I know this is the Movie Madhouse, but I will review a book now and then, one that I really loved or one that pertains to the movie world…and what pertains more than a memoir by the man behind the horror classic Phantasm…Don Coscarelli.
TRUE INDIE-LIFE and DEATH in FILMMAKING by DON COSCARELLI
Don Coscarelli is one of my favorite filmmakers and his Phantasm one of my all-time favorite horror films. So of course I was very excited to read his memoir, detailing an almost forty year career as an indie filmmaker…and it didn’t disappoint. Coscarelli gives a brief account of his upbringing and then on to his first attempt to make a feature film, a drama called Jim, The World’s Greatest. He then weaves a fun and informative account of his film career spanning from the making of Kenny & Co. in 1976, to his classic Phantasm, to the harrowing production of the Beastmaster, all the way up to his recent Phantasm: Ravager. The stories of what Don and family and friends went through to get some of his flicks made, and then released, will really give you an idea of how difficult it is make a movie, especially if you don’t have big studio backing…which comes with it’s own headaches. It’s a real treat to hear the production stories of how his movies were made…or not made in some cases…and how even now getting a film going is still not easy even for a man considered a horror legend.
True Indie is a fun true life story woven by a man with a talent for overcoming adversity and for telling an entertaining, sincere and heartfelt story…the account of the final moments he shared with his star and friend Angus Scrimm will have you in tears. A tale of arrogant investors, eccentric actors, the MPAA and those darn silver spheres! A great book if you are a fan of Don Coscarelli, horror films or just independent filmmaking in general, this is a must read!
Rated 4 silver spheres!
Everyone has their own favorite filmmakers whose works they watch during this spooky time of year. For me, it just wouldn’t be Halloween without the films of these legendary directors…
PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)
Don Coscarelli returned to the Phantasm series again 4 years after the somewhat lighter Phantasm III and returning with it was a far more serious tone and the most surreal of the franchise since the first. But gone was a healthy budget and the writer/director now had to work with funds of only about twice that of the original film’s and in the more expensive economy of 20 years later. But Coscarelli has always accomplished a lot with little and he turns the fourth installment into a road movie with a lot of it taking place in the open desert of, appropriately, Death Valley as Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) takes to the highway to flee the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his attempts to transform him into a new version of himself to take up his diabolical deeds. Of course valiant and loyal friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is armed and in hot pursuit in his Hemi Cuda as Mike travels into the desert to escape his fate and his spectral brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) is following too, but which side he is on becomes questionable. Will Mike escape his horrible fate or become the new Tall Man?
This is, in many ways, the weakest of the four films so far. There is a lot less action, a lot less characters and minimal appearances from the elements we like best such as creepy mausoleums, the dwarves and the silver spheres. But as a fan of this series I cut this entry some slack due to what Don Coscarelli gives us in return. The film is very surreal and even includes an element of time travel. He fills the film with flashbacks and that is a plus, as many of them are scenes cut from the original film and now utilized to show us story elements we hadn’t seen before…and obviously, we get to see more footage from that timeless classic. He also reveals the origin of the Tall Man as humble Civil War era undertaker Jebediah Morningside who tries to find a way to fight death and invents the portal which sent him to another world and transformed him into the fiend he is now. The added element of Mike’s transformation giving him powers similar to the Tall Man, also adds an intriguing addition to the flick and the Phantasm mythos, too. The film has a lot of spooky atmosphere and the minimal FX work well enough. The cast all slip into their familiar roles well, once more and I liked that Coscarelli dared to give a beloved character like Jody a questionable agenda making him suspicious as to his real allegiance. Is he loving brother and spirit guardian or another agent of the Tall Man… you’ll have to see it to find out.
