I wish this interview was conducted on camera. There’s an honesty to it I love. And for you indie filmmakers out there, you’ll likely relate to what Don Coscarelli has to say. I’ve known the Phantasm helmer for many years now and we’ve got a good vibe when we talk. I think this interview could have gone on much longer if we were sitting down over a beer or coffee, capturing the whole thing on camera.
Coscarelli was making the press rounds recently, chatting up his latest release John Dies at the End (now available on VOD/DVD) a film that you should see, if you haven’t already. It’s weird, dark, funny, sometimes gory and often surreal, but what I love about it is its rhythm and voice. The film exudes a certain charm and energy that you might find from a young, fresh filmmaker. But the man behind it all is film vet Coscarelli, back on the genre scene after 10 years since Bubba Ho-Tep and proving he’s still “got it.”
Inside, Coscarelli opens up and reveals why it took so long for his post-Bubba Ho-Tep effort to hit the screen.
Shock Till You Drop: Don, I got to say, this window of time between your films has to get shorter. I missed your stuff, man…
Don Coscarelli: This is the problem with my career. Unlike some of the more fortunate filmmakers, after each movie, I have no idea if I’m going to get funding for another one. It takes a while to make it happen. For a good year after Bubba Ho-Tep, I was self-distributing theatrically. Then I tried to get the sequel to that going, but it disintegrated. You make these movies on a modest budget, it takes a year or so to prep. So, that’s my excuse for that long lag. I’ve probably got two films left in me.
Shock: But one would not know that. The energy and creativity you’re bringing to the table certainly shows no sign of slowing or running out of steam.
Coscarelli: It’s not running out of steam, it’s just making movies in an independent manner. It’s just the reality of making movies like that. I’m sure you talk to a lot of indie filmmakers and their challenges and the DVD market and its demise and now the rise of piracy. It’s just hard figuring out a way to make these films. But I will tell you, I like to think I have a youthful outlook. I’ll tell you where it really happens. Bubba Ho-Tep was a life-altering experience for me in many ways. One of the best was the fact that I realized how this very cool genre of ours and these fans that we meet, they are open to interesting and different stuff. They’re not stupid and a lot of times I think companies pander to them. That was a big question mark. Can you have a movie about two old geezers in a rest home that our average fan base, are they going to have the patience to sit through this? And the answer was a resounding “Yes.” That led me to take a leap on John Dies at the End because I found it to be a strange, invigorating movie. I tried to put it together conventionally and we had Paul Giamatti at our backs. I’ve been wanting to work with him on a movie bad and he had sent our script along with a letter to this guy he knows, they seemed liked they got the project and wrote this essay back to us about how they loved the dog and talking into the bratwurst, but they passed on it. So, I find myself in this conundrum where I’m trying to do interesting stuff…and I thought John had a youthful, fresh take, but conventional sources for investment didn’t get behind it, that’s why I went back to the old school way of making movies and did it on a real tight budget.
Shock: I love the vibe to Chase’s voice over in this film and often found myself backtracking and listening to it again just to pick up on the information or nuances…
Coscarelli: Yeah, some get lost in the FX going on on the screen while they listen to him. Obviously, the book had its voice and that’s what I loved about that. The convention of making John Dies was we weren’t going to be able to afford known actors for lead roles, we’d have to find unknown actors. I would give a page of this narration for them to read, and hearing his reading for the first time made me think we had a movie that could work. I’m glad you liked it. Some of those passages in the book are fantastically written.
Shock: Did John Dies allow you the opportunity to do things you haven’t done on your previous films, get experimental in some areas at all?
Coscarelli: I’ve done a lot of things and I’ve learned quite a bit. I’m glad I have that knowledge, this film like no one I’ve ever done, everything presented something difficult, different and maybe been done before. On day one, I’ve got a first-time actor in Chase and he’s got to do eight pages with Paul Giamatti. Another day, we’ve got a mustache that needs to fly around a room practically. Then we’ve got a talking dog and another day a monster made of freezer meat. It was an on-going challenge and great to have that.
Shock: We’re talking on the eve of the release of Evil Dead, now you know I’m going to ask about the return of Phantasm in one way or another. The last we spoke with you, you said you were listening to the demand…has that position changed much? Any movement?
Coscarelli: Well, nothing more than incentive on my part. Everyone asks about Phantasm 5, not a remake. If Evil Dead is huge, it may put pressure on me. I don’t know, I wouldn’t be averse to a fifth film. All of the actors look great. Angus has a good part in John Dies. If the stars aligned, I’d think about it.