Earlier this year, EW’s Anthony Breznican broke the news that director J.J. Abrams had given Gwendoline Christie’s character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the name of Captain Phasma as a tribute to the 1979 horror film Phantasm. Well, it turns out Abrams is showing his love for the cult classic — in which Angus Scrimm’s character The Tall Man kills victims with flying spheres — in a more practical fashion too. In fact, the director’s company Bad Robot has overseen a 4K restoration of writer-director Don Coscarelli’s fright flick. “It’s really exciting, obviously,” says Coscarelli, whose other directing credits include 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep and three Phantasm sequels. “I have to say, ‘Hat’s off to J.J.’ Star Wars isn’t the only ’70s franchise he’s rejuvenating this year!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did J.J. Abrams get involved in this restoration project?
DON COSCARELLI: He’s a longtime fan of Phantasm. He saw the movie when he was a kid and it stuck with him. I first met him about 15 years ago. He was doing Felicity, and he called me out of the blue, and told me he was a fan. Then, I introduced him to Angus Scrimm, and he put him into the Alias TV series in a recurring role. [The restoration] came about because he wanted to show Phantasm at Bad Robot. I told him, “Well, the prints are really bad.” He generously offered to help create a restoration. Obviously that’s an offer we couldn’t refuse. [Laughs.]
J.J. had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for making the film look as great as it could possibly look. You know, it was a movie made in the ’70s. Obviously a lot of the lab work and all those kinds of things wasn’t up to the level and sophistication [of today]. This is a meticulous 4K restoration from the original camera negative, which we went back and scanned, and, maybe even more exciting, a brand new 5.1 audio soundtrack. It really sounds great.
I think, for those longtime fans, it’s going to blow their minds. Because, for me, it’s like watching a different movie. It’s like I’ve been watching it with sunglasses for all of these years. It’s pretty amazing. I wonder how we were able to build such a devoted fanbase with all those old murky VHS tapes and even the standard-def DVDs that they’ve been watching over and over all these years. We had this screening out in Austin at that Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival, and there were a lot of fanboys and geeks, and they were as enthusiastic about it as I was. It was down at the Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin, on Saturday night. The owner of the Alamo, Tim League, is one of the best showmen working in movie exhibition these days. He actually commissioned two chrome sphere drones and he had them buzzing around the theater over the audience’s head at the screening. [Laughs] It was amazing!
So, is the restoration completely finished?
It was a little bit of a work in progress, what we showed. It’s going to be finished in the next month or so. Of course, the little downside is that I had to stop work on the fifth and final Phantasm — Phantasm: Ravager (which is being directed by David Hartman). But both of those movies are now pretty much done. We’ll looking for a first- or second-quarter release for both of them.
Do you have plans to show the restoration in theaters?
That’s definitely part of it, especially after this screening. It plays so beautifully up on the big screen. So, yeah, we’ve been talking to a number of people.
That aside, will there be a Blu-ray and DVD release of the restored film?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. The beautiful part about it nowadays is that fans have home theaters which are almost as good as real theaters. With the technology, they can see it in this beautiful — I mean, I guess you can say that the Tall Man’s balls are a lot more shiny. [Laughs.] I don’t know if you can put that in, but it’s true!
Don, I think I have my headline! What did you think when you heard J.J. had named a character in the new Star Wars film named after Phantasm?
Oh, I think it’s fantastic. We’ve always shared a bizarre [connection]. The first film came out not long after [Star Wars] and we have some little characters in Phantasm, these little dwarf creatures, with similar-ish costumes to characters in Star Wars, even though we had started shooting the original Phantasm before Star Wars came out. At the time we were thinking, Should we change the color of those wardbrobes? We were like, “Nah, nah, it’s a sci-fi movie, it’ll come, it’ll go, whatever. And of course it’s eternal!”
Maybe people would have liked the Star Wars prequels better if some characters had gotten their brains drilled out with silver balls.
You can see images from the restoration of Phantasm above and below.