So the 56th BFI London Film Festival slowly slips into the past, and we begin the slow acceleration towards next year’s festival. For the duration of the festival ESLF reviewers (described as reprobates by our Managing Editor, hopefully his affectionate humour for us all shining through) (Editor’s note: I deny all knowledge of the use of the word “reprobates”, I’m usually more sweary – IL), were busy attending press screenings as well as the occasional public screening, and so you may have had the fortunate or unfortunate pleasure of encountering one of us. I snuck off to attend an event unique to the LFF: The Afternoon Tea Sessions, where I had the opportunity to interview directors whose films were screened at this year’s festival. So, whilst we have been busy telling you what we thought of the films over the past few weeks, to celebrate this year’s LFF, EatSleepLiveFilm is taking a moment to look back, by giving the final word to the filmmakers.
We start with acclaimed director Don Coscarelli, he of “Phantasm” and “Bubba Ho-Tep, whose new film John Dies At The End played LFF this year.
I exclaim my enthusiasm for Don’s Masters of Horror episode: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, a film I originally overlooked until I discovered this gem in the MOH anthology series.
Listen, that is so nice of you, because the thing is I’m very proud of that movie, and I don’t know, I think that… First off it’s a different film for me, and one of the things I really wanted to try… You know all of my films have been so male centric, and I’m married, I’ve got a daughter, and I wanted to do a movie that had a female perspective on things. The short story it was based on was very short, and we had to expand it quite a bit, but the brilliance of that was the fact that you had this very traditional story: girl in the woods with big freaking monster. That movie has been told so many times before, that story, but it’s got that great twist, and I had never really done a movie with a twist before, so it was a challenge to do. Every decision I made while I was making the movie, was in service of the twist. It was like, “Can I do that, or will that give away the twist? Should we do it this way or will that hurt the twist? Then I think that the whole thing, at least from my perspective, made so much sense. It also goes from being a cartoon monster, to a real monster in life that so many women suffer and endure, and in a way there’s some hope there because it showed that, I mean maybe this is ridiculous, the idea these skills that she developed whilst being brutalised, perfectly positioned her to fight the big bad monster. At the end of the movie you look back and you go, “Wow. That monster really made a big mistake to mess with her.”
I think that is the reason it failed to originally intrigue me. It was a story that had been told so many times before, but when I watched it I just loved the way it was constructed. You mention her skills, the way in which she is forced to learn survival skills, and she is not dissimilar to Wes Craven’s female protagonist in Nightmare on Elm Street who turns the tables on the male killer, and the twist that I never saw coming.
I’m so happy about that, but you have to really credit the two actors that played the husband and wife, because the early parts of their relationship, you could always tell there was something brewing in him, like he wasn’t in control of himself, and yet there is also some romantic moments. You get the vibe that he’s going to do something wrong and then he pulls out a diamond engagement ring. It’s got a lot of… but the good part, well look. Someone who knows their way around the genre can appreciate it, but I don’t know if mainstream critics ever saw the thing because it was ‘Masters of Horror’, and I don’t know exactly how it is in the UK, but certainly in the U.S. horror is one step above pornography, the way people treat it.
I have heard John Carpenter say something similar. It’s a tragedy. Horror is a great genre.
Yes it is.
Horror is not bound by limitations, unlike every other genre that has obvious limitations.
It’s between that and science-fiction. Those are the ones that I have always been attracted to, because of playing with perception and what is reality. It is so interesting, and constantly interesting to me, so I do movie after movie about those types of things.
I’m sure everyone wants to talk to you about Bubba Ho-Tep?
Bubba Ho-Tep was an unexpected success. Phantasm was a success and spawned three sequels. Even Beastmaster has a sequel. What happened with Bubba Ho-Tep? It just seems so ironic that with its success it is still without a sequel.
