Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Don Coscarelli

That's actor Angus Scrimm in his career-defining role as The Tall Man in director Don Coscarelli's career-defining movie, Phantasm. Before that, Coscarelli directed two movies in 1976 that no one even heard of, let alone saw: Jim, the World's Greatest (which featured future 80's TV hottie Gregory Harrison) and Kenny and Company. Then, in 1979, Coscarelli wrote and directed Phantasm, a strange Horror/Sci-Fi crossover about a young boy who discovers that the man running the local mausoleum is doing something a bit more nefarious than just burying bodies.

Pre-dating Friday the 13th with exceptionally explicit gore effects, Phantasm was an indie Horror phenomenon and has to-date grossed nearly $12M. Not bad for a film that cost $300K.
Mike (Michael Baldwin) has just lost his parents. His brother Jody (cutie Bill Thornbury) returns home to help pick up the pieces. When Mike witnesses The Tall Man effortlessly hoisting a casket up onto one shoulder, he becomes suspicious and convinces Jody and his ice-cream vending buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to investigate what's really going on. It turns out that The Tall Man is shipping corpses off to another dimension, where they are reanimated as shrunken slaves. The Tall Man also has an arsenal of spherical weapons he uses to drop his enemies, draining the blood from their victims by boring holes in their foreheads. Weird, creepy and surreal, Phantasm is one of those movies you just have to see to really appreciate.

Coscarelli followed up with the 1982 Sword and Sorcery epic The Beastmaster. Starring a nearly-naked Marc Singer; future nearly-naked Sheena, Tanya Roberts and future DUI recidivist Rip Torn, The Beastmaster tells the story of Dar, a young man who can psychically bond with animals. Dar (much like Conan) is bent on avenging the death of his parents at the hands of a pillaging madman. He uses an eagle, a tiger and a pair of wascawy fewwets to do so. Oh, and there are these sort of creepy bat-people.

The Beastmaster would later be revived as a syndicated TV series, featuring the adventures of the nearly-naked young Dar, before he grew up to be Marc Singer.

1988 saw Phantasm II, in which James LeGros takes on the role of Mike, who once again teams up with Reggie to save a girl who may or may not be in danger from The Tall Man.

1989's Survival Quest went the way of Coscarelli's  first two films. Phantasm III and IV came soon after, though neither met the success of the original. Most recently, Coscarelli directed the cult hit BubbaHo-Tep. Based the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, BubbaHo-Tep imagines Elvis as a nursing home resident (he switched places with an impersonator who died before they could switch back) who must battle an  ancient mummy with the help of a fellow resident who claims to be JFK's brain transplanted into the body of an aging black man. Starring genre fave Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK, BubbaHo-Tep is a very amusing film, if nothing else.

Coscarelli's next scheduled project is Bubba Nostferatu, in which Elvis (Hellboy's Ron Perlman) battles an army of female vampires. Paul Giamatti is slated to play Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Say what you my about Coscarelli's films, Phantasm certainly deserves a place among any discussion of genre films and remains one of Horror's most effective (if enigmatic) films.
More, anon.

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