Don Coscarelli, the brains behind some of our favorite movies including Bubba Ho-Tep and Phantasm, doesn't think Hollywood takes you very seriously. Which is why he's making John Dies at the End just as frenetic and insane as the wacky source material written by David Wong. We talked with Coscarelli in this delightfully honest interview about Hollywood, his latest film, and why he's still freaking out over the bird monsters he filmed in The Beastmaster.
Why did you want to adapt and direct John Dies At The End?
Don Coscarelli: It was't anything too far outside of my wheelhouse. I loved the originality of it. I loved David Wong's voice. I love the fact that he created a new paradigm in self-publishing and how he released the book on the web in chapter form. And how people took to it. It's just a great story in how he put it together, and it's funny. I guess I liked it for a lot of reasons.
What was the hardest part of this book to adapt?
There are a lot of difficult sequences in terms of just visualizing them. The biggest problem I had, to tell the truth, was the size of the book. It's an epic 350 pages. A traditional screenplay is around a 100 pages. It involved some surgery to get it into a format that would be acceptable to the audience. The other thing was the tone. I think that we wanted it to be funny, and there are elements that are scary in the book as well. That came down to working with the actors. They have to say some very silly things very seriously.
How much of a blueprint was the book for the movie? Because actors Rob Mayes portrays so many reactions from John that are straight out of the novel; it's shocking to see him embody the character so fully.
Very much so. I haven't adapted that many books to movies. So, if I'm going to make a movie out of a book, I have to believe in the book. And truthfully, I just went for it. I guess you could say I treated the book like the Bible. As much as I could. I think the other thing is, I can't take credit for these actors. They do their own thing. Rob Mayes has this amazing comic talent.
You kept a lot of the same themes from the book as well, such as mentions of country music and radio references. What themes were important to you and why?
I was just trying to establish these characters. That monologue that you're referencing which came from the Detectives character, and it's just phenomonal. It goes back to what I was saying earlier, there were these monologues for each of these characters that are so wonderful. I'll be honest with you, many of them, if not all of them, were usable in the movie. I had to trim some of them down, which is unfortunate, but there is just so much wonderful dialogue in there.
Can you describe what the drug Soy Sauce [something both John and David take] means to you? What do you think it feels like to be on it?
It's something that opens up a portal to a new reality, which is something that has always fascinated me. I've made other movies with portals. But that you could have a pharmaceutical portal is pretty interesting and inventive. Just like the hallucinogenic drugs of the past, it frees your mind and opens your head to new things. What's interesting from the book is it's a drug that chooses you. That concept for me was amazing. I ponder that still from time to time. There might be a drug that comes looking for me. It also speaks to my own interest of looking past what we see everyday.
What character do you like better, David Wong or John?
I bounce between the two. I like to think that I'm more like Dave, maybe take a more depressed view of things, look on the dark side of things. But I certainly aspire to be more like John. Someone who looks on the bright side — he doesn't let even dark things get to him. They're both like the yin and the yang of everyone's personality. I think that's why they make such a great pairing.
Did you worry about going too over-the-top for film audiences?
Well… no. No. Why not? A talking dog, monsters made out of freezer meats. Yeah, we're walking out on the ledge. It's a lot more risky in the film, you write the pages you put it out there, it goes or it doesn't go. We've risked some money on this film, and a lot of people have risked a lot of time and effort on it. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that there were nights where I would lay awake wondering if I had made a gigantic mistake doing this thing. But the beauty of it, now that it's done, and the book is even more successful, I think audiences will accept it. And one more thing — I think the mainstream studio bigvshots, if you will, really don't take their audience very seriously. I really think that folks are out there who are eager to try something different. And take a little risk with a movie. It was an attitude that served me well when I made the Bubba Ho-Tep movie because a lot of people thought I was nuts to try and make that. A movie about an aging Elvis in a rest home and a mummy. I've found that the typical geek genre audience can be very eager to explore something different. They don't dismiss it. Whereas a lot of times these studio guys are terrified to take risks. That's why a lot of the stuff we see in the genre is so recycled.
It seems like there's a movement of small, frenetic indie films right now, like Detention. Do you think that's the future?
I think that as far as the genre stuff goes, there will always be innovation. In order to make science fiction, fantasy and horror you have you push boundaries. A lot of incredibly creative material comes out of that. A lot of mainstream intellectuals and critics might look down on the horror audience or horror films as maybe one step above porn. But there's so much potential for creativity and there's potential to make money because these are movies made with limited means that go on to be very successful. Sadly, the mainstream just reproduces these ideas again and again until they're dead.
Do you want to film an adaptation of the second book?
It's brilliant. I'm going to sound like a fanboy but every word David Wong utters is hilarious. The guy is so talented. Even the path that he took in the sequel is really just so unexpected and very cool. I love these two characters, and I thought our actors did a really fine job playing them, but it's completely out of my hands. If everybody sees the movie three times in the theaters maybe we will generate enough money to make a sequel, but it's completely out of my hands. I would love to see a sequel.
I would hate myself if I missed this opportunity, so I'm going for it. I have a question about the monsters from The Beastmaster called the Vore. Dar runs