Don Coscarelli - Masters of Horror
While best known for his four Phantasm films, Don Coscarelli's film career, which has been going strong since the seventies, has not been confined to a single genre. That being said, he is best known for his work in horror films and so he seemed a logical choice to contribute to Showtime's Masters Of Horror series. Don took the time out of his schedule to talk to DVD Talk's Ian Jane about projects past, present, and maybe even future, as well as to shed some light on a few career highlights for us.
DVD Talk: You started off making comedies like Kenny & Company and a drama called Jim The World's Greatest. How easy was the transition from making comedic and dramatic films to making a fantastical horror movie like Phantasm? Where did the idea for the film come from?
Don Coscarelli: For me it was easy because my favorite films growing up were fantasy and horror. I also maintain a healthy sense of humor about the genre. People don't mention it much, but there are a lot of funny moments in Phantasm.
The idea for the film came from my fascination in the American way of death. When you think about it, it is a truly bizarre process and much different from other cultures. In other places the family prepares the body, puts it in the ground, says a prayer and that's it. In America some sinister figure dressed in black, spirits the body into a hidden medical chamber, where all sorts of freaky medical procedures are conducted including removal of the blood, the remanufactured corpse is then taken to the grave in this long black coach and a grand ceremony is conducted. Good stuff for a horror movie!
DVD Talk: It's said that the original cut of Phantasm was roughly three hours long. Does this version still exist even in a workprint form and if so, would you ever consider releasing it? There was an illegitimate German DVD release of the workprint of Phantasm II. What about an official release of this version?
Don Coscarelli: We did shoot a lot of film on the original Phantasm. So much that I was able to find ten minutes worth to included in Phantasm: Oblivion. The cut does not exist, but the negative certainly does. One day, if I could find the time, it might be fun to create and epic-length Phantasm.
Many fans tell me they think that Phantasm II is the best Phantasm film. I hope to one day produce a definitive DVD release of Phantasm II in the US.
DVD Talk: When Phantasm made it big, you moved on to direct The Beastmaster for MGM but you've gone on record more than once stating that you weren't happy with studio decisions about the finished version of that film. What would your ideal version have been like? What were you trying to do with the movie that you weren't able to do?
Don Coscarelli: The creative interference was on many levels. It's hard to really project what the film might have been like. In the casting I had voted for a young Demi Moore as the lead, but was informed by the powers-that-be "she couldn't act." They liked Tanya Roberts. I also had proposed a role for Klaus Kinski, but was ignored because he wanted $5,000 more than our budget. The animal trainers I selected were replaced. And the editing process was just devastating for me. My cut was completely remanufactured. It was really surprising that in spite of this the film became so successful.
DVD Talk: Since The Beastmaster you've more or less concentrated on Phantasm sequels and more recently Joe Lansdale adaptations (the exception being Survival Quest which really should come out on DVD). What is it about Lansdales work that made you want to adapt it and how did you go about getting the ball rolling with him?
Don Coscarelli: Survival Quest will finally be released on DVD within the next year. As to Joe, his work really appeals to me - there's a level of humor, violence and just plain weirdness that I really respond to. About a decade ago I went down to visit Joe where he lives in Nacogdoches, Texas and we've been good friends ever since.
DVD Talk: How did Mick Garris get you on board for the Masters Of Horror? Did it take much convincing on his part or were you keen to give the series a shot?
Don Coscarelli: He just asked. When I heard that Dario Argento, John Carpenter and George Romero were involved, I was eager to enlist. Unfortunately George ultimately was dropped. I thought it would be fun to make a 60 minute project - I didn't realize it would be as much effort as making a movie!
DVD Talk: With both Incident On And Off A Mountain Road and Bubba Ho Tep finished, do you have any plans to adapt anymore of his work? As a big Lansdale fan it's got to be said that your style of filmmaking suits his writing very well, and both adaptations were pretty successful in my opinion. It'd be a shame not to see more of his work hit the big screen when he's got so many great stories out there that would seem like great choices for films.
