Main arrow The Philms arrow Phantasm I - Production Notes


After attending a sneak preview of his second film, Kenny & Company, Don Coscarelli realized that his destiny was to move into the horror genre. As he tells it, "'Kenny was a gentle comedy, however, during a preview screening, there was a sequence in a haunted house where a man dressed in a monster costume jumped out and the entire audience screamed. For me, this was an exciting, new response from an audience and I determined that my next film would be loaded with shocks."

So evolved the cult classic PHANTASM. Coscarelli ensconced himself up in the wilds, in a mountain cabin, and three weeks later emerged with a rough draft of the screenplay that would become PHANTASM. "The longer I stayed alone in that cabin, the stranger my concepts became. For instance, one night I finished a soda and accidentally punched my finger up through the bottom of the Styrofoam cup. Watching this apparently severed finger wiggling in the bottom of my cup inspired me, and the result is the "Tall Man's Severed Finger Sequence" in PHANTASM."

Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man copyright Silver SphereCoscarelli wrote many of the roles in Phantasm specifically for actors with whom he had worked with on his two prior films. The young protagonist, Mike, was written for Michael Baldwin who was the co-star of Kenny & Company. The intrepid ice cream vendor, Reggie, was written for actor Reggie Bannister who had appeared in both of Coscarelli's previous films. As for the villain of the piece, Coscarelli always envisioned using actor Angus Scrimm who co-starred in Don's first feature film,  Jim The World's Greatest . As Coscarelli tells it," On my first film, Angus was the most accomplished and mature actor I had ever worked with. I was very intimidated by him and felt that if given the proper role he could make quite an imposing impression. I originally wanted to star him in a pirate movie."

Co-Producer Paul Pepperman approached Mr. Scrimm at a sneak preview of Kenny & Company and told him that Coscarelli had written a role for him in his next production. When informed that he would be playing an alien, Scrimm became very excited and immediately asked to know what country his character would hail from....France, England? Pepperman said," He's not from another country, he's from another world."

The older brother role of Jody was first offered to actor Gregory Harrison, whose professional acting debut was in the starring role in Jim The World's Greatest . Harrison turned down the role and the search was on to find a new actor to join Coscarelli's stock company. A handsome and likable young actor/musician named Bill Thornbury read for the part with Michael Baldwin and was given the role.

As pre-production got rolling, Pepperman hired Robert Del Valle Jr. to work as the unit production manager. Since the production was budgeted modestly at under three hundred thousand dollars, care would have to be taken by the production team to keep costs low. It was decided to film in California's San Fernando Valley on two locations. Sets construction began in a small rented warehouse in Chatsworth, and a house was leased to serve double-duty as the location for where the brothers lived and also to house members of the production crew.

Mike in Mausoleum - copyright Silver Sphere Corp.After visiting several mausoleums in the area, it was determined that, for the number of radical action sequences, including gunplay, and splattering blood (both red and yellow), it would be impossible to film in a real mausoleum. Consequently, Mark Scott Annerl, an award-winning designer, and high school friend of Coscarelli's, was hired to design the Phantasm Mausoleum. Since the budget was tight, a single hallway was constructed with an eight-sided rotunda (nicknamed "the octunda") on one end and two intersecting halls in the middle. The design allowed for numerous passes through the same hallway from different entrances which would give the illusion of an expansive mausoleum. 

The construction crew was led by Marc Schwartz, who signed on with the proviso that he be allowed to work on the camera crew when construction was completed. Schwartz's experience was in regular construction, not set construction, so consequently the set was built very solidly.

The production design, makeup and costume design were to be handled by S. Tyer and Shirley Mae, which were both alias' for one person, Kate Coscarelli, who also happened to be the mother of the director. She was in charge of decorating the sets including the mausoleum, and assisted in creating several of the effects props including the severed finger and alien insect. She also did the actor's makeup, including the original design of the Tall Man's look.

As the production was gearing up, R&D work began on the signature effect of the series, Phantasm’s silver sphere. Many ideas were bandied about as to how to get this device to fly. Experiments were conducted with gunning spheres down taut piano wire, sometimes propelled by model rocket engines. None of the attempts looked realistic. Ultimately, the flying was accomplished by Art Director David Brown who hurled the sphere from behind camera. These sequences were filmed in slow motion and then the screen direction was reversed in editing. The graceful, flying sphere was the result and became an icon of the PHANTASM franchise. Brown, a high school baseball pitcher in his youth was quite pleased with his “fastball.”


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