Don Coscarelli is a master of the horror-comedy. He believes that even in the most horrifying times of your life, there are also moments of levity. His films explore the idea that there is another world, it’s terrifying and dangerous, and it’s also hilarious. Don has always preferred to just go ahead and make his own films, and feels you lose a sense of fun and exploration on big studio projects. The great thing about making indie movies is that anyone can pick up a camera and go make a movie over a few days or even a few years. Don shot and directed all three of his early films until The Beastmaster, which was shot by John Alcott, a frequent director of photography for Stanley Kubrick. Don wanted to make an epic “sword and sandal” movie after making his third film, Phantasm. The Beastmaster was still a low budget indie film, but he wanted to use a great cinematographer to give it a real sense of grandeur. Don felt he had to sell his soul in order to get enough money to shoot The Beastmaster, and the producers even threatened to fire him, but fortunately John Alcott stood up for him.
Prior to The Beastmaster, Don directed Phantasm, about a mysterious grave robber called the Tall Man. After the first week of shooting Phantasm, he decided to shut down, choosing to only shoot on the weekends and taking the time during the week to scout, rehearse and rework scenes for about a year. Don thinks it’s helpful for indie filmmakers to pad their schedule with pickup days to give enough time to go back and get better shots, special effects or reshoot scenes if necessary. For his film, John Dies at the End, Don once again decided to take his time and made the movie on an intermittent basis, which luckily worked for the actors, who were all inexperienced, with the exception of Paul Giamatti. Mike Gioulakis was the cinematographer who also acted as the gaffer. Don went on to make the sequels Phantasm II, III and IV before writing and directing Bubba Ho-Tep. Elvis, played by Bruce Campbell, actually lives in a retirement home, and a fellow resident, played by Ossie Davis, have to fight a reanimated mummy who is killing the elderly. Don had a delightful time working with Ossie Davis, especially directing him to realistically fight a rubber mummy. Part of the horror of the movie was making the old folk’s home truly scary- a place where people are abandoned and alone.
Currently, Don has been on a quest to find the original negative of The Beastmaster in order to remaster it, and set up a website for tips on where it might be located. Luckily, a perfect interpositive was found in the vaults of Warner Bros. which will be used for the remastered version.
You can read Don Coscarelli’s book about his experiences called True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking.
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Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep98/