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Don Coscarelli

Incident on and off a Mountain Road

directorsdindexAnd here I thought I was done. I missed the Masters of Horror series when it first broadcast and never really got around to catching up on it. I always wanted to see the Carpenter one. The Coscerelli one never occurred to me, but it’s a good one to dive in with. During negotiations with Showtime, this episode was essential in getting the show on the air – and as such, it was the first one to be broadcast.

It’s a good story, beautifully shot and well made. But it also feels very by-the-numbers to me, and I just don’t see enough of Coscarelli’s fingerprint in it. This could be because the script was written by Stephen Romano, not Coscerelli, and even that teleplay was based on someone elses’s short story.  It’s the tale of a lumbering humanoid monster in the woods stalking a young woman on the run from her survivalist husband.

image3sI don’t dislike it per se. In fact, this story includes an absolutely arvelous performance by Angus Scrimm. It’s positively goofy and off – a complete departure from teh sinister demenor we are used to seeing, but far more lunatic than the actually nature of teh man himself. I saw flashes of this in Ravager and Oblivian actually. It’s Angus being flighty and so much fun.

Still, the whole thing isn’t quirky enough. I miss Don’s sense of humor and off kilter style. This feels like an episode of a TV series. It’s normal for an auteur’s personal style to get images1lost there. Essenetial that it does in fact. But it does make me wonder about the rest of the Master’s of Horror series.  Still, I’m glad I finally got around to seeing what is one of Don’s biggest commercial successes.


Phantasm Ravager

directorsd14470398_1286341708076916_8484064258982743829_nThis one is not strictly a Don Coscarelli film – he produced it while someone else directed it. However, his fingerprints are deep enough in the movie that I think that should count.

Phantasm 5 is easily my 3rd if not second favorite film in the series. I know I’m in a minority there, but I love everything about this. We have the reunion aspect, everybody is back for one last ride, but we also have a much better sense of finality. The Phantasm films never really end, they’re always cliffhangers, but this one feels more hopeful than any others.

There is a sort of piecemeal look to it, the decision to transition from web series into feature film came on little too late and is obvious, but it still feels like a satisfying end to the series. It’s just as weird as any of the other entries, and the action is just as vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h38m35s121-copyimpressive and it allows me one more foray into this world.

I went to great detail on this film when it came out, and I don’t feel like rehashing that here, but I do want to let you in on the big secret of the film… Most of it is a dream. No, I mean it… From the beginning of the movie, until Reggie wakes up in the tall man’s laboratory, being rescued by the woman from his dream and her diminutive companion, all of that is a fantasy – one that the tall man has created to extract information. The only part of the film that is in the “real world “are the moment in phantasms end. Even when we start flashing back to the nursing home, that is the dream… It’s still hanging on, it’s still clinging along the edges. At the moment that he leaves the nursing home, the moment he dies in the nursing Home, that’s not REGGIE’S death – it’s the dream dying. It’s Reg choosing to live in the real world.

vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h32m15s192-copyThe film makes a great deal more sense once you understand this, and it’s actually a lot more straightforward than ever, despite feeling wierder! It’s the final appearance of Angus Scrimm, and I’m glad for it. It’s a good performance, and the Tall Man is truly scary once more. No goofy companions like the scavengers from 3, he’s surrounded by dares and gas masked gravers. He’s on top of his game (though I wish he had some better lines to say) and even with the short hair feels scarier than ever.

A fitting end to the series, and also to this director retrospective.

Phantasm 4

directorsdPhantasm_4I have my own theories on why Phantasm 4 kind of tanked. Admittedly, the sequels that succeed the second film are all of a week quality, but it seems sometimes that Phantasm 4 gets a much worse reputation then Phantasm 3. I think some of it has to do with limited budget – and that limited budget does show, in other places I think it has to do with the fact that it gets confusing if you’re not already intimate with the series. The tall man is not quite as scary here There’s a lot mystery and it seems to be setting something up… something that never quite materializes. Distribution is a big deal too. A lot of people didn’t know that Phantasm 4 ever came out until it hit the Syfy channel… Those that did know, expected something different.

For a few years, there was a concept for a series finale called “Phantasms End” – it was a post apocalyptic adventure that might just start Bruce Campbell alongside Reggie Bannister where a disease ravaged the Earth and the Tall Man was at the centre of it all. p4reggieDon Coscerelli really couldn’t raise the funds for this movie and 4 was designed to generate interest and revenue in an attempt to get Phantasms End off the ground. It failed, and for the fans who were expecting Phantasms End but instead got Phantasm 4, it felt like a disappointment.

