Nearly 40 years after the release of the original Phantasm, the story of brothers Mike and Jody, their guitar-playing, ice cream-slinging pal Reggie, and their fight against the grave-robbing inter-dimensional shapeshifter known as The Tall Man continues in the fifth film in the Phantasm series, Phantasm: Ravager. Remarkably for a franchise with such longevity, Phantasm: Ravager utilizes much of the same cast and crew as the original film—in fact, it’s the first Phantasm movie not to be directed by series creator Don Coscarelli. But Coscarelli was still heavily involved in the production as a writer and producer, part of a close-knit group of collaborators that made the movie on a shoestring budget over the course of nearly a decade.
The A.V. Club joined Coscarelli, director David Hartman, star Reggie Bannister, and co-producer Gigi Bannister in a crowded private karaoke room in Austin the day after Phantasm: Ravager’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest for an affectionate discussion of the past, present, and future of Phantasm.
The A.V. Club: The whole Phantasm series seems to be a family affair—I noticed some of the cast and crew even had their kids at the screening last night. With such a long gap between movies, do you keep in touch?
Don Coscarelli: Oh, we’re pals. The great part is that we have a professional side of it, where we all get together at horror conventions—which seems to happen at least once a year, if not more—where we all spend a weekend together talking about Phantasm. But you know, we go back, me and Reggie, and Dave and I have been friends for 10 years now because he worked on Bubba Ho-Tep. And I’ve known Gigi for—it’s been going on 20 years. The thing is, I had the good fortune early on to cast some really great people that weren’t just characters, they had character. And they’ve all got other abilities and interests. It’s just a blessing to know all of them.
And we talked about it a little at the screening last night, but it’s been a rough period for us with the loss of Angus [Scrimm, who played The Tall Man]. I think that’s brought us together, too, because he was such a touchstone in all of our lives. But that even connects us even more closely with our families, because he was a touchstone in their lives, and we’re connected through that. A lot of the connections are really compelling in a lot of ways. Honestly, it’s just been a blessing to be involved in this.
David Hartman: It’s been amazing, because I’ve been on sets of other movies, and there’s this professional side that almost feels like a work-for-hire aspect. But like I said in the Q&A, I’m very grateful to everybody involved [with Phantasm] for accepting me into the family. I consider all these guys friends—we see Reg every now and then at conventions, and we’ll email back and forth with Gigi. I love these guys. And when making these movies, it’s, hang out with your friends and film it with your friends and do cool stuff. We trust each other. Reg knows his character, he is his character. Everyone’s personalities come through and create those characters, so it’s a collaborative effort amongst everybody. That’s the way it should be. You should have fun when you’re doing this. That’s when magic happens, you know?
AVC: Well, I want to follow up with you on that, Dave. This was your first time directing a movie, and it must have been kind of intimidating, following Don. How did you try to stay true to the Phantasm series in your film?
DH: Don set up this world. These characters are really important to me. There are a few aspects to that. There’s the visual side of things—I didn’t want it to be a new director showing off camera moves, or take this world and redo it. For me, this movie needs to fit with four other movies in a boxed set on a shelf. I wanted to make sure it stays true to Don’s vision. In doing so, Don and I collaborated very closely. Every edit, every cut. Don was a part of that. And that’s the way it should be. For me, it’s his world, his baby. And I’m still going to raise it the way he would like it to be raised.
Working with Reggie and the other actors, again, they know their characters. I write dialogue for them, but I want it to be genuine. So I’m very open to Reggie’s interpretation of what I write. Just to get a little more heady on this stuff—because I’m a fan and I love figuring it all out, this stuff we make—the first film had to do with a boy who’s dealing with death. But there’s friendship, there’s loyalty, there’s a bond amongst these characters. And in this film, you’ve lost the innocence of a young boy. Now we have major players that might be facing dementia and Alzheimer’s. We all have to deal with this, we all have family members who have to deal with that. It’s another way of bringing the innocence back into the film.
There’s always been a surreal side of the film, in dealing with life and death. That’s what the first Phantasm was. That was really important to Don and I, that this comes across. We still got the cool shit in there [Laughs.]—giant guns, driving in reverse shooting guns, giant spears, War Of The Worlds moments—because that’s what, as fans, we all expect to see. But at the same time, Don’s movies are unpredictable. You can’t show all this stuff in the trailer, because it gives shit away.
Reggie Bannister: [As far as] the character development [goes], they’ve already been developing for 30 years, the major characters: Mike, Jody, Reggie, The Tall Man have all been developing all these years. And now you come up with this last film, Ravager, and people are expecting to see well-developed characters. “Where are they now?”—that kind of thing. I think we all have that in our gourds.
One great thing about working with Don all these years is it’s like music for me. Because good musicians jam ideas. They don’t just let someone write a song and go, “Well it’s going to be this, that, and that.” No. People throw in ideas as you work it out. And that’s what’s always been fun about working with Don and Dave and doing anything creative, is when all aspects of the talent pool come together and say, “What do you think about this? Or if I said this? Or if I did it like this and then down the line when we’re going to go here, it’d make more sense because I alluded to it?” And that’s the way you weave realities together.
DH: We’re open to good ideas, always. I don’t know how filmmakers make films and dismiss ideas from their collaborators. That just seems insane to me.
DC: That’s what happens with $150 million dollars and 16 executives.
