Exclusive: David Hartman Talks Phantasm: Ravager and Angus Scrimm
When director David Hartman – best known for his cartoons and kiddie flicks – was chosen to make the ultimate Phantasm finale, horror cinefiles were dubious. But now that the feature has been making the rounds at the festivals and is being heartily embraced by Tall Man fans, Hartman can relax and enjoy the ride. We had a chance to sit down with David to ask him how his association with Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli began, and where he reckons it’s heading.
Dread Central: The opening death scene, featuring Daniel Schweiger, is classic. Did you know him before you cast him?
David Hartman: I met Dan on Bubba Ho-Tep briefly, we didn’t really know each other but Don Coscarelli brought him up and said, ‘Oh he’s be perfect, I love this guy, I want to see more of him’ and Dan nailed it, it was awesome. So when Dan’s on the road there, it was over a hundred degrees that day, we had at least thirty to forty mile an hour winds, we got sandblasted, I didn’t know what to expect and poor Dan lying half-naked on that asphalt but he was a trooper.
DC: I love that the ‘Cuda is back! Where’d you get the car to use in the movie?
DH: Well, Don had that car, it’s his. I believe it was Phantasm 2, and he has that and the other ‘Cuda, and we had to do a battle, the armored up version of it so he brought it over to my house and kept it in my garage for a few months. My wife, she’s the handyman, she’s the production supervisor of the movie, or production designer, and she did all the props, she built all the armor for the car, so I’d go out there at night and pretend I was driving the car, it was so surreal.
DC: In your film, Angus really has a lot of lines. What was it like to work with him, especially since he was not new to the Phantasm universe but you were?
DH: The first time I really met Angus, Don and I were writing the script and we wrote these lines for him and the first time we met him was at a luncheon, it was just the three of us, to go over the lines and I was scared to death. In real life he’s the sweetest, nicest guy but if you haven’t met him yet and you see him from afar, he was staring me down and I’m like oh my god, he’s going to read these lines. It was an amazing feeling, just sitting there eating a sandwich, and across from me is the tall man reading these lines that Don and I wrote together, that alone was an amazing feeling. But then he was like, this is exactly what the tall man would say, this is how he would react, and I want the actors input on their characters and if they would say this, then change it if necessary, it was just a fantastic feeling. Then he would come over to the house and you’ve got the Tall Man sitting on your couch, just the nicest guy, it was great. I didn’t know him as long as everybody else and even then his death was devastating, I was in the hospital myself when I got the news so I already wasn’t feeling good, and it was really horrible.
DC: How has making this movie affected your life and career?
DH: That’s a good question. For me personally, coming into this has been a dream come true. Don and I started shooting short scenes, I would shoot short films every weekend for myself so I said ‘hey Don, why don’t you come out with me and we’ll do one’ and we talked more and said, ‘why don’t we do a Phantasm movie,’ and Don called up Reggie and said let’s do this. There was no real purpose to it but hey, let’s do a fun scene so it started out with the scene in the cabin with the girl Dawn, that was the first thing shot and Don let me direct it and I thought this is fun, maybe we can do this as webisodes or something and then we did another one and another one. Then we had to take some time off, Don went to do John Dies At The End and I was producing this Transformers Prime show and we came back after we got most of that work done and I was like hey Don, what are we going to do with all of this footage and Don said I think we’re going to do part five and you’re directing and I’m like well I’ve already got a chunk of it done so it was kind of thrown in, and there’s a fan boy side of me that got excited but it didn’t last long because it was immediately work immediately after that. It’s really only now that it actually hit me, like oh my god, I’m working on Phantasm, this is something I grew up with and love, one of my first forays into horror and a fan of the series so it’s an amazing feeling, it really is. As far as the directing side, I told Don at the beginning, first up we had very similar sensibilities in directing, we had long conversations on that and very similar takes on things. It was pretty easy but I didn’t want this to be a show off piece for a new director, Phantasm means too much to just go in and be fancy pants with the camera and stuff. I really tried my best to make it feel like it was part of the series, I wanted it to fit on the shelf with the other four movies. I really wanted to try and catch the vibe of the first one a little bit more, surreal, jumping back and forth, so I hope that comes through, that was the intention.