In conclusion, I like Phantasm IV: Oblivion. It is, in ways, the lesser of the four, but in other ways, offers us glimpses of the past that we’ve never seen before and takes further into the history and dealings of the Tall Man then we have seen so far. It offers changes and possible revelations about beloved characters and points the series in an even more bizarre direction. Despite the small budget, there is still plenty of surreal weirdness and atmosphere and it succeeds in being a Phantasm film despite not having the benefit of the more lavish budget of the previous two films. And as a fan of this series, I am willing to give it a break for those limitations due to the inventiveness with which those limitations are overcome. Also stars stuntman Bob Ivy as a Tall Man creature in state trooper guise…Ivy would go on to play Bubba Ho-Tep himself…and cutie Heidi Marnhout as the traditional Reggie pursuit gone awry. Marnhout also appeared in Bubba Ho-Tep as the girl who gives Elvis “a bird’s eye view of her love nest.” A fifth Phantasm is on it’s way and indications are, it may be the final one.
3 silver spheres
JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
John Dies At The End is an adaptation of David Wong’s book of the same name written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). While not familiar with the book, the bizarre and surreal story does seem like a perfect fit for Coscarelli as his films have alway had a touch of both the surreal and a bit of offbeat whimsy. The film starts out with David Wong (Chase Williamson) telling his bizarre tale to a reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). Wong starts to spin a tale involving himself and his friend, John (Rob Mayes) and their encounters with a powerful drug with a mind of it’s own called “soy sauce”. This bizarre narcotic not only gives the user (if they survive it) heightened psychic awareness but, opens doorways to alternate dimensions. But, once doors are opened they are opened both ways and can John and David stop the beings from the other side from entering our world and making it their own. John Dies is a very strange yet amusing head trip of a movie that won’t appeal to everyone but, under Coscarelli’s guidance, will entertain those who like a movie that isn’t afraid to be weird and unconventional. Coscarelli moves things along briskly and we find out what’s going on along with David and John as the story unfolds in flashback. The story focuses mostly on David as he’s is trying to find out how his friend John’s sudden bizarre behavior one night ties in with meeting a very strange Jamaican (Tai Bennett). As he tries to figure out the surreal occurrences now happening around him, he is drawn into a tale that is the stuff of hallucinogenic nightmares and it becomes a quest for he and John to save the world. Coscarelli wisely uses live effects for most of his surreal sequences and otherworldly creatures and what little digital effects there are, are used sparingly and are decent enough. The live action animatronic creatures and gore are very well done by Make-up FX master Robert Kurtzman and his team and I always prefer to see live prosthetics over CGI. Coscarelli is one of those filmmakers that is very adept at making good use of a small budget and probably would be lost on a Hollywood blockbuster and it is one of the things I like about him as a filmmaker. And here he achieves a lot of visual impact on his small budget. The director has also cast the film well,too. No great performances but, everyone is efficient and effective in their roles and approach the material with appropriate seriousness but, not without a few winks at the audience. Williamson and Mayes are fine and handle the bizarre material well. Clancy Brown in particular seems to be having fun as a TV mystic but, keeps his performance grounded enough to not spill into camp and Giamatti is simply one of the hardest working and best actors out there. And there is a delightful cameo from Phantasm’s Tall Man, Angus Scrimm as well, to please fans of that series. All in all, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, if you like stuff offbeat and a bit out there, and I do, then this is a fun low budget fantasy that is refreshingly and unapologetically weird in a good way.
3 and 1/2 eyes of Korrok.
WARNING: trailer is graphic…
Phantasm is a true horror classic and one of my all time favorite horror films. No matter how many times I watch it, it’s just as weird and creepy as when I first saw it back in 79. It may be considered slow moving and tame by today’s standards, but I still love it.
Phantasm tells the story of the Pearson brothers, Jody (Bill Thornbury) and younger sibling Mike (Michael Baldwin) who have recently lost their parents and now are burying their friend Tommy who is said to have committed suicide, but from the opening moments, we know different. All this time spent at the local mortuary has had an effect on the already traumatized Mike, who is starting to believe that the deaths are part of some supernatural conspiracy lead by the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who is the ominous undertaker at the Morningside Funeral Home. But as Mike continues to investigate the creepy mortuary to prove his beliefs to Jody and their best friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), he finds that not only may he be right about the devious goings on, but the Tall Man may now have the brothers and their pal targeted as his next victims.