We tried, and it’s one of the reason’s it’s took me so long to get to John Dies at the End after Bubba; it’s almost nine years. I spend a lot of time working on the publicity and marketing of our film, and it was really a great satisfaction to me. I always knew… I just had a sense that the audiences that liked Phantasm would respond to that, and I got some criticism because people would read the short story and they’d go, “Don, what are you thinking? Two old geezers in a rest home, you’ve got to put some young people in it or they won’t want to watch it.” And yet it was just so satisfying to go to some screening and see eighteen and twenty-year-olds, people there in their Phantasm t-shirts, and they loved the story about this old man, and so you know I felt vindicated. At any rate after all of the marketing process for that, there was interest in financing a Bubba Ho-Tep sequel, and I thought, “Well why not, because it’s good.” Then there was another development which is that I got the chance to meet the great actor Paul Giamatti, and it turned out he was a big Bubba Ho-Tep fan. So the first time I met him I couldn’t contain myself and he was talking about how great Bruce Campbell was, he loves Evil Dead, and I said “Well Paul, would you like to be in the sequel with Bruce Campbell?” And he’s like, “Really? Yes!” So I’d been thinking about the fact that, one of the great mysteries about the legend of Elvis is his manager. Colonel Tom Parker was a very peculiar and strange individual, who really, some fans say ruined Elvis’ career. For instance you do know that Elvis never played London? He never played Tokyo. Can you imagine the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ never touring internationally? That was because his manager from what I’ve read, he had documentation issues. I don’t know if he was a legal U.S. resident. He was not allowed to leave the country; he wouldn’t be able to get back in. So here you have the ‘King of Rock’ who is unable to be shared with the rest of the world. Elvis fans hate him (Colonel Tom Parker), and then the fact he mismanaged his finances or at best he looked the other way when Elvis went into that drug spiral, and so you’ve got this man who has this control over the greatest entertainer in history; how you know? Of course I started thinking there must be some kind of vampirism in there. So I had this vague idea about doing a sequel, but it wasn’t crystal clear. I don’t know if you remember at the end credits, I put a card in there because I’d been a gigantic James Bond fan. I always loved how it always ended, “James Bond returns…” with the title, and I’d get excited, and I’d be excited for three years waiting for it to come out. So I thought, “Wow, let’s put Elvis returns”, and so I came up with the title ‘Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires.’ So anyway I had this idea for a story and I had a vague screenplay, Paul Giamatti and I wrote the script. I thought it was great and unfortunately for reasons that I don’t completely understand, Bruce was unable to participate. So it just went away.
Bruce wasn’t able to do it?
I don’t know if he didn’t want to, if he had other things going on, whatever; so the funding fell apart. It was all set to go and then it fell apart. I think it would, it could still be a great movie if he was ever re-interested in it, if the funding was still there. In any case it got me an introduction with Paul, and then he was the first actor to come on board John Dies at the End which was very helpful.
Phantasm is a sci-fi fantasy. Bubba Ho-Tep is a comedy horror. Sci-fi, horror and fantasy are genres you have always been a fan of. John Dies at the End seems to bring all of these together, so is it a perfect film at this point in your career?
I hope you’re right from your lips to God’s ears, but look you can’t ask me those tough questions, because unfortunately I have the affliction that many filmmakers have, that whenever I watch my own movies all I see are the flaws. It’s very hard for me to see the good things, unless I’m with an audience that is laughing or clapping, and then I can see how it is working. It’s an interesting point. First off, based on a great source novel by David Wong. He’s a first time novelist. I read his book, I loved it, it spoke to me. I talked to him about getting the rights and it was so funny because I’m thinking, “Wow, its right in there, in that Phantasm pocket, where it could be great.” Then I talked to him and he goes, “You know it’s amazing that you’ve written this because you’re right. This is exactly in your domain; this book is just like Bubba Ho-Tep.” I’m just, “What?” It’s got two eras, an evil presence, and he lifted it off his finger, and I said, “Okay, so I guess it’s like both.” Maybe you’re right. It’s certainly speaks to my interest in terms of the level of horror and humour and just out there strangeness. It makes for I hope one day a perfect trifecta of viewing where someone could sit down and watch Phantasm, Bubba and John in a row, and see some parallels and differences.