associate with. This one shouldn't take any convincing after that.

The Goods:
There is pretty much nothing noteworthy on the MGM release of the DVD. A trailer and a double sided DVD with widescreen and standard versions. The later Anchor Bay release is undoubtedly better, as they tend to do a great job though I can't personally vouch for it.

"The Nightmare Lives on, but Humanity May Not!"

-J. Moret


Directed by Don Coscarelli

IMDB Premise: Mike and Reggie continue to hunt the mysterious TALL MAN.

Yup. That's true.

PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD is pretty much as stated above. Of course, that is not a bad thing. But, if you are a dumb bastard, and didn't like PHANTASM or PHANTASM II needless to say, you will not like PHANTASM III.

PHANTASM III essentially picks up right where the second left off. Except Mike looks . . . different. Michael Baldwin was brought back to play Mike (which is awesome).


This time, the story revolves around the capture of Mike. The Tall Man takes him and tries to turn him into . . . another Tall Man (?).

Reggie, of course goes on a rescue mission. Many of Mike's scenes take place in alternate realities (or dreams?). Jody is back. He's a sentinel ball. It's now revealed that sentinels have brains and eyes inside them.

The world of PHANTASM III is more desolate and more grim than previously depicted. The world is seemingly a giant ghost town. Reggie drives the Cuda around searching every cemetery, mausoleum, and funeral home for the dreaded Tall Man. Reggie meets some new friends in his travels.

Rocky is a black female commando with a wicked flat top. Reggie meets her in a mausoleum while hunting the Tall Man. She has sweet nunchuks. Reggie wants in her pants and even though he's hot as love, gets no where.

Reggie meets Tim (a small boy) at a random house along his journey to rescue Mike. Tim is a tough kid that is proficient in throwing tomahawks into the forehead of scavenging women and shooting sentinels with a six shooter. His parents were taken (aka - zombified) by the tall man.
Flat top = automatic commando ninja


This movie takes the same general formula of PHANTASM II. In the series tradition, it's a crazy action flick with tons of surprises. But this time, it's funny. Not that the previous films lacked humor, PHANTASM III is almost on par with a movie like ARMY OF DARKNESS in terms of tongue in cheek (The psycho nurse, the looters, the rain of dead lurkers etc.). While looking at the four PHANTASM movies on the shelf, III is certainly sticks out as the most fun. The effects are shocking, often, and really well done(sentinels through heads, frisbee throat slits, the "zombie" make-up). The new revelations are bizarre. It's certainly not my favorite, but I believe it offers the most fun experience of the four movies. However, without seeing at least the first movie, I could only imagine this movie would be an ever bigger WTF to swallow.

The movie certainly has some flaws. The main one being the additional characters. While it doesn't bother me too much, Rocky and Tim are gone at the end of the movie. The characters are developed and disappear by the end. It makes it all the more strange that Rocky and Tim are the only characters aside from Mike, Jody, Reggie, and the Tall Man that feel worthy of acceptance into the universe. In a way, their appearances as a one off does make this movie stand out, but I really came to like them.

All in all, PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD is a very worth addition to the PHANTASM series. It ups the ante on humor and character interaction. And truly, since you are not a dumb bastard, you will watch it and you will like it.


This movie supplies more than adequate levels of dominant carnage. You will want to prepare for that. Here are some suggestions:

Since it's the interdimensional zombie-dwarf apocalypse, you may want to consider the implications. You will need food that will not perish during the death of the earth. Oprah said Honey never goes bad. Get tons of honey.

Just drink honey. . .


The final words in the credits read: Unauthorized duplication, distribution, or exhibition may result in civil liability, criminal prosecutions, and THE WRATH OF THE TALL MAN.