Don Coscarelli: I certainly hope to work with Joe again. Joe was very happy with my adaptations and I have my eye on a couple of his stories.
DVD Talk: Before Incident for Masters Of Horror, your work was as well known for it's fantastic elements as it was for it's horrific elements. With this project you went straight for the throat and made a flat out horror movie with little no fantasy elements at all. How did you enjoy working on this type of project and can we expect more 'straight' horror from you in the future?
Don Coscarelli: One of the reasons I joined the Masters Of Horror was to do something different. It was certainly fun to shoot the chase sequences. At the same time I really liked the layers of the story about the female protagonist's back story.
DVD Talk: How did you like working on the shorter shooting schedule and having to bring in the project at under an hour?
Don Coscarelli: It's not the way I am used to working. I believe that the way to make good movies is to have lots of shooting days. I have perfected a low-budget way of saving as much money as possible so that I can maximize the number of shooting days. That's not the way they do it in TV. And Masters Of Horror was produced in a TV style. It's very hard to do good work under those circumstances.
DVD Talk: Fangoria reported that you shoot some further material for different markets for Incident, material that was not included on the Anchor Bay DVD release. What was this material and why wasn't in included in this otherwise fantastic DVD package?
Don Coscarelli: Thanks for the kind words about the DVD package. The two scenes, while not necessary to the story, are very interesting. One explains a lot about our heroine, Ellen and the other shows the villain, Moonface, doing some dastardly things to the recently deceased. It was unfortunate that the additional scenes were required. At any rate it was up to Stephen Romano, my co-writer and I to come up with them. I don't know why it was not included in the DVD. I hope the international audiences enjoy the scenes.
DVD Talk: Maybe it's the horror movie nerd in me but the drill press scene in Incident made me think of Lucio Fulci. Who were your primary influences as a director and whose work do you appreciate these days? Why?
Don Coscarelli: Fulci is a true Master of Horror and it is unfortunate he is not around to participate in this venture. Although Dario Argento is a terrific substitute for the Italian team! I'm a Kubrick kid, having been exposed early to 2001: A Space Odyssey. On my coffee table is the new Taschen "Stanley Kubrick Archive" book, which I consult daily. It's my Bible. The things he did with composition, editing, music and design are stunning.
DVD Talk: With the first season of Masters Of Horror over and done with, are you going to be coming back for a second shot? It's already been announced that Dario Argento and John Carpenter will be taking another stab at it.
Don Coscarelli: No. Once was enough for me. I'm focusing my energies on my next film.
DVD Talk: Rumor time! It's been mentioned more than a few times that you're going to go back to the Phantasm well one last time and shoot a fifth film, possibly with Bruce Campbell in the lead. Is this going to happen? What can you tell us about this possible project? Parts of the later films took place in Oregon, Bruce lives in Oregon... you wouldn't have to go very far to film it and you know the fan interest is there...!
Don Coscarelli: The Phantasm that Bruce was involved with has evaporated, unfortunately. Roger Avary, who received an Academy Award for his writing on Pulp Fiction wrote an epic, kick-ass Phantasm sequel. However, it required a large budget and we were not able to secure it. I love working with Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister. Hopefully, we can do something more together. As this develops I will post info at www.phantasm.com
DVD Talk: Speaking of Bruce Campbell, there are also rumors that you and Joe Lansdale will be teaming up for a third time and working on Bubba Nosferatu, a follow up to Bubba Ho Tep. Again, is this going to happen? Where would you go from the ending of Ho Tep? Sequel or prequel?
Don Coscarelli: Why not both?? Yes, I am currently actively developing a Bubba Nosferato - Curse of the She-Vampires screenplay. And Bruce is raring to go, ready to pull on the sequined jumpsuit for one more dance. I hope to announce some surprising details about it soon on www.bubbahotep.com
(Note: All of Don Coscarelli's answers are as written by him via email)