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

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Tell me a little bit about The Beastmaster. How did you come to make that film?

I wanted to do something different after Phantasm. I'd always been a big fan of the muscle movies, "Sword & Sandal" epics with Steve Reeves, when I was a kid. I liked that stuff a lot. I also liked Disney movies that involved animals. I had read this book called The Beastmaster, written by Andre Norton, and I always thought about adapting it. I started working with a friend [Paul Pepperman] on it and we decided to abandon the plot of the book, taking the concept of a guy that works with animals and giving it sort of a Bronze Age feel.

As for the finished film, the movie was sort of my Waterloo. It was the first film I ever made in a professional surrounding. There was a lot of money at stake. Although, in retrospect, it was a $5 million budget, which was huge for me, but even at the time was still considered a low-ish budget film when you want to do warring armies and cities with pyramids and all of that. The budget was always tight and tough. The problem, basically - to raise the funding for it, we had to go to outside sources. With the outside sources came baggage. There was a lot of creative interference in the making of the movie, in terms rewriting our script and changing things, making decisions on casting, really corrupting the spirit of what we wanted to make. The bottom line is, I've got this movie with my name on it. Some parts of it are what I wanted and I'm really proud of and enjoy those parts. Other parts of it are really messed up.

The other weird thing about it is that the movie just won't go away. When we made the film, it didn't perform that well theatrically. I just thought, "Well, I'll just chalk it up as a mistake. I'll just go out and try and do something different." But then it started to take off on television. It was always playing on television and people were always talking about it. Then, those financiers made those sequels and the TV series. I kind of wish that it would just go away.

How was it to work with your lead actor? Was he someone that the producers suggested?

No, I actually selected Marc Singer. At our budget level, we couldn't find anybody that had name value. I'd seen him in a PBS version of The Taming of the Shrew. Marc had his own ideas about how things would go. It wasn't the easiest working relationship. Like I said, parts of it are great and other parts... I don't know. In my vision of the film, I wanted Klaus Kinski to play the bad guy.

That would have been something!

He was available and doing low budget movies at the time, too. It was the kind of thing where he wanted $5K more and the producers wouldn't put up the money, but they would just piss away $5K on other things. Rip Torn is a great guy and a wonderful actor, and it was a hell of a time working with him, but it would have been a different film [with Kinski]. Same thing with Tanya Roberts. The producers were from Lebanon and they didn't know what Charlie's Angels was and I just thought this would be a really bad thing. Tanya's a wonderful person, I really like her a lot and everything. I had been interviewing this "unknown actress" named Demi Moore! They said that she couldn't act, so they insisted on Tanya Roberts.

She was a soap opera star at the time.

Yeah, exactly. I think she would have been great in the movie. At any rate, that was the evolution of the making of the thing. It was very frustrating and it was also unfortunate because my long-time partner at the time, Paul Pepperman - we had made Jim, Kenny and Phantasm together - and he came on and co-wrote Beastmaster, and yet, it was such a horrendous experience that he just left the movie business. He's been very successful as a financial consultant. I'm really happy for him, in that regard.



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