Taken on the own though, this is actually quite a remarkable film. Coscarelli pointed out that his cast hadn’t changed. We are inundated with flashbacks to the original phantasm – unused footage that at been stuffed under Coscarelli’s mattress at home, and is interesting because that’s not some child actor playing Mike Baldwin – it really is him, image71decades ago and young. The flashbacks in the misdirections yield a dreamlike quality, and an even more surreal tone then what has come before. It’s perfectly at home in Phantasm.

It is also once again, a beautiful reunion with the guys and I actually can easily watch this over and over again. My only real criticism, is that it’s very much a middle film – a transitional movie with nothing to transition to… at least, not for another 18 years…

John dies at the end

directorsd9781250035950_p0_v2_s260x420It’s hard for me to really look at John dies at the end objectively… The film in of itself is a nice little bit of low-budget creepy horror… The thing​ is, the source material happens to be one of the best horror novels that I’ve read in ages, with way too much material to put on screen – indeed they only managed to get about a quarter of it if that. The book greatly expands on A number of the characters, ones that play key roles that are almost forgotten in this movie, and our main characters are more deeply explored as well. There are horrors beyond description in the book, although the film certainly does its best to translate these things literally – the monster made out of meat, The flying mustache, a lot of the fiendish thingies that go bump in the night, it’s a valiant effort, even when it falls short.

Like I said it’s a good film, but hard for me to look at without comparing it to the book… and I wonder if I’d have the same interest in this movie without the book – indeed I wonder if I would even found it without the book. It’s a tricky balance.

Still, in the end I enjoy this tale of otherworldly forces trying to reach our universe and John-Dies-At-The-Endbeing thwarted by a couple of losers. If nothing else it really showcases the weird taste that Coscarelli has –  and that’s a good thing, I enjoy seeing his tastes lineup so well with mine and I really like to see a little bit more from the subject. This needs a sequel, and one that expands more on the first book (There’s still so much there that could recovered before hitting the second or third ones!).


Phantasm three

directorsdPhantasm_3I’m not ashamed to say that this is my least favorite of the series. It’s hard to say if it’s the weakest entry or not, some people really hate the fourth entry, though I don’t know that that’s fair.

Phantasm three feels like it’s strays little bit too far from the formula… Ironic since that’s exactly what people say about the second movie! I may also be a little bit biased​. I discovered Phantasm three sitting on the shelf of my local video store about six months to a year after it had been released and I nearly lost my mind. I was so excited to finally see this – not knowing that it had even existed. After watching it, it felt like a let down. But you know what, it’s that era of film as well. A lot of the sequels from 1993 through 1998 also felt very disappointing and horror itself was in place I really didn’t like.

phantasm3-_mikemeetsblacksphere.jpgThe good news is Michael Baldwin is back for about half of this film… The movie starts up strong picking up right where at the second one left off. Jody is back as well, although for a great deal of the film he takes the form of one of those silver spheres- One that is now on the side of good. I very much get the impression that there was some confusion or some doubt that Thornbury and Baldwin would make it back, or perhaps that they would make it back for as much of the film as they did. As a result, the second act introduces a lot of new characters and tries to form a whole new trio. We have another young boy who has been orphaned by the tall man’s shenanigans, as well as a militant young black woman who serves as the muscle. They’re both very 90s stereoypes, and in a lot of ways, Reggie banister doesn’t fit with them. He seemed out of place with his hqdefaultseventies/eighties look and sensibilities. It’s something you don’t notice  as much when he’s hanging with his contemporaries but it comes into sharp relief and when contrasted against these strong, modern stereotypes…
We also encounter some new villains – some bright and obnoxiously colored scavengers. They get promptly killed off and turned into zombies then keep returning to wreck the film… Honestly they’re one of the weakest parts of the movie. These characters are practically cartoons and they sap a lot of the creepy atmosphere from the film, pushing the humor over The line to silly shenanigans.

At the end of the day, I think that’s really my problem with this movie… It’s not dark enough, it’s not scary enough, it’s not brilliant. If you got rid of these silly scavengers, or made them less of a caricature and more a threat I think I would’ve liked to better. I mentioned before that the orphan character is just so… clean… He’s got freshly laundered jeans and a bright blue jean jacket, his hair is immaculately cut. If he were in rags with a dirty face I think I would’ve accepted him more. The world would’ve felt more grim.

downloadYou can’t dismiss this film though, it’s got some great moments and some wonderful touches on it… We have some truly creepy images of the tall man sitting and communing with the silver sentinel spheres… Indeed we see more of the balls in this movie then possibly any other phantasm film, and with a greater variety. We don’t necessarily see them cause the same level of gore as we did in part 2, but that’s a budgetary restrictions…

All in all, this one is worth watching – if nothing else as a bridge between two and four… And of course for the same reasons that you watch any Phantasm movie… It’s a reunion with Mike and Bill and Reggie and Don and Angus, and you.

