The director of one of the most-watched movies ever to air on cable television, the creator of one of the most prolific horror mythologies in film history, and a little-known force behind some very well-known films, Don Coscarelli remained a humble soul despite an enormous cult following. Born in North Africa and raised in Southern California, he gravitated toward the movie industry as a result of his fascination with cameras and the filmmaking process. Making a series of short films with friends in Long Beach, their efforts won numerous awards after being aired on local television. Graduating to features with Jim the World's Greatest (1976), Coscarelli became the youngest director ever to have a film distributed by a major studio (Universal). A tender tale of a boy growing up in the midst of alcoholism and abuse, the project was shot for a mere 250,000 dollars (and partially funded by Coscarelli's parents). In addition to giving the burgeoning director his initial feature credit, it also served as his first collaboration with longtime partner Lawrence Roy Guy, who would later be better known as Angus Scrimm.
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Although Coscarelli would score another hit that same year with the thoughtful and nostalgic comedy drama Kenny and Co., it was his next film that would find him entering the annals of cinema history. Plagued by nightmares in which he was pursued down unending marble hallways by a series of chrome spheres intent on penetrating his skull, Coscarelli began the process of transferring his own personal horrors to celluloid for all to see. Casting old friend Scrimm as the malevolent keeper of the fearsome spheres, the result was Phantasm (1979), a surreal, melancholy, and dark psychological horror film that took audiences by surprise and exhibited remarkable creativity despite its meager budget. Scrimm's gaunt, imposing Tall Man played a major role in the film's success. Unlike many over-the-top screen villains who can't help but make wisecracks as they carry out their horrific deeds, his character's chilling, low-key, all-business attitude proved to be a refreshingly serious change of pace that thoroughly frightened moviegoers who couldn't get enough of him. Tall Man's lack of humor was balanced by the antics of unlikely hero Reggie (Reggie Bannister), an ideal nemesis for the dimension-hopping baddie. And though Coscarelli had never intended the film to spark a sequel -- not to mention a modern cinematic mythology -- the door had been opened to a new world of horror in which anything was possible.
The director next stepped behind the camera for a fantasy adventure film about a hero with an ability to communicate with animals, and The Beastmaster proved a remarkably entertaining entry into the sword and sandal genre. Following a successful run at the box office, the movie found an even wider exposure on cable TV. As with Phantasm, The Beastmaster spawned a series of sequels and a loyal following of fantasy enthusiasts. It would even be adapted into a popular TV series in the late '90s (although Coscarelli was not involved). Following the Deliverance-throwback Survival Quest in 1989, the filmmaker spent the '90s expanding on the Phantasm myth with the sequels Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) and Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). Pulp Fiction producer Roger Avery even wrote an epic fan-boy dream script to introduce Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell into the series as a new recruit in the battle against Tall Man. But while fans waited for that film to be made, Coscarelli had yet another unexpected success. Based upon a short story by cult author Joe R. Landsdale, the director's next movie found him teaming with Campbell not in efforts to take down Tall Man, but in a heated battle to destroy an ancient Egyptian evil that chose a senior citizen rest home as its new hunting grounds. A truly offbeat horror comedy film, Bubba Ho-Tep made a successful run at film festivals to audiences who giddily responded to its infectious originality. Endowed with a new spark of energy, Coscarelli, soon began production on 2003's Phantasm's End.
In 2005, Coscarelli directed the Showtime series Masters of Horror, which is based on a short story from author Joe R. Landsdale that follows a woman as she tries to escape death at the hands of a serial killer. Coscarelli went on to direct John Dies at the End (2012), a horror comedy following a pair of college dropouts as they to save mankind from an alien takeover. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi