Cast members and creators reunited at the Son of Monsterpalooza convention in Burbank, CA on September 13th, 2014 to celebrate 35 years of “Phantasm.” Panel moderator Rob Galluzzo, co-host of the Killer POV podcast, was joined onstage by “Phantasm” creator Don Coscarelli, “Phantasm V: Ravager” director David Hartman, and “Phantasm IV/V” effects artist Gigi Bannister, as well as actors Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man), Reggie Bannister (Reggie), Bill Thornbury (Jody), A. Michael Baldwin (Mike), and Kat Lester (The Lady in Lavender).
Rob Galluzzo: As a fan, I am very, very curious about this little movie called “Phantasm V.” Since the director, David Hartman, is right on the stage, I feel we have to bug him a little bit, with Don watching very carefully I see! This thing came out of nowhere, just this trailer popped up earlier this year. There have been rumors for years now that Don has secretly been shooting it or something along those lines.
David Hartman: I didn’t leak those!
Rob Galluzzo: What is the scoop? How did this thing happen?
David Hartman: It’s kind of bizarre. Just to kind of skip around here, I’m like a total fanboy, you know. I grew up with this movie. I remember being seven years old, going to Little Professor bookstore in Columbus, Ohio and buying-- begging my mom for Fango issue #2 with the prophecy bearer on the cover. And I freakin’ stared at that thing. Michael Baldwin floating amongst a red sky and a cut off finger with yellow blood. I just remember looking at it and going, “what the f*ck is this? This is the greatest thing, I gotta know what this is!” And now, to come back and to call these guys friends, and to be invited into the family and hope that no one hates me! I love these guys and this is a dream come true. I met Don from a friend of a friend, kinda helping out on “Bubba Ho-Tep.”
Don Coscarelli: Hey Dave, let’s talk about what you did on “Bubba Ho-Tep,” which was the animated hieroglyphs coming out of the mummy’s mouth.
David Hartman: The stuff I’m most proud of is the stuff you can’t see, wire removal and stuff like that. It’s the geek in me. We worked on “Bubba Ho-Tep” and Don asked me to help on “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” for Showtime. I did the storyboards on that. I remember Don throwing me on the spot. He said, “okay, storyboard the rape scene. I’ll be over here!” “Uh, okay!” But Don and I became friends. We talked about other projects and stuff like that. We went out and Don tried to help me with my own personal reel. We were shooting some stuff, the stuff was looking really good, and this was right before “John Dies at the End” and we were working on that. Then one day, Don was like, “this looks good, you’re doing Phantasm V.” I was like, “whaaat?” It was like that. It was just pretty abrupt.
Don Coscarelli: One of the cool things I’d like to say about Dave, which to any of the aspiring young filmmakers out there, is Dave is a guy who goes out practically every weekend and makes a short movie. That’s something that I aspire to, because I sit around years between projects and he actually goes out and does it. Whenever he would get a different kind of software program of his working, he would do a little video to show how the software worked. Actually, he said to me, “well why can’t we go out one weekend and do a little Phantasm movie?” And I said, “sure!” Then I called up Reggie and I said, “Reggie, come with us!” And we got Gigi to help out on some makeup FX and we shot for this weekend. It just went so great. That was really when we decided to go ahead and make an entire movie.
Rob Galluzzo: So is this over a series of several weekends, or how exactly…?
Don Coscarelli: It was definitely over a few years. Because obviously, Dave had a very ambitious desire and I was throwing gasoline on that fire. So sometimes it would take us awhile to get organized to do what we needed to do and take it to the next level. Just some wonderful fan service. Something that I’ve been talking to a number of fans that have come by, which is that fans are going to love this movie. Now, I don’t know if anybody else will!
Gigi Bannister: We loved it!
Don Coscarelli: They are definitely servicing the fans because the four-barrel shotgun is back, Reggie is back, Michael is back, the muscle car ‘Cuda is back, and an extended visit to the Tall Man’s home world. A wet dream for those “Phantasm” fans!