Bubba Ho-Tep

directorsdBubba_Ho-Tep_posterMy friend Jennifer went into this movie cold – all she knew was it Bruce Campbell was in it and that was enough for her. Indeed, the pairing of Campbell and Coscarelli is really a match made in psychotronic heaven​. These two guys both wallow in the B movie genre, but when it comes to trashy horror flicks, they are at the top of their game.
Bubba Ho-Tep is the story of a mummy that comes to a nursing home to attack patients, but instead ends doing battle with an elderly Elvis Presley. Does that sound weird enough for you? Yeah, Coscarelli traffics in the weird and this is really an ideal project for him – fusing his very relational style of filmmaking with practical effects and B-movie monsters.  It features what may well be the last appearance of Ozzy Davis, which is kind of sad – I always felt like he was slumming a little bit in this movie – but he plays it straight and chews the scenery like a true B actor.

d826bbcc9f6ead61c47829bf168f3fc1--bruce-campbell-dynamic-duosOne of the things I love about this movie is that it really isn’t a check your brain and your kind of film… It requires a massive suspension of disbelief to accept the internal logic of this movie, but once he’s done that, you’re committed. Somehow, Coscarelli manages to make it all tie together… The guys over at Chinstroker versus Punter once mentioned that this felt like somebody was trying to make a cult movie, and you can’t do that. It just happens. I’m not sure if that’s really what the intention was, though this does have a lot of the hallmarks and in the end – that’s exactly what it has become… an endlessly re-watchable cult film… I’ve got no complaints about that!

Phantasm Two

directorsdPhantasm+IIMan, what can I say about Phantasm 2 that hasn’t already been said? (in great part by myself already?) This film is unjustly lambasted I think, partially because Michael Baldwin is not back in the lead role and​ The plot is perhaps a bit more straightforward. They say this lacks the dream like quality that the original hand. I’m not so sure about that, I think there’s plenty of surreal imagery, though it’s ratcheted up a couple notches. This is the sequel with the most money behind it, and it shows. Every cent is on screen, with gore and very Rick Baker sensibilities. The Tall man is back as well, and he is possibly at his most imposing here. He’s always been A fascinating villain and managed to capture my imagination in the commercials I watched for this movie as a child. The balls are back as well, with a little bit of variety at it again.It’s still not as prominent as the marketing might suggest, but the creepy atmosphere of the mortuary, the dwarves and the graver and everything that comes with phantasm – it all makes up for it.

Phantasm-II-Don-CoscarelliPhantasm 2 was important, because a lot of the tropes that we associate with the series come into play here – the four barrel shot gun, the road trip aspect – even the fact that Reggie is really the star of this series… It all comes into focus here and it sets us up for the rest of this run. Phantasm 2 maybe my favourite of all these movies, it’s certainly the gate way where this series got it’s hooks into me… And it shows us a glimpse of what done Coscarelli could really do if he had a budget!


Jim, the Worlds Greatest


MV5BYTlmMTk3ODMtYWJlNi00OTQ2LWE3YjEtNGJjMzhlZjdhOGRkL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_That’s right. I finally found a copy.

The “teen movie” really came into its own in the 80s with the John Hughes series. Jim the worlds greatest predates that. It’s a sort of film that lays the groundwork for what the teen movie would become. Don Coscarelli’s touch really shows through in this movie with his signature dreamlike quality, tracking a non-linear path through the story. In this way you can actually tell this is from the same director that made Phantasm.  Such themes are only reinforced by the fact that it’s a story of an older brother watching out for his younger brother… Indeed the entire thrust of the film is an older brother, probably a senior in high school who is already taking on the responsibilities that really should belong to the delinquent father of this piece.

Jim World’s Greatest also has a sort of meandering slice of life quality to it… There’s no 18A-Rory-1024x774real narrative or story here, there’s just life as we drift from set piece to set piece. It’s much  the same technique he would employ in his next film; Kenny and Company. Just drifting, at least, until the third act – when things get serious.

I didn’t expect this to be a comedy, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect it to get as intense as it did either. Angus Scrimm gives a performance of a lifetime here, grim and depressing as the out-of-work father who occasionally gets drunk and beats his kids. We really only get to know the present-day father, the failure… and we know it wasn’t always like this. We get glimpses of him during happier days trough flashbacks – it’s an impressive juxtaposition that Scrimm delivers brilliantly.

Reggie Banister (who apparently never had hair on top) shows up as well, giving one of hqdefaultthe most lunatic and wacky performances I’ve ever seen him do. It’s a little more than a cameo as a crashed wind rider, but man it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

In the end, it’s quite an emotional film – and it really shows Coscarelli’s skill. It almost makes me sad that he transitioned into low-budget and horror, and yet this is the kind of film that was ideally suited for the 1970s, and that era  would not last forever. It genuinely makes me wonder though, what Coscarelli would do with such material today. I’m not sure that he could even get it made – the era of emotional low-budget dramas in the theater seems to have passed, and thanks to Coscarelli’s negative experiences during his brief sojourn in to the studio system, he’s been jaded enough to never venture there again.