Phantasm is a creepy and surreal horror tale from writer/director Don Coscarelli who also made the cult favorites The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep. It is full of spooky atmosphere and Coscarelli and crew achieve some really nightmare worthy visuals and SPFX on a small budget. From it’s freakish horde of hooded dwarves…whose creation is a disturbing part of the Tall Man’s plan…to the murderous silver spheres that patrol Morningside’s hallways, Phantasm delivers an original and offbeat fright flick with plenty of chills and thrills. The cast for the young protagonists are basically amateurs and are fine, but it is Scrimm and his evil Tall Man that really helps make things work by crafting a malevolent and memorable villain who is now considered a classic horror icon. There is a decent amount of gore throughout the flick, but it’s rather tame compared to more modern horror…though ironically, back in the day, critics sighted it along with Alien and Dawn Of The Dead as examples of horror violence going too far…and the story nicely combines the supernatural with the extraterrestrial to make for a delightfully weird tale. The film does have a dream-like quality and doesn’t always follow a traditional straight and narrow narrative, but it is never hard to follow and it’s surreal tone adds to the overall effectiveness of the film. Phantasm’s equally goose-bump inducing electronic score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave also adds a lot of atmosphere to an already atmospheric film and the sound effects guys came up with some pretty unsettling sound effects to accent the bizarre events occurring onscreen.
Obviously Phantasm now also comes with that late 70s, early 80s nostalgia too and that only adds to the fun and while I understand why the newer generation of horror fans may not quite get what the fuss is about, this film for me is an influential classic that has yet to ever really be equaled, even by Coscarelli’s own amusing, but inferior four sequels. One of my top 5 Halloween season must watches!…and I still want the black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda the Pearson Brothers cruised around in!
4 silver spheres!
Maybe the coolest car in horror history since The Munster Mobile!
BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)
Today is a day many commemorate The King Of Rock N Roll, so we honor the legend in MonsterZero NJ style with this fun cult classic from the twisted mind of Don Coscarelli!…
Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep has already become kind of a modern cult classic and is a strange but very funny and imaginative midnight movie treat. Bubba tells the amusing fantasy (or is it?) story that The King, Elvis Presley, (Bruce Campbell) is still alive in a small Texas retirement home. He was desperate to live a normal life away from the pressures of his fame, so he switched places with an Elvis impersonator, Sebastian Haff (also Campbell) who was actually the one who died in 1977. A barbecuing accident destroyed their contract, which was the only proof Elvis had that he was…Elvis. So now The King Of Rock And Roll languishes in his old age with no one believing who he really is…except for fellow resident ‘Jack’ (Ossie Davis) an old black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy. Things seem bleak for Elvis and Jack until a bus crash releases a soul sucking mummy near the grounds who decides to make an easy meal of the residents of The Mud Creek Shady Rest Convalescent Home. Can the King and the former president regain former glory and stop this ancient evil from devouring all their souls?
Written and directed by Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-Tep is a really fun and delightfully quirky midnight movie. The creator of Phantasm turns this oddball story into a clever horror comedy that is perfectly cast and knows when to take itself seriously and when to wink at it’s audience. There are some legitimately suspenseful and poignant moments, as well as, a lot of genuine laughs and Coscarelli mixes them perfectly. Horror-comedy is not an easy blend to get right, but Coscarelli nails it with this little gem.
As for the cast, they are all fantastic with a tour de force performance from Bruce Campbell as The King and a wonderfully funny and yet sad performance by the late, great Ossie Davis as Kennedy. The supporting cast are all delightful and act accordingly with the tone of the material.
Bubba is a strange little movie and is not for everyone, but is great fun for those who can appreciate it. In my opinion it’s Coscarelli’s best film since Phantasm and a real original blast of horror-comedy fresh air. Also features Ella Joyce, Daniel Roebuck, Coscarelli regular Reggie Bannister and stuntman Bob Ivy as Bubba Ho-Tep. Weird and wacky fun.
If you prefer something more down to earth to commemorate The King, check out our review of John Carpenter’s classic TV movie bio Elvis
3 Bubba Ho-Teps and a one and only King!