DC: The film has so many threads to it. Was it hard to keep track of?
DH: Yeah, it’s a slightly nonlinear normal narrative, it does jump around a bit but that’s something I like about the first film a little bit when we do that and it makes it easy, you shouldn’t have it figured out after watching it, that’s what makes it so bizarre in the first place for me, on the first one. With Mike and Reggie’s character and is it a dream, is it not a dream, is his brother dead, is he not dead, you’ve got Reggie taking care of him, then you thought Reggie died, there was always this void with death and this innocence with that and I think once you got into part five here and Mike has lost his innocence. To get that innocence back I really like that we went with this dementia kind of thing because it’s still a character dealing with death, it’s very relatable for all of us, we all have someone in our lives who we know suffered from this. For me it was a way to bring innocence from the first film and raise the stakes, besides just the Tall Man destroying everything.
DC: Have you thought about Phantasm as a television series?
DH: The thing with the Phantasm series, Don and I have talked about this before, what’s a little more unique about it than other films is it still has this serialized feel to it, like even the old Flash Gordons and Rocket Man, all of these 1930’s shows, a pulpy serial feel to it, as though you were reading an Amazing Stories, like this story will continue in a month. There’s definitely an aspect to it in the world Dons created and I think it lends itself really well to television, personally I’d love to see this, I think these characters have a lot of story to tell and in television you have a lot more time to dive in. Hopefully this film does well enough that it gets the attention of some network executives and then maybe become a possibility, who knows.
DC: How has fan response been, since the movie played at Fantastic Fest?
DH: You know what, I’m surprised, it’s been really good so far. Fantastic Fest I was scared to death, I’m white knuckling it the whole time and the screening started with some cheers and stuff and then it kind of died off and it’s kind of quiet and I’m starting to get nervous, I’ve lost them, I lost the audience and I’m kind of beating myself up while I’m sitting there. Then it finished and there’s all these cheers and people are coming up and saying they crowd was so into the story, trying to figure things out, it was more engrossing then just simply cheering so that was really surprising. Varity gave us a decent review the other day, really so far it’s been quite good. I consider myself to be a fan of the series, I grew up with this so fans reactions are one of the biggest things I’m looking for because I consider myself a fan, and Don is the biggest fan, so the two people’s approval I wanted the most was Don and Angus. Angus did get to see it before he passed which was amazing so to get both of their blessings and approval, Angus really loved it, that was what I was looking for the most. He looked great and we didn’t know he was sick when we were filming, he hid it well and his first scene in the movie, which is the last scene we shot, was him in the bed which was kind of designed for his health but he still wanted to sell this character and did a great job. It’s one of my favorite scenes because it was so poignant, it’s hard to watch now after that.
DC: Sounds like you had a good friendship.
DH: Yeah. Here’s a fun little story… I had to pick him up for the first private screening and he was like, ‘who is going to drive me home after the film’ and I said ‘well Angus, if you like the film I’ll drive you home, if you don’t like the film Don is driving you home.’ Again, watching the movie, basically sitting in an empty theater, me, Don, Angus and Reggie, his wife GiGi and we’re all just watching this thing, watching him the whole time, wondering if he’s reacting to anything, then after the film he came up to me and said ‘David, you’re driving me home’ and it was the greatest feeling. We talked about life and death on the way home and mortality and the movie actually inspired him to talk about these things and we had this long conversation and then to see these things after he’s passed yeah, it’s very poignant but very emotional for me because of all these talks we’ve had.
The 4k restoration of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm premiered at this year’s SXSW in Austin. All five films, including Remastered and Ravager will be available on digital HD on On Demand October 4th, but Remastered and Ravager will be in theaters October 7th!