If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
Don Coscarelli has returned, and he wants you to keep up.
Inspired by David Wong’s nonstop chronicle of other dimension adventures and
identity shifting, the PHANTASM director has created a madhouse movie
experience; one to kinetically entertain your senses, while it attempts to feed
your head. Fango spoke with the legendary director about how he continues to
feed his with current cinema and the questions he continues to explore in JOHN
DIES AT THE END.
In JOHN DIES AT THE END (available now on VOD from Magnet Releasing), "it’s all
about the Soy Sauce, a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each
hit. Users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no
longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind
needs a hero. What it gets instead is John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase
Williamson), a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can
these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they
FANGORIA: From what I understand, the book is even denser.
How do you break that down?
DON COSCARELLI: First off, I had to be practical about what
we were going to take. We’re not with unlimited funds. And then, it’s also a
function of the scenes I thought really were great, and worked in a coherent
world. When you break the book down, you’ll find I pretty much used the front
half of it and then the end half, and dropped the section in the middle. It was
a good way of getting the whole thing to pull together. But I’ll tell ya,
trying to decide what to exclude was really hard because there’s a lot of
balance. There were these monologues. David Wong wrote some magnificent
monologues. I actually shot some of them. I just had this attitude, “I’m going
to really try to preserve the integrity of this piece.” Yet, when I put the
whole thing together, they really are different mediums. You can sit with a
book and read a couple of passages. With a movie—I always go back to this thing,
the ass factor. The human ass has a shelf life. It can only sit in a movie
theater for so long. You can’t get up and walk around like you can with a book.
It’s like a clock starts ticking—I know this sounds ridiculous—the minute they
sit down. Halfway into the movie, they’re just not going to tolerate taking a
detour into a character going into a wonderful monologue that just goes into
amazing places. As you can see, there still are monologues in the movie that I
preserved; the detective has a couple of great ones that I just couldn’t ever
bring myself to tighten. It was a thing of facing the harsh reality of the
differences of the two mediums, which I didn’t face so much in BUBBA HO-TEP,
because it was a really trim 40-page novella. In there, I actually expanded. I
actually think if I ever was to adapt something like that again, I would
probably shy away from a big novel and try to work more in long short stories.
FANG: The novella and the short story always feel much more
tailored to adaptation then something incredibly long.
COSCARELLI: Yes. Although, I don’t see people in Hollywood
out pursuing the novellas. When you look back on it, you look at DIFFERENT
SEASONS, these are long short stories, just right for movies. So, that’s my tip
to aspiring screenwriters out there [laughs], stay away from epic novels.
FANG: You’ve always concerned yourself with headier ideas—
COSCARELLI: Maybe a little more than I should.
FANG: But it’s great, aiming for something more, and you
seem particularly suited to achieving a bigger scale on lower budgets. Do you
think you’ve mastered that? What have you learned from consistently trying to
COSCARELLI: I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered anything, I think I’m
getting a little better at it, maybe. Sometimes, I get a little too ambitious.
At times, I felt JOHN DIES was getting really weird, would get a little too
big, but at the end of the day, we were able to rein in enough where
we could get it actually get it on film with no money. Just looking at some of the things that seemingly would be simple, like how do you shoot 25 naked people? Where do you shoot that without getting
arrested, on a budget? How are we going to this other dimension? It’s really trying
to break it down. What are the most critical elements and focusing your money
on those elements, and hoping that the rest sort of takes care of itself.
FANG: Tell us about the whole opening, from its first
striking snow shot on.
COSCARELLI: It’s how the book started off, so obviously I
was going to do that. I had a few specific visual ideas, like the opening shot
in the snow. I’ll be honest with you, I’m a great fan of Edgar Wright. I love
what he does in his movies. He’s a good guy, I’ve always admired how he does
that stuff. I thought, “Maybe I’ll just try to see if I can do a little Edgar Wright
in this scene; the way he swishes to all his props, makes his points.” I think
there was a little influence there. Then, there was a whole idea with trying to
start it off and channel a little Kubrick in this moving, wide angle lens.
Luckily, I found that location with pristine snow. For an east coast guy, that
stuff’s a dime a dozen, but for us to find snow, it’s within a reasonable
drive. We have local mountains where there is snow, but there was no snow.
