Elvis, JFK and the Tall Man: a Talk with Don Coscarelli

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There are some non-film influences as well. Dune figures into the film.

Of course. I took that whole scene from there. At the time I made Phantasm, there was no hope of there ever being a Dune movie, so I thought that I'd... and don't forget Invaders from Mars, the original 1954 version that had the young boy that nobody would believe. These are the kinds of movies that I grew up watching. When I got my opportunity to make a horror film, I wanted to do things like them.

I have three primary questions about the series. What's with the yellow blood? I guess that it's a way to distinguish the humans from the non-humans?

I always felt that the Tall Man was a very different character, even though he was in this very normal type of funeral get-up. I just thought that he came from another place. It's just a function of a primary color that hadn't really been done before. Spock had green blood in Star Trek so I didn't go that direction. With yellow, I thought it would be interesting if, when they cut him, something other than red came out.

Where did the silver ball come from?

That's the only idea that I've ever taken from a dream. I had this dream where I was in some kind of corridor being pursued by a calm sphere. It never really caught me and it didn't have any devices or drills or anything like that. A lot of times you can come up with an image like that and you throw it out to the people that are actually going to construct the items and sometimes they come up with interesting additions and embellishments. The guy who actually constructed the sphere props for us actually chopped up pieces of foam rubber so that there would be bits of brain in the blood. It didn't really show in the film, unfortunately.

How did the notion of the tuning fork originate?

That was something that came up... Phantasm was written and edited and shot concurrently. I had a script that had a lot of weaknesses and flaws in it. We started shooting, we stopped shooting. We went into this plan where we'd shoot on weekends and take the five days off in-between and prep and rewrite. I probably shot three or four different endings for the movie. The tuning forks were never in the original screenplay. They really came out of working with those poles. One day, the connection was made that they hummed and they looked like tuning forks. I thought, "How can we tie that in? Oh, we're going to shoot that scene with Reggie and the guitar and we'll have him tune the thing with the tuning fork." The free-form style of it came out of the way the movie was made.

You were the DP on your first three films?

When I started Jim, I was nineteen. I got my father to put up a small amount of money. A neighborhood friend and I co-directed it. We hired this guy to shoot the thing and after a week we were over schedule. We had these arguments and he left the project. We didn't have any money so we had to shoot the film ourselves. On student films you do all your own photography so it's not that big of leap. As I learned later, the great cinematographers obviously have learned a lot of tricks over the years, but to get some sort of exposure of an image isn't all that difficult if you know how to use a light meter. When I did Kenny & Company, I didn't have any money to be able to afford a cinematographer, so I just took that on. The same thing happened with Phantasm. It really complicates life for a director. It's hard to stay focused when you have to worry about that stuff. I didn't do it after that. That's part of making movies; maybe the most fun part is the photography. That's what attracted me to it.



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