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In the 1990’s, scouring genre magazines for articles around the time of new Phantasm releases was the norm for phans. But in between films, one publication kept the fan engine going at full steam - The Sentinel. Titled after the name Reggie bestows on the silver spheres in Phantasm III, the fanzine contained retrospective articles, interviews, artwork and fiction. Now, we pay respect to its creator and one man army - Richard Elkin - whose both zine and friendly nature is strongly responsible for many of my own Phantasm endeavors. This interview was conducted November 2005.
When did you first see the Phantasm films and how did they impact you?
I had the pleasure of seeing the original film at our local theater back in 1979 when I was only fourteen years old. I remember it well… Phantasm was actually on the bottom of a double feature with Prom Night, which was utter garbage. It was my good fortune that Phantasm came out in the summer of that year, so I went to the theater several times that week during its run on my summer vacation, and I often stayed for multiple screenings (usually with my mom)!
Never before had a movie impacted me as much as Phantasm did. For me, it captured the essence of a nightmare on film, which is no easy task. It was surreal, action-packed and, most of all, frightening, which made it the ideal moviegoing experience for me. Beyond that, I found it deeply inspirational in a creative sense, showing how the absurdities of the imagination could be given life through the media. It certainly fueled my fledgling ambitions to become a writer!
The other films in the series only served to increase my admiration for Don Coscarelli and his amazing vision- each new chapter developing upon ideas introduced in the previous entry, but each film entirely unique unto itself.
What made you decide to publish The Sentinel fanzine?
When I first became acquainted with the Internet, it amazed me how many Phantasm-based websites were out there. That’s when I came up with the idea of creating my own tribute site, The Sentinel, but soon after that I had a desire to do something that would set my creation apart from everything else already out there. That’s when I decided to try and put something more tangible in the phans’ hands, and that’s how the idea of the newsletter was born. I always thought it would be really cool to read a Phantasm magazine. Once I found out how huge the online phan base really was, that was all the inspiration I needed.
How did phans come to know of the zines’ existence, and was it difficult building and maintaining a subscriber base?
First and foremost, the ‘zine never would have left the ground had it not been for Don’s support and encouragement. Once I had received his blessings and got word out of the ‘zines existence, it was surprisingly easy to promote through the Web and simple word of mouth. I was surprised at how quickly The Sentinel took off, and how successful it was right out of the starting gate.
Each month, new subscribers would be added and soon I began adding international subscribers. The enthusiasm of the phans was certainly contagious and with very, very few exceptions they were loyal readers/subscribers. Most stayed on for the entire three-year duration of the ‘zine’s run.
What sort of time and effort went into creating articles and art for each issue?
Initially, it was a lot tougher and more time consuming because I was doing all of the writing for the zine. By the time I got to the third issue, I had started publishing interviews and was accepting quite a bit of content via reader submissions. So actually, once that started happening each issue of the ‘zine would essentially come together on its own. At that point, my main responsibilities became editing, layout, and binding- with an occasional written piece I would toss in from time to time. Just to stay in practice…
You started with a newsletter format but soon moved to digest sized with #4. Why the change?
The newsletter format did not feel substantial enough to me. It just seemed to be a logical progression to move to a digest-sized publication. Though smaller, it opened up several new design and layout opportunities. Additionally, it proved to be much easier to read instead of flipping through full-sized sheets bound by a single staple in the upper corner. It just looked more professional and seemed to be something the phans would be more likely to want to hang on to as a keepsake.
Before Phantasm: Oblivion was released, you wrote a fan script entitled Phantasm: Dominion. If I recall, it was highly regarded by phans when released via your website. Why did you write something that would never be filmed, and was that the only sequel script you took a crack at?
Well, in all honesty I had hoped that in a roundabout way it might catch Don’s eye and inspire him to create his next masterpiece! (ha ha) Seriously, that’s the absolute truth. I wrote Dominion as the Phantasm movie I would desperately like to see- and still would! It was something that I really wanted to write and I had a lot of fun with it. It’s very gratifying to hear that so many phans did enjoy it. And yes, that was the only Phantasm spec script I took a shot at.
Subscribers remember fondly the color cover you put out for #8’s (Oblivion Review issue). Was that easy to produce?
It was very easy to produce, simply because of the creative genius and dedication of Phantasm conceptual artist Justin Zaharczuk. Justin took the initiative himself to contribute the artwork, do all of the color copying and individually adhere each of the color images to the bare covers. I can’t say enough about Justin. He’s just a great, amazingly talented guy. That piece of Oblivion artwork on the cover of Issue #8 stands to this day as my all-time favorite piece of Phantasm artwork. I remember hounding Justin for a larger sized print of it, and I’m still waiting. (ha ha)
Through The Sentinel you produced and sold one of the coolest series collectibles, to my knowledge - Phantasm II Trailer cells. How did project that come about?
I purchased a trailer off of eBay and simply cut and mounted the cels in a decorative sleeve. With Don’s kind permission, I sold them briefly at a very reasonable cost just to help offset some of the expenses of producing the ‘zine. Truly, The Sentinel was never intended to be a profitable venture. It was primarily a labor of love, a way of uniting fans and spreading the gospel of Phantasm.
Who were some of the stronger supporters of the fanzine?
Of course, Don Coscarelli and Justin Zaharczuk, who I have mentioned previously. There was Kristin Deem, whose support, friendship, and encouragement was so priceless to me. Guy Thorpe (Phantasm hearse coordinator), who contributed an amazing written piece and photos for an early issue. Certainly, there were cast members such as Reggie Bannister (who was so fantastically gracious to allow me to interview him in his hotel room), Bill Cone (”Tommy” from the original Phantasm), and Angus Scrimm, who is a true gentleman in every sense of the word.
There were so many, right down to every contributor and every reader. Without them, The Sentinel never would have succeeded.
Why did the fanzine sadly have to come to an end?
I had reached a point where I wanted to shift my focus towards fulfilling my own writing ambitions as a novelist. The inherent time constraints of pursuing such an endeavor would have prohibited me from giving proper attention to The Sentinel, which it so richly deserved. After a successful three-year run of the ‘zine, it seemed like a good time and place to set it aside, but not without much thought and hesitation first. I certainly do miss it at times.
Looking back, what were some of your favorite issues or articles you produced?
I would have to say the aforementioned Issue #8. It ended up being a very nice tribute to Phantasm: Oblivion, which I had a gut feeling really would be the last Phantasm film. To this day that feeling has held true, but I always have my fingers crossed that I could be wrong.
I also really loved the “20th Anniversary” issue, featuring the interview with Don.
If not before, you certainly became a Phantasm Hall Of Famer once you published the book Phantasm: Further Excursions Into Oblivion near the end of The Sentinel’s run. It got Don Coscarelli’s official endorsement. What, again, lead you to decide to undertake this venture, and what went into making it happen?
With the constraints of the ‘zine’s format, there simply was not enough room to feature longer pieces of phan fiction without extensively serializing them. That being the case, I wanted to create a more expansive forum that could feature some truly amazing pieces of work that had come into my possession. Essentially, that’s how Phantasm: Further Excursions into Oblivion came about. Though I did contribute a story to that book (”Red Planet”), my primary responsibilities were again editing and formatting.
Excursions is something I am very, very proud of. Not so much because of anything I had to do with it, but the stories in that book are incredible. It served as a nice launching pad for the early works of some of today’s hot horror writers, such as Brian Keene, Madison Brents and Mike Oliveri. It also featured some really cool original artwork by Rob Long and Jimmy Blondet.
It was a unique package and, again, very well-received.
Your past Phantasm publications are now out of print obviously - is there any way current & future generations of phans will ever be able to get their hands on them?
I still have all of the original documents. You never know… That’s something that Don and I may discuss someday. The publishing options that are available out there now are far better than what I dealt with in the past. If the time and situation was right, maybe…
I see you have since moved on to authoring your own genre anthologies and novels under the pen name Richard Dean. Final Death, a story of apocalyptic horror, especially looks like a book that Phantasm viewers would enjoy. What was the transition like - from editor of a publication of someone else’s mythos, to full fledged writer of your own?
I have been writing horror-related pieces of fiction since the age of seven, so the transition was very natural for me. The whole writing process excites me now more than ever- coming up with the core idea for a story and then letting it unfold as I write, just like watching a movie. Writing a book is like having a child, and is similarly rewarding. It’s your creation and, for better or worse, you love it and take pride in it.
There is definitely an apocalyptic theme that runs through virtually all of my books, whether it be a more personal, character-driven piece like my vampire novel Leech, or the epic scope of my zombie novel, Final Death. More so than ever, an apocalyptic setting will be at the forefront of my next novel, Dystropolis, which I am currently working on. It is something utterly nightmarish and surreal and I’m anxious to see how it fleshes out.
You are really missed by many, Rick - would you ever consider any return to the Phantasmsphere?
Absolutely. If a project feels right, and it’s something that Don would support, I would love to return to the world of Phantasm. I will always be a phan and will always share a special kinship with other phans. Some things will never change!
You can catch up with Richard via his official site at www.darkeprose.com.