AVC: You wouldn’t know anything about that. [All laugh.]
DC: I was just thinking about this while Reggie was talking: Reg had a profound influence of the making of Phantasm III, just because he found this mausoleum location. He called me up with such enthusiasm about it, saying, “Don, I found this mausoleum!” And what’s great about this property in particular that is it had a futuristic mausoleum, a throwback old mausoleum, and some more contemporary ones. [It had] all these different things in one location and he had found it. I looked at him and thought, “He’s right. If we can get this location, we’ve got a movie to make.” That suggestion begot the movie.
Another thing I wanted to mention is that we let everybody cross boundaries. When we did Phantasm IV, A. Michael Baldwin came to me and said, “Look Don, I want to be in the movie. But I want to do a little more with my life, so let me be a co-producer, and I’ll help you with every aspect of it, and I can learn and use it for my future career.” And you know, why not? I took him on and we worked side-by-side. Go forward another decade, and we’re getting ready to shoot Ravager, and Dave’s got some ideas for how to do it.
So we talk with Reggie, he talks with Gigi, and they say, “You guys need to come up to the mountains where we live. You could shoot the cabin scenes in our house, we’ll do it there. Let’s do it all as co-producers.” I had done it with Michael before, and it worked, so they came on as co-producers and were right with us in every major decision, bringing great locations and sets to the game.
Gigi Bannister: We went to one location, it was remote, it was beautiful. Perfect to shoot the Barracuda scenes. [Jody’s 1971 Plymouth Barracuda appears throughout the series. —ed.] And we show up and someone snatched our location and Don goes, “What do we do?” And I go, “I have a location I shoot at, but it’s 45 minutes away.” And he goes, “I don’t care!” [All laugh.] We were like a tag team. Don literally gave us code names. I was Fast Elk.
AVC: Oh, I saw that in the credits!
DC: We had no permits. Take the opening sequence where Reggie comes out of the desert and is wandering down the center of the highway: We just sent Gigi down there with her walkie-talkie to see if she sees anyone. This is one of those days, where this [Gestures around room.] was the entire crew and cast. Our wives were helping us—Dave’s wife was the production designer, my wife was doing costumes.
So Gigi puts the makeup on, and we get out in the middle of the road. We have this crane that Dave and I had to build. And Gigi goes, “The police are coming.” And we grabbed the crane and dragged it [out of the road], and it crushed Dave’s finger.
DH: Oh man, good times, good times. Roughing it.
DC: Yeah, it’s funny now. It was like 100-something degrees out, 35 mile per hour winds.
AVC: Just one more question, a little more serious this time. In this film, it’s set up so there could be more adventures. But is there a Phantasm series without Angus Scrimm?
DH: I don’t have the answer, so you shouldn’t look at me.
DC: I think there are ways of doing it.
GB: We have our ways. It’s Phantasm.
DC: In the Phantasm world, we’ve set up many dimensions. But in this movie, we didn’t shy away from old age.
AVC: It really is kind of poignant.
DC: Thank you, that’s awesome.
DH: Not to give spoilers, but Angus has [The Tall Man’s alter ego] Jebediah Morningside saying, “This body is almost finished.” We didn’t shy away from that. That’s an integral part of the story. It’s alluded that that’s coming. You never know.
GB: We have a very dirty cutting room floor.
DC: Yeah, we do. The Tall Man’s a shape shifter.
RB: It’s an ongoing story. These people keep evolving and keep going on. You just never know. People ask me, “Is there going be another one?” I don’t know! Is there going to be another day of life? Sure, yeah there is, for somebody. So whatever happens, happens.
DH: What happens when you send an army out to destroy the world and your general passes?
DC: There you go. I think the intention, especially once we realized we were going to lose Angus, was to wrap up the series. But at the same time, we’ve known for a long time that the Phantasm fans have a deep-seated, vested interest in this [series]. They want to know more.
And Dave gave them some lip service in the end credits: We went in a lot of different directions with the storyline, and some of them we had to abandon because we were too ambitious. But Dave thought, “Let’s not throw this away. Let’s work it into this thing.” So if you watch closely, there’s Reggie and Mike, and they have an RPG, and they take down one of those giant spheres. In a way, that’s food for thought for Phantasm fans to chew on for a while. If there never is [another movie], they can fantasize for themselves.
AVC: And if they find a cool mortuary? [All laugh.]
DC: Yeah, I think we’re all resigned [to the fact that], long after all of us are gone, someone will take Phantasm. They’ll still be making it.
GB: If they can remake Blair Witch, there’s someone who will want to remake ours. But the fans are pretty adamant. They don’t want to remake Phantasm, they want it to continue.
AVC: It seems people have a really emotional connection to these characters.
DH: Absolutely. That was important to this movie, too. It’s not a reinvention. It’s very important to have the original cast. I’ve seen the first [movie], I’ve seen the second, I’ve seen the third, I’ve seen the fourth, and I want more. I want to see where these characters are now.
DC: Also, when you go to the conventions, what we’re seeing is that there’s a lot of sharing of Phantasm. We were at a convention a couple months back and a woman got up and said, “My father and I used to watch it every year. My father is gone now and I just want you to know how important it was in our lives.” And so, that’s one of the great blessings that all of us have.
GB: Can’t say “Phantasm” without saying fan!
DC: There you go. [Laughs.]