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In PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD, there's good news for Mopar fans! Don Coscarelli, the creator of the series, has recast the role of the star Cuda. For the first time, roaring across the screens of America is a triple black 1970 Hemicuda convertible!

To assist on the project Coscarelli enlisted the services of expert West Coast Mopar restorer, Greg Buhlinger. They quickly determined that using an authentic numbers-matching car, as called for in the screenplay, would swallow up an enormous chunk of the movie's budget. Consequently, a clone project car, in which an enthusiast had dropped a 426 hemi into, was located in the area and would be transformed into the Phantasm star car.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead continues the saga of characters Mike and Reggie as they do battle with the evil Tall Man played by horror actor Angus Scrimm. At the conclusion of Phantasm II the heroes' Black Cuda was destroyed in a wild car chase versus the Tall Man driving his black hearse. As Phantasm III starts, Reggie having just finished the restoration on his new Cuda convertible finds himself, once again, sucked into a deadly battle with their malevolent nemesis.

From the get-go, Coscarelli was determined to have the Phantasm III Cuda, the best, and most correct of the lot. To achieve such quality, the co-producer, Seth Blair, contacted Kevin King of  Year One, Inc. , and he gladly signed on to assist and provide the correct restoration parts needed for the project. At the same time Buhlinger was keenly aware that this Cuda would be put through some serious stunt driving and that the integrity of the vehicle would be severely tested. His first task was to go through the drivetrain, steering and braking systems to make sure the stunt drivers could bank their lives on this machine.

The Cuda was scheduled for several major action scenes including one major "chase" sequence. During the course of the scene, our heroes, driving the Cuda, are pursued by a Cadillac hearse driven by ghoulish characters who have recently returned from the grave. These "zombies", in addition to sideswiping the Cuda and causing the convertible top to tear clean off, manage to hurl one of their number into the Cuda and create a lot of havoc.

The night of the car stunt sequence arrived and Buhlinger brought out a team of assistants to make certain that the Cuda was ready for anything. On most productions at least one back-up car is needed in case something goes wrong with the star car. With the cost of having two or three identical Hemicuda convertibles standing by prohibitive, it was up to Buhlinger and his crew to keep the Cuda running, no matter what.

The grand finale of the chase sequence called for the Cuda to scream by camera and the hearse to lose control and carom off the road and into the air. Buhlinger took the Cuda's stunt driver, for a test drive, preparing him for the front heavy dynamic of the hemi engine. Meanwhile, Coscarelli went over the plan for the hearse's crash with its stunt driver, Bob Ivy. Bob's job was, starting half a mile back, to get the Hearse up to speed, about fifty miles an hour, and steer it toward a "pipe ramp", a narrow steel ramp three inches wide. With the help of a kicker on the top of the ramp, the hearse's momentum would propel it into the air, and if all went as planned, miss the speeding past Cuda.

Bob Ivy, a top stunt driver, had been a long time fan of the PHANTASM films, having seen the first one in his early teens. He had volunteered for the stunt and promised to make it the best pipe ramp jump of a large vehicle ever. Coscarelli at first encouraged the young stunt man's enthusiasm but as the hour of the stunt approached he worried that Bob might injure or even kill himself.

As Coscarelli cried "Action!", the Cuda and hearse accelerated. Buhlinger, watching with the fire and emergency crews, crossed his fingers, hoping the Cuda would survive intact. To his horror, Coscarelli, hearing the scream of the hearse's engine, realized that Bob's foot was to the floor and that the young stuntman was approaching the ramp in excess of seventy miles per hour!

On impact, the hearse's solid steel frame torqued in a shower of sparks as the 6,000 pound vehicle was hurled skyward. The Cuda roared passed as the hearse, thirty feet above it, sailed through the air. Realizing his dire predicament, the Cuda stunt driver put the pedal to the metal and the mighty elephant beast roared, accelerating ahead of the flying hearse. The hearse crashed to earth, missing the rear chrome bumper of the Cuda by inches. For a moment everyone stood riveted in shock. The standby stunt crew dashed from the crowd toward the wreck. With the help of the emergency team Bob was pulled unconscious from the wreckage of the hearse, which by later measurement, had flown 186 feet in the air! After a brief trip to the hospital, Bob was pronounce in fine shape and returned to a hero's welcome back at the set.

For Greg Buhlinger it was another story. The next setup required him to prepare one of the actors to drive the Cuda by the hearse wreckage and, at the instant they passed, a special effects technician would detonate four half-pound powder bombs which were set under forty gallons of gasoline. Come to think of it, Greg thought, this was the perfect situation in which to have the comfort of four hundred and twenty six inches of pure power under the hood!

 
 

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