M. McSlam

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Directed by Don Coscarelli198897 mins.  Color.
VHS, released by MCA Universal Home Video

1988-phantasm-ii-poster1.jpg (580×863)I’m going to start this by saying, that along with Matt, I wish I had discovered these movies earlier in my life.  I think I would be a more interesting and worthwhile person.  Maybe ten years ago, I was introduced to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and my love of horror was truly born.  For some ridiculous reason, it took another 8 years for me to find Phantasm.  I was so impressed, it only took me two weeks to watch the rest of them.  Floating orbs fly down hallways and drill into people’s brains, shooting sprays of blood.  Car chases with evil dwarves that look like Jawas.  A mysterious Tall Man alien mortician that is a grave-robber with orange sherbet blood.  And, there’s more?

The sheer audacity and originality of the first film made me believe that there was no way it could work as a franchise.  There is just nothing else like it.  I am so pleased to know that I was wrong.  

The quote on the cover is, “The Ball is Back!”  Indeed it is.  And with it, we get Reggie, Mike (now played by James LeGros), The Tall Man and more crazy insanity.  Coscarelli starts the movie, as he does the rest, with a voice-over recap of the first film.  Mike has been locked up in an asylum for nine years.  At his release we find that he has gained an extra-sensory relationship with a woman named Liz.
phantasm2_03.jpg (500×276)

The ending of the original Phantasm is a bit confusing.  You feel you have a grip on it, and then you find that Jody was killed in a car accident, Reggie doesn’t believe Mike’s story about the Tall Man and that he believes it was all a dream, even though he was there with him.  Then, Michael is taken.  Coscarelli re-uses some footage but then immediately adds on with a scene of Reggie going after Michael, fighting the dwarves and blowing up the house in his attempt to save him.  The footage is outstanding and looks like footage from the first film (It was actually not, but tons of unused footage from the first film is used later in the series.)  

Michael is out of the asylum and immediately heads to the cemetery to dig up some graves and prove that he isn’t crazy.  No surprise, the graves are empty.  Reggie finds him there and convinces him that it would be very bad to be found digging graves up immediately after getting out.  On the way home, Michael has a vision of Reggie’s house blowing up.  Immediately after, they come upon the house and it’s destroyed.  

The narrator switches to Reggie, now on the road with Michael hunting The Tall Man.  “It might take years to find the Tall Man, and if we do we’ll probably die.”  Nevertheless, the two are on the hunt.  First, they need supplies and they head to a gun store.  This is one of the great things about the Phantasm sequels.  So many things are set up and everything pays off.  Reggie saws off two shotguns and puts them together to make a four-barrel shotgun.  Mike uses a blow-torch to make a killer flame-thrower.  And you know that shit is about to get real.

The utter devastation and isolation that these characters go through ramps up more and more each film.  Their failure to stop the Tall Man has left the American west in ruins.  Town after town have become ghost towns.  Cemeteries are emptied with open graves as far as you can see.  They find what appears to be Liz, but a Tall Man head grows out of her back and Reggie incinerates her with that sweet homemade flamethrower.  They find it was a calling card from the Tall Man.

Then, we see the real Liz, who is with her grandma grieving the loss of her grandpa.  She walks the halls of the funeral home and comes into contact with the Tall Man.  One thing leads to another, her grandma is stuck in a coffin with her undead grandpa, Reg and Mike pick up a hot hitch-hiker babe named Alchemy and they find they are all in the same town.  Reg then gets with Alchemy in one of the weirdest pseudo sex scenes ever and Liz is kidnapped by the Tall Man.  She gets big time tossed against a brick wall, and then is forced to boot her now evil dwarf grandma in the face.  

Reggie and Mike end up in a car chase with the Tall Man and Mike tells Reg to "shoot the fucker!" They are pushed off the road and crash Reg's sweet car in a ball of flame.  Next thing you know, Reggie has a chainsaw fight with a graver and Mike uses the amputated hand of an evil undertaker to put one of the spheres into a lock and open the portal to the Tall Man's dimension/planet.

Reggie pours acid into embalming fluid and they IV that stuff into the Tall Man's veins, messing him up huge time.  Alchemy comes to their rescue in a hearse and then we get more unexpected twists!

And, that does not include tons of craziness experienced / enjoyed in the middle.

The thing about these Phantasm movies is that they are unique and truly surprising.  Likewise, there is such a mix of science fiction that they have a feeling all their own.  In comparison to the first movie, this film is far more "fun."  Moments like the four-barrel shotgun shooting down four dwarves at the same time are anticipated the whole time and then executed with an Evild Dead 2 non-chalance.  As the first film is a creation of a strange new world with lovable characters, the second is more tragic road-movie horror comedy.  

The first film is about loss, separation, and the anxiety that comes at being left alone.  It is based on that younger brother fear that your older brother is grown up and moving on, while you're still stuck at home.  In a way, it almost feels like Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish.  It's also about Coscarelli's deep fascination of the American way of death.  Whereas this film is about the desolation and aftermath of all of your fears coming true.  In the first film, Coscarelli is drawing off of being a young kid.  It's very close to Kenny & Company.  This is about becoming an adult.  Now that he's farther removed from that 13 year old self, the concerns are about the larger desolation of the whole world.  It's an existential crisis of identity in revenge, which he continues to explore in Phantasm III and Phantasm IV.  

The Stuff You Didn't Know:

  • One of the headstones in the cemetery reads "Alex Murphy" aka ROBOCOP!
  • Brad Pitt was passed up for the role of Mike, which would go back to Michael A. Baldwin in the third film (Universal did not want Reggie Bannister back either, but Coscarelli refused).  Baldwin is still bitter
  • This was the lowest budgeted film Universal produced in the 1980s, but ten times larger than the budget of Phantasm
  • The two story house explosion was actually a real house explosion.  It was slated for destruction to make way for the 105 Freeway.  The studio bought the house for two hundred dollars
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops labelled it "morally offensive," which I'm sure led tons of young Catholics to see it

Get Yourself Ready:

  • This movie is to be shared with friends.  I've seen it alone, and every time something sweet happened I wanted to turn to someone, but was disappointed to see I was alone
  • Go get some Orange Sherbet
  • A great way to see this would be to set up a projector in an old cemetery, but if that's impossible (as it most likely is) maybe you could build sweet cardboard coffins and sit in them as you watch it

The Goods:
The Universal Home Video VHS does the trick.  It feels like 1988 and after the end of the film, you get a trailer for The Serpent and The Rainbow.  However, in March, Shout! Factory will be releasing a collector's edition blu-ray.  I highly recommend you wait, as their releases are always excellent.  I don't know what special features will be on it, but if you are one of the first five hundred to order directly from them, you'll get a free limited editiion poster.

-J. Moret

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Directed by Don Coscarelli
96 mins.  Color.
DVD Released by Anchor Bay, 2007

Coscarelli went into the mountains with a great cast and came out with an extremely entertaining and well-paced action film.  On IMDB, it says that this film came out in 1988, but it came out in the states in 1989.  There is very little to go on, but I’m guessing it was completed earlier and just released around the time of Phantasm II, with hopes to share some attention.  Either way, that doesn’t seem to have worked as this film continues to be under-seen.  Which is a shame, as this is a really well done film.  It is missing some of the crazy genre-bending I have come to love about Coscarelli, but super entertaining all the same. Along-side Kenny and Company, this is a “serious” foray outside of horror.  His character development is great in all of his films, but it is the entire basis for this film.  

The film is set in the Rocky Mountains at the North Rockies Survival Quest School, a four-week journey into the wild for those hoping to prove something to themselves.

It is such a joy to watch Coscarelli’s films, because they are so genuine.  He truly loves his characters.  Here, he builds an ensemble with Lance Henriksen and Catherine Keener providing a deep anchor.  Keener is never off, (in my opinion she may be the best actress alive, if not the most versatile) and here she is the emotional core.  She plays Cheryl, a recently divorced woman who wants something of her own.  She struggles and fights and has the hardest time of it.  The rest of the group is made up of Hal (played by Ben Hammer, related to Greg “The Hammer “ Valentine?), who is an old dude trying to prove he’s still got it, hot babe Olivia (Traci Lind - also seen in CLASS OF 1999!) is recently engaged to what seems her parents’ choice and wants one last escape, Jeff (Dominic Hoffman) who is a big-time douche, Joey (Paul Provenza, who you may recognize from Miami Vice, Empty Nest or Northern Exposure) is mostly inconsequential, and Gray (Dermot Mulroney - Heart-throb to all) a convict out for the month on some kind of “leave” who hopes to use this as redemption.  The group is led by Hank (Lance Henriksen, eternal rugged genius).  On the way, we get to see Reggie Bannister as the pilot, wearing a Kettle Chips hat.  