David Hartman: For me, as a fan, I wanted to be faithful to the series. This was my moment to be part of the world of “Phantasm.” Not a reimagining. Not a reinterpretation. It is that world. As a fan, that’s what I wanted to see. I hope you do, too.
Rob Galluzzo: I just heard someone enthusiastically call out, “when?” Any idea?
Don Coscarelli: Only the Tall Man knows! Definitely next year some time (2015). Hopefully sooner rather than later.
(A “Phantasm” clip is shown of Bobby’s funeral and Jody’s first encounter with the Tall Man.)
Rob Galluzzo: For this clip, one of the things that I knew about it is the funeral is kind of a family affair. I believe Reggie’s dad is in the scene. I think your parents as well Don, if I’m not mistaken?
Don Coscarelli: Absolutely. In the chapel sequence, everyone in the crew is in the pews! I’m just noticing that!
Rob Galluzzo: What can you talk about, just the scene in general, shooting in the mausoleum? Was that a real mausoleum?
Don Coscarelli: It was a real mausoleum. I probably should turn that over to Reggie because he actually ended up working in that mausoleum!
Reggie Bannister: Yeah, it was pretty interesting. We shot there. We shot in the chapel. There was a scene where Mike is grieving over the grave of Jody that was shot on the side. It’s a place in Long Beach. Of course, (the movie calls) it Morningside, but the name of the actual place is Sunnyside. I worked there shortly after we shot the picture. I was playing music at night in Long Beach, in Belmont Shore at a place called the West Coast Bodega. Then I was working during the day at Sunnyside in the flower shop. I would deliver flowers to people wherever they wanted me to go. And I would also place flowers in the mausoleum. Because when you have a loved one that passes, you can make a deal with the flower shop and they’ll place the flowers on a weekly basis, once a month, twice, whatever. So I did that.
(Don whispers to Reggie.)
Reggie Bannister: Oh yeah, we’d have to climb up. Yeah, I would also help and it was a “skeleton” crew. Everybody would do a little bit of everything. I would help the guy who used to place the bodies in the crypts. There were a couple of interesting stories actually, Don. But I think the one you’re talking about is when we opened up one to put another one in. We had to actually, well… we looked. Let’s put it that way. It was kind of curiosity and the guy I was working with was kind of in charge and he said, “well, let’s just take a look.” It was… makeup in the horror films is really good, I just have to say. Because this person I think went out in about 1923 and… yeah. So anyway, it was always a trip. You know, like putting the caskets and so forth into the walls and then you have to seal them up and stuff like that. I guess I was a perfect fit for the “Phantasm” series! I worked at another one in Compton that we shot at. Anyway, that’s my mausoleum story.
(A “Phantasm” clip is shown of Mike spying on his brother as Jody picks up the Lady in Lavender.)
Don Coscarelli: Maybe we should do a live commentary here. Michael, what were you thinking about as you’re going there?
A. Michael Baldwin: Well, it’s Kathy Lester, so… she’s pretty smoking hot! Take a look! I could say that in that bar before, that was the fastest pickup in history. I don’t think he really had to say anything except, “hey” and she was like, “let’s go!” But she has ulterior motives. Let’s find out.
Don Coscarelli: Kat, in the movie you’ve got some just spectacular breasts!
Kat Lester: First of all, those were not mine! I’m thinking of making up t-shirts that say, “they were not mine!” I got a huge surprise here. Originally, I was supposed to do this scene in bra and panties.
(Jody and the Lady in Lavender undress in the cemetery.)
Kat Lester: That’s not me either!
Bill Thornbury: And that’s not my butt, either!
Kat Lester: That’s not my underwear!
Gigi Bannister: Kat, what did your mom say when she saw it?
Kat Lester: I didn’t see the whole movie until we went to the screening, and I brought my mother along. Needless to say, or maybe I do need to say it, I didn’t end up doing that scene with the bra or without. It was somebody else. I was sitting there watching the movie with my mother at the screening. All of a sudden, you see me from my shoulder up and I go, “Tommy, Tommy.” And then 20 feet high by 20 wide, I see these breasts and I scream! (To Don) You were sitting behind me with Paul Pepperman laughing your asses off! My mother turns to me and she says, “oh my goodness, you should have done the scene, yours are much better!”