There is a definite evolution present here, a direct line from Jim the worlds greatest, through Kenny and Company, directly leading into Phantasm. Seriously, THAT’s the trilogy. You can see Coscarelli and his sensibilities develop while staying very true to the concepts that intrigued him, and it only reinforces my belief in how underrated this filmmaker is.




directorsd5149VNVBJ0LI have to admit, I was a little surprised to discover that beast master was a Coscerelli the film. It lacks any of his Personal style and flourish. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after although, When you consider the studio had their fingers in every step of the production, ultimately taking the film away from Coscerelli and finishing it themselves.
It’s for this reason that Coscarelli himself has some hard feelings towards the production, though objectively speaking, it’s by no means a bad movie. If anything Beastmaster’s greatest sin is being forgettable… It’s standard fantasy fare along the lines of Conan. It’s exactly the sort of fantasy that was fashionable at the time. Marc Singer is serviceable as the titular beast master, rescuing a damsel in distress but he always feels a little bit off to me, I’m far more used to seeing him in the various “V”miniseries and sequels. Going from a smart mouth resistance fighter to a musclebound barbarian is a bit of a leap. His face seems a little bit too craggy The-Beastmaster-Marc-Singerto be a leading man, (ironically he is younger here). still, there’s nothing here that really stands the test of time. It’s a few moments of striking imagery, particularly with the bird, but nothing that stands out. It’s a good excuse for direct video sequel (I believe there were three). It also suffers from falling out of fashion… Today, we prefer our fantasy in the style of the Lord of the rings and dragonlance. The whole Conan/Tarzana look has gone by the wayside. That’s not really a commentary on the quality of them, but rather how changing tastes affect our perception. Beastmaster is worth a watch, but not a serious one – not a dedicated night with this is the main feature. Put it on while you are doing something else, or hang out with it if you catch it and cable.

Kenny and company

directorsdKenny_&_Company_FilmPosterI will readily admit that I can’t exactly call this the first film entirely though it’s one of Coscarellis earliest released works – it’s preceded by Jim the worlds greatest, but I’ve never got my hands on a copy of that one… This is a quintessential 70s film – and in a lot of ways it’s childhood in the 70s as viewed through the eyes of someone who was a child in the late 50s… There is still an idealized neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else on the street and children all played together, building soapbox racers in planning their Halloween costumes… There’s always​ The younger kid tagging along with the older ones wanting to see how things work and be a part of the world. Kenny and Company also documents the first awakening of romance, that first crush and the desire to get to know the girl – and kiss her. It’s from a period, where childhood and adulthood are still far more firmly separated than they are today.
tumblr_inline_nea2y1jZsm1sqr9zcMike Baldwin from Phantasm is in this film, but he isn’t the supporting lead… he’s the secondary lead. However he is very much playing the prototype of the character that he would later immortalize in the phantasm films… Indeed I can see this as being what his character would have been like in those films if he hadn’t been haunted by the mysterious tall man. He’s handy with a hammer, foul mouthed, Brave and brash.

There is a sort of dreamlike quality to a lot of the film, a Coscarelli trademark.  Still, the dialogue ring is very true and it’s definitively in Coscerelli’s style. In the end, I found myself entranced– completely sucked in.  I genuinely didn’t expect to like it as much as I maxresdefaultdid… These days, this is a perpetual Halloween watch… And interesting drama, mixed in with my normal slate of horror films. This is a must watch, if you can get your hands on it.


directorsd14469577_1287266907984396_6839442167741886021_nThis where it all begins.

Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, “Jim, the World’s Greatest” was Coscarelli’s first film, followed by “Kenny and Company”. But Phantasm…this is where most of us first really encountered Don Coscarelli.

It’s hard for me to find something to say about Phantasm that I haven’t already said. I’m fascinated by these characters and to this day I find the tall man to be one of the most compelling villains ever.

I’m particularly interested in the underlying themes of abandonment – originally much stronger in cut out footage. Indeed there’s still Phantasm footage that has never seen the light of day, scenes with Jody and his girlfriend (supposedly the lady in lavender) as well as a guitar performance by Reggie Bannister. I could see it – there’s a stage in his ice cream shop and we can catch a glimpse of it in the deleted scene where they all get into a food fight there.

The story of the otherworldly undertaker and what he does to the bodies buried in Morningside Cemetery will always be one my my favorites – enough to keep me on board though all of the sequels….but more on that later.