Unfortunately for the Survival Quest School there has been a fire elsewhere in the Rockies and Jake’s (Mark Rolston, also in Aliens) group of fascist military thugs has to use the same area for their survival quest.  Among his group is Raider (sweet character name and played by Steve Antin, who was Troy in Goonies) a big time tool who is a trouble-maker.  This group is so much fun. Jake loves to kill stuff and believes that he is a long-lost member of Cobra-kai. If there was a circumstance where he could ask one of his group to sweep the leg out from Keener, I have no doubt he would do so joyously. My favorite quote, "The Meek will never inherit anything but shit!"

The film starts with a huge helicopter shot over the mountains.  No music.  No sound.  It's an eerie indication about how Coscarelli sees the wilderness.  It's a vast, scary and dangerous place.  The groups are introduced in completely different manners.  Hank's group is individualized, each making their way to the plane.  Jake's group is a pack of anonymous douchebags, who proceed to criticize and insult each of the opposite group.  

Coscarelli goes to work, creating a very clear dichotomy.  When the groups arrive at the base of the mountains, Hank's group is intimidated, except for Gray who nearly kills everyone by lighting up a cigarette near the gas tank.  They are escorted up the mountain to meet Hank, who is on his roof, waiting for a cuppola to hang (obviously an inference on his zen-like disposition).  As they head into the mountains, the team begins to come together.  Gray shows compassion for an old man, as he gets bullied by some of Jake's group.  Keener starts struggling to keep up and the group has a discussion about whether or not they should split up her bags.  They decide they should, even though Jeff complains.

Jake, on the other hand, is training his group how to cut the ear off of an enemy.  He explains, "we are predators." He later instructs four members of his group to remove their shirts saying, "What's fundamental rule of survival?  To never get caught." He then has a bunch of dudes take their shirts off and has them maced. He tells them to hide, ordering the others to hunt them. "In the real world, the grade for failure is death."

Hank teaches his group how to survive and each become leaders, depending on one another.  Jake's group has live ammunition parachuted in.  There is a confrontation between Hank and Jake, and Raider gets involved.  He accidentally shoots Hank and Jake gets all pissed.  So, Raider shoots Jake and tells the others Hank did it.  Naturally, the fascists proceed to hunt down the remaining members of the survival school.  There is some pretty great stunt work and action sequences leading to some sweet explosions.

The whole set-up is pretty straight-forward and, at first glance, seems very outside of Coscarelli's other work.  His films are generally a mix of horror, sci-fi and fantasy.  Here, those elements are missing.  However, themes of friendship, adventure, crazy action and explosions fit him perfectly.  I look at scenes like the final act of Beastmaster, when Dar totally boots that dude into the fire and he explodes as a basis for Coscarelli's sensibilities.  That same humor is also on display here when Gray leads Raider toward that gas tank he nearly blew up and then blows it up.

The Trivia:

  • Filmed in the Charlton Flats in the Angeles National Forest

Set Yourself Up:

  • Gather a group of two to three friends who can enjoy a good action romp
  • Buy a bunch of dried fruit, beef Jerky, sunflower seeds and powdered kool-aid to put in your canteen
  • I would also recommend brewing some cowboy coffee and moonshine.

The Goods:

  • Anchor Bay put out a solid DVD release in 2007.  Very little in the way of special features (a short behind the scenes and trailers for Phantasm, Phantasm III, Kenny & Company, a crazy looking John Hurt movie called The Garden and Near Dark), but it might be cheaper than the VHS.

All in all, a necessary component to your Coscarelli collection.

- J. Moret