Bill Thornbury: I can vouch for that. Just kidding!
Kat Lester: Really?
Rob Galluzzo: Bill, can you talk a little bit about working with Kat?
Bill Thornbury: Every scene that we did, I mean, if you’re imagining what it would be like to do “Phantasm,” it was every bit of what you think it might be and then some. Because every day was like a gift. It was just so freaking fun and I’m really privileged that I had the opportunity to do that. Going back to that scene with Angus where he slams his hand on my shoulder and says, “the funeral is about to begin.” He scared the crap out of me! It wasn’t hard to react to that. With the cemetery scene, we got it the first time, the first take. I was really disappointed! They should have given at least two takes, but they seemed to think that we got it! But (Kat) was great to play opposite of and Don was a great director.
Kat Lester: Hear, hear!
Bill Thornbury: He just let us do our thing. He creates such a chill kind of creative environment to work in for someone like me that didn’t have a lot of experience. He just was a great commander-in-chief on that project. (To Don) Thank you!
(A “Phantasm” clip is shown of Mike escaping a silver sphere before the orb bores into a man’s head.)
Don Coscarelli: Michael, tell us what’s going on in this one.
A. Michael Baldwin: Back in the day, I didn’t like to take a shower. I didn’t like to bathe. I swear to God, I’m not kidding. I hated to bathe. I didn’t like to bathe. People were always trying to get me to shower. My mother was like, “take a shower!” I was like, I didn’t like to. I hated it. So I look at this scene and I look at my beautiful seventies hair, but I know how dirty it was. It was filthy! Don’s mom, who was the makeup artist, she used to always complain. She was like, “Michael, wash your hair!” … That’s not a very Phantasm-y story, but sorry, it’s what I have!
Don Coscarelli: This scene coming up, you gotta understand that we put a bunch of blood into (Michael’s) mouth. So right there his mouth is full of blood and he is waiting to spit it out. And then, he had to hold it.
A. Michael Baldwin: Had to hold it, bite it, squirt it out effectively. Pretty gross.
(A yellow puddle forms beneath the man killed by the sphere.)
Don Coscarelli: That was apple juice and beer.
Bill Thornbury: Dos Equis.
(The Tall Man chases Mike through the mausoleum.)
Angus Scrimm: We filmed that chase over and over until my legs began to scream.
Rob Galluzzo: Angus, the Tall Man has been such an indelible character. When you did this movie, were there any influences or any things that you were bringing to the character? Or did Don kind of help you out in terms of figuring out how to play the Tall Man?
Angus Scrimm: Initially, I think the scene that you just saw with Jody/Bill and the Tall Man in the mausoleum, Don had that perfectly planned out in his head, exactly how he wanted the movement, exactly the moment he wanted the hand to come down, and Bill’s reaction. He even gave me the line reading. So that’s virtually Don’s voice! Actually, it’s mine, just mimicking Don Coscarelli’s reading. Then as we progressed further into shooting the film, he relaxed a little. He thought, well, I seemed to be getting the idea. So he didn’t choreograph anything else after that. Except of course the scene you also just saw of the Tall Man and Michael doing a little French gavotte in the mausoleum. As I mentioned, the chase we had to film again and again. Something about the camera movement I think. Was that a handheld camera, Don?
Don Coscarelli: Yes, it was.
Angus Scrimm: It had to be followed just exactly. Two nights before, we had filmed the hanging scene that was cut from the first film, but showed up in “Phantasm IV.” I was suspended in a harness from a tree all night long. There was no immediate ill effect, but I think the unusual pressures on the leg muscles worked to the detriment, in other words, of the running scene. So I had to say, “I can’t do it another time.” They sent me to my dressing room. Don came in and said, “you know, I’m so sorry. But we think the camera jiggled on that last take. Are you willing to do it again?” I said, “I can’t. It’s almost impossible to stand.” So he called a lunch break. I had thirty minutes to pull myself together and we did it I think once more, what you saw. And of course the scene with the cutting off of the fingers was done another time, not too many days later.
Rob Galluzzo: Don, I think as audience members, the thing that we love about the horror genre, what we’re looking for when we go to these films is, we want to see something we have never seen before, that we couldn’t possibly imagine. How did you come up with the sphere? It’s a visual that to this day is kind of nightmarish and I can’t imagine the origins of that as a weapon.
Don Coscarelli: It was a series of evolutions. It started honestly, actually as the only time I ever integrated anything from a dream that I ever had. Because I literally in my teen years had a dream where I was being chased around by an orb in some corridors. But, then when I started working with some collaborators and talking about it and thinking about how to expand it, it became what it is with the drill and the blood pumping and all of that. And so it expanded. It came from a dream. “Phantasm” was essentially a dream as conceived, so I guess that’s how that worked. A lot of times you do things and you just have no idea how the audience will react. Here we are 35 years later and obviously that scene is still working! (To the audience) Thank you so much for letting us enjoy your response to it.
Don Coscarelli: Some of it is happy accidents, though. I can’t take all the praise for that scene because one of the most visceral moments is the way that the drill bit punches through the front of his cranium. That just happened to be the fact that the blood pipe that was coming down the drill bit had a little clog in it. Our art director, David Brown, in the previous one we had shot, no blood came out. So I said, “on this one, really hit that syringe, I want the blood to come out!” Nobody knew about the clot. So as it was evolving, we’re filming it, the drill comes out, and it started to wrap up the makeup, which we had never thought about that. But you look at it now and it’s tearing the skin and just the timing was right. (David) was pushing and it wouldn’t go. Finally, the little clot popped and the blood splattered. And you got that dynamic that really made it look like that bit went into his brain. That was one of the happy accidents!
Gigi Bannister: We have a lot of those.
Don Coscarelli: That’s true, yes!
(A “Phantasm” clip is shown of Jody and Mike wrestling with the Tall Man’s severed finger after it has transformed into a bug.)
Don Coscarelli: This is one of the greatest “Phantasm” acting moments in the film. I honestly believe this. It’s the way that Michael lets this evolve. I’m gonna hand it over to him. Actually, previously. I’m sorry. I was thinking about when he was putting that hammer together. But I’m gonna let Michael talk about working with this bug and he and Jody and that sequence.
A. Michael Baldwin: Well, these were fun days. If you saw that bug and what it really was, it looked pretty cheap. It was just a model from a toy store.
(Mike wrestles with the bug trapped in a loose shirt.)
A. Michael Baldwin: Now this of course is all just a big fake. There’s nothing in there. We did this scene quite a few times. I remember after three or four times with this kind of action, getting very light headed and having to sit down and take a break. I’m almost passing out from this. It looks pretty real. And here coming up is one of the great entrances in cinema history. Talk about a cool guy that doesn’t know what the hell he’s getting into. There he is.
(Reggie enters the scene after Jody and Mike try trapping the bug in their garbage disposal.)
A. Michael Baldwin: It just speaks for itself. It really does!
Rob Galluzzo: Reggie, you buy into this whole thing pretty quickly after that scene.
Reggie Bannister: After that scene, anything could happen! Speaking about that scene, and that scene was a lot of fun to shoot, because it was very physical and we all enjoy Michael and Jody’s physical stuff. I do too, and so does Bill. We just really had a ball with that piece. The incredulous look on my face is really, “what the hell is going on here?” Which is kind of what the whole “Phantasm” thing is about. What the hell is going on here? That was kind of a signature scene for the whole film, really.
(A clip is shown of Jody battling one of Tall Man’s dwarves.)
Don Coscarelli: There was this kid who lived next door to the house where we shot the film at. His name was Lenny. Terrific little guy, about eight years old. We asked him if he wanted to be in the movie and this is his performance. Bill got to work with him. We never should have done this scene. Having Bill shoot a live round at his head. We didn’t know that was dangerous! That Lenny was a hell of a little actor, wasn’t he?
(A clip is shown of Jody dodging the Tall Man’s vehicle.)
Don Coscarelli: Now here comes an epic stunt by Bill. Once again, some of these stunts I can’t believe we actually put the actors in harm’s way. But at the entrance to the gates up here, this hearse is like 6,000 pounds of metal and it’s flying at Bill at like 50 miles an hour. We had one of the crewmembers driving. (Bill) just dives out of the way and luckily he didn’t get hit!
Bill Thornbury: (as Jody confronts the Tall Man while he is still behind the wheel) I was so glad he stopped.
Don Coscarelli: Mike, tell us what it was like to be thirteen years old and driving a Hemi Plymouth ‘Cuda.
A. Michael Baldwin: People ask me often about that car, “did you really get to drive it?” and “what was it like?” I was learning how to drive in that car. I had a lesson from Bill and I had a lesson from Don, just so that I could look real driving the car. You know, thank you “Phantasm.” For a kid, it was the f*cking funnest g*ddamn thing to do. That’s it. I was already a professional actor. But to do this? I mean, all these guys were kids. Coscarelli was only 22 or something. It was super fun.
(Jody stands up through the car’s sunroof while Mike drives.)
A. Michael Baldwin: There’s no safety rig on Bill, there’s nothing, he’s just standing there. He’s standing up there willy nilly. “Alright, let’s go! It’ll be fine.”
(A clip is shown of Jody, Mike, and Reggie finding the portal to the Tall Man’s home world inside the mausoleum. Mike puts his hand into the space gate.)
A. Michael Baldwin: Coming up here, you see Mike approaches the space gate and there’s this little accidental hand swipe with a little sound effect. These are what are known as in-camera effects, which is there’s no CGI going on there. It’s just mirrors. Mirrors placed in a special spot to create this illusion. We didn’t need no stinking CGI!
(Mike explains to Reggie and Jody what he saw while in the Tall Man’s dimension.)
A. Michael Baldwin: Mike the genius figures it all out.
(Reggie agrees with Mike’s explanation.)
A. Michael Baldwin: Trying to take credit for my idea!
Rob Galluzzo: Don, this was kind of your Kubrick “2001” homage, if I’m not mistaken. Is that correct? Is that where this came from?
Don Coscarelli: I was a Kubrick fan, yes! Yeah, certainly we all bow to the master. That’s probably what I did in that scene. What’s cool is we started in that direction and then these wonderful actors-- you know, I always loved that sequence where the three of them are at that doorway looking into this. I can’t remember what I told anybody in terms of their directions, but each one of them has a different expression of wonderment and awe. I’m so lucky to have this wonderful cast, which I think is why the movie still resonates to this day. Because they all brought life to each one of these characters.
Audience Member: I read for the first time today that there was a different ending originally planned. Mr. Coscarelli, could you talk about that and why it was changed?
Don Coscarelli: Actually, all of the cast was pretty much released and we were well into editing, and we-- I shouldn’t say “we,” I’m not going to say “we.” I’ll take the blame. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as far as the ending. There were a lot of ideas floating around. We had shot this entire sequence that Angus spoke of with the Tall Man hanging from a tree. At one time, that was going to lead us into the ending. It didn’t exactly work and then we tried another one. There were all kinds of crazy, speculative endings that we were talking about. When I had started, I was not going to have it end up in a dream. But then I was speculating that, oh, maybe this could all be a dream and Mike would wake up and his brother was getting married. And then it would turn out that he was marrying the Lady in Lavender. But that wasn’t so good. Finally, I just hit on this idea that one of the truths of the movie is just how potent the Tall Man was and the movie should end with the Tall Man. “Boy!” Bam. Through the mirror and the Tall Man wins, game over. In one weekend, we went out then and shot that scene by the fireplace with Reggie and Mike where it was the reveal that Jody had died. Then we shot the sequence where we had to yank 13-year-old Mike through a mirror five times and we finally got it right!
Gigi Bannister: Which is (Don’s) shooting ratio, by the way. 5-to-1!
Audience Member: Don, you’re so great at leaking little secrets here and there. Just kind of these vague hints.
Gigi Bannister: Not Don, he never lets a secret out!
Audience Member: With the upcoming release of the box set from Anchor Bay and Scream Factory of the “Halloween” series, many of us are hopeful that maybe they’ll join forces and do something with “Phantasm.” Has there been any talk of that? Is that an idea? Can you say anything?
Don Coscarelli: (playing coy) Thank you!
(Brief silence followed by audience laughter.)
Don Coscarelli: Seriously, who here would like to see “Phantasm” in Blu-ray high definition?
(Audience applause and cheers.)
Don Coscarelli: Well, hopefully all the distributors out there pulled the wax out of their ears and heard you. I believe that it definitely will be coming down the pipe soon, with luck.
Audience Member: Is there an intention in the mausoleum scene with the architecture? There are these Greek gods above (the entrance to the space gate room). It seems Lovecraftian. Were you going for something on a subconscious or symbolic level?
Don Coscarelli: It certainly was on a subconscious level! Actually, my mother, who’d been referred to earlier as doing some of the makeup, was also in charge of some of the set decoration. She found this great place that had all this Plaster of Paris statuary. She purchased a bunch of it and brought it. I said, “oh, this one’s great.” And I saw those Greek gods and I didn’t know what the hell, which Greek gods they were or what they meant. But I thought, “put this over the door to our space gate room. It’ll be fitting.” I’m sure there is a message there, but someone smarter than I can figure it out.
Audience Member: (after mentioning the film’s use of a hearse) What was the original budget for “Phantasm?”
Don Coscarelli: Truthfully, we had no idea what we were spending. It was certainly somewhere south of $300,000. No one ever accounted for-- I don’t know what we actually spent. We were just making the movie until it was done. We had some investors who were very flexible, thank God. Shockingly, when they saw the ultimate film, they weren’t-- I didn’t even go to the screening for the investors. I was so freaked that they would just blow their minds and just say, “you threw all of our money away.” But we did work on respect.
Don Coscarelli: In terms of the hearses, I’m going to turn this over to Angus. Something that gets overlooked is that Angus did all of his own stunts in the original film, including falling into that hole and chasing the kid and getting his fingers chopped off and all that good stuff. There’s an extended sequence where Angus is at the wheel of that hearse, driving about 60 miles an hour with Michael bouncing around in the back. Angus, can you tell us how you were able to pull that sequence off?
Angus Scrimm: I haven’t a clue! These things just happen and you think, “I will survive!” I do remember that night. Somehow it all worked out, just like shooting the gun at the little kid’s head. Like some angel watching over us. Just imagine how many years ago that was, and here we all still are, still alive!
Don Coscarelli: I wanted to say one other thing. When we first had a screening of “Phantasm,” Angus wrote me a letter. This was pre-email, so you would actually write them out and send them to people. I got a letter from him and Angus said the most interesting thing, because he had been really impressed I think with the way people were being scared. He said, “Don, I feel so fortunate to be involved--” (To Angus) I’m quoting you loosely. You said that you felt that night when we showed it that there might actually be a generation of fans that it might be their first horror film that they watched. I still remember that letter to this day, Rory. (Angus Scrimm’s real name is Lawrence Rory Guy.) Is that what you said? Did I get that right?
Angus Scrimm: Something like that, yes. My first horror films when I was twelve were “Frankenstein” and “Dracula.” I was just a little boy. Can you imagine seeing them both at once in this icy little theater crawling with horror images? So, I was hooked. And I thought there are many, many people, young people, for whom (“Phantasm”) will be their first horror film. It’s going to reverberate. Sure enough, it did. That doesn’t mean that I’m not today dumbfounded that after all these years, “Phantasm” is one of the few movies that is still omnipresent, like “Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind.” Of course “Star Wars,” and then there’s “Jaws.” But in fact, it not only has its original fans still loyal and faithful and admiring it, but it’s creating all new fans. And their kids and other kids are rediscovering it. The first “Phantasm” has hardly ever been out of circulation. When one company’s contract runs out, Don is immediately approached by another company that wants to redo it and rerelease it on DVD. Now of course, he’s hopeful for a Blu-ray. It’s marvelous to have this totally unanticipated immortality!