Then, it turned out that there was a storm coming in. It was like we had to do
a military operation. We got there and it was beautiful. It was a one take
shot, so we really practiced it over on the road over and over and got it just
right. We had to carry the prop dummy out and stayed in the same footsteps. We
had one close call where a dog came near and was running across the snowfield.
Luckily, the lord intervened and turned the dog in the other direction.
FANG: The film keeps such an energy, always throwing new,
strange things at you. So there’s the opening scene, and then literally minutes
later there’s a meat monster. Did you worry about throwing too much?
COSCARELLI: Well, yes and no. It wasn’t until Sundance that
I knew that the meat monster sequence really worked. So, for the years up until
that point, it was, “this might not work, it might have to go.” It was a quite
a joy to find out that sequence worked. But hey, it’ s thinking man’s horror! You
gotta stay awake, you gotta watch the thing. I think it’s a good thing. I
really think the movie can hold up on repeat viewings. I’ve worked it so many
times, gone through it so many times. All the continuity, all the strange
questions; the answers are there. You just have to watch it and really listen
to what everybody says. Maybe, hopefully, people will return to it.
FANG: Well, the film is one that not only seems like it, but
it’s one that deserves repeat viewings. It will be rewarding.
COSCARELLI: Yes, because there are little nuances that
sometimes people get the first time through, and sometimes people don’t. There’s
a line early on where the Giamatti character says, “So if I track down this
detective, he can fill me in on the whole thing.” And then Dave says, “Yea,
good luck finding him.” It just goes by you, the first time you hear it. After
you’ve seen the movie, and have seen what happened to the cop, five times later
it’ll hit me and suddenly be really funny. There are other moments like that
where things loop back and it might take a couple of viewings.
FANG: The film very clearly plays with identity and psychedelia.
I’m sorry if this inappropriate, but I’m curious if you have any experience
with hallucinogens, or if this is you playing off what you think of it?
COSCARELLI: [Laughs] No, no it’s not inappropriate. I was a
lot closer to my drug-using days when I was making PHANTASM, so that was
probably a little more legitimate than this one. Obviously, I’ve gotten older.
I grew up in an age where psychedelics and “feed your head”—that whole thing
was mantra. I was sort of a little younger than everybody that was going on. I
grew up with all the older brothers and all that stuff. Everybody was into
psychedelics and mushrooms and what have you. I have a little experience with
some of that stuff. The truth is that I think
the whole Soy Sauce trope in the movie—the device, if you will—I used it more
as a way to explore concepts that I’ve been thinking about for a lot of time,
coming from a pantheon of great writers and filmmakers. I mean, because I love
Philip K. Dick and postulating about what’s real and what’s not; what’s a
surface illusion. And so, these are things that I’ve been thinking about for
years and years. You can tell that I was fascinated back when I was making
PHANTASM and it still fascinates me today; different points of view on things.
When you mention psychedelics and stuff, another recent movie that I really
enjoy a lot is ENTER THE VOID. It’s an amazing movie.
So, these are the kinds of things that I’m fascinated and
obsessed with. I can go see the shallow fun movies, but every once in a while,
you go see something that pops the bubble and go, “Oh wow, this is the kind of
thing that really, truly interests me.”
FANG: I think that’s what you want from cinema. It’s such a
powerful tool, why not use it in that manner? Even in JOHN DIES,
something as simple as changing his name to not be found is part of the film’s
COSCARELLI: Just that concept could deserve ten minutes of
cogitation in the film and we go by it in three seconds. That’s why I’m
thinking if somebody went back and watched it again… These are things based in
the novel that drew me to it. I can sound really aesthete and snobbish, but there’s
the shallow fun and the real stuff, the real deal. I love going to watch
revenge thrillers with Liam Neeson; the commerce of the movies. They’re trying
to go for as wide an audience as possible and let’s be real, there are aspects
of JOHN DIES that people will watch and be repelled and never want to finish
FANG: Just from our conversation, you seem to be someone who
keeps abreast of current goings-on and remains inspired by what you see.
COSCARELLI: Absolutely, I have a very strong curiosity. I am
fascinated by changes and development. I try to embrace it, especially in terms
of filmmaking and technology and visual FX. You can’t just ignore the future as
it comes at you.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment