The 13th Floor

UNMADE HORRORS: The Roger Avary PHANTASM That Almost Was!

This past year saw the PHANTASM franchise come full circle with the release of both the original film, fully restored and remastered in 4K, along with the 5th and final sequel in the series PHANTASM V: RAVAGER. On April 11th, Well Go USA will release the definitive Blu-Ray boxed set collection, so it’s a pretty darned good time to be a PHANTASM “phan.”

A few weeks back, we had series creator and director Don Coscarelli on as a special guest for the Shock Waves podcast. Our conversation went everywhere from his debut feature KENNY AND COMPANY (which we hope will one day see a Blu-Ray release!) to his recent master works JOHN DIES AT THE END and BUBBA HO-TEP. We spent quite a while talking about the PHANTASM movies as a whole, in particular the creation of the first one, but for years, I’ve wondered about the proposed big-budget PHANTASM “reboot” (for lack of a better term) that Oscar winning screenwriter Roger Avary had penned.

I was always under the assumption that Avary had scripted a “remake,” which eventually ballooned up into a trilogy of pictures, but in actuality, it was always intended to be a sequel helmed by Don Coscarelli. At one point, it did expand to two new movies, but alas, it never happened.

Since I’m constantly fascinated by unmade horrors, I asked Don to set the record straight on exactly what the Avary PHANTASM film would’ve been. Turns out, the pair’s history goes way, way back.

“I would’ve love to have seen that movie. It came really close and that was the most frustrating part of it,” lamented Coscarelli. “I met Roger when he was probably 19 years old. I was making this nature film called SURVIVAL QUEST and my producer on that Roberto Quezada had worked with a couple of these young filmmakers from the Bay area on a Dolph Lundgren exercise video. It was Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino! What was cool is these guys lived in the South Bay, and they ran in this little film pack, about 10 of them, and they’d work on their own movies, and screen them and have movie nights. They were die-hard movie nuts!”

“One of these young guys, Scott McGill, was my assistant editor on SURVIVAL QUEST, and Roger would come over and the two of them were always writing scripts. So, I got to know Roger before he’d made a movie. Here he was the week after the Academy Awards, in a time where people are supposed to say ‘Roger Avary, you just won the Academy Award for PULP FICTION, what are you going to do now?’ He’s supposed to say I’m going to Disneyland, but instead he says ‘I’m going to write the epic, end-all, kick-ass PHANTASM sequel that’s going to wrap it all up for Don to direct!’ And it was pretty great.”

Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

“For over about a 3 month period, he wrote it, and it was just this epic story, where there was this plague zone, and Reggie had this armed up Barracuda, and he had to go in there. And the Tall Man was, this was all Roger – The Tall Man had taken up under the Great Salt Lake where the Mormons had buried their dead from all the way back. So, it was like an industrial mortuary they were mining. It was so great. That was the script, and everyone wanted to look at it.”

“It was a sequel and it would’ve taken place after PHANTASM III. But there was no business model for this. You make 2 theatrical movies, a direct-to-video movie, and then to come back and make an even bigger theatrical movie, all with the same cast and director? It didn’t exactly add up for all the people we met with, so they all said no, the script went on the shelf, and that was the end of that.”

Wow, right?

We did thankfully get two more entries in the PHANTASM franchise, and the upcoming Blu-Ray set will be a perfect culmination of the series, but it’s fascinating what could have been.

You can listen to our full interview with Don Coscarelli on Shock Waves episode 42, embedded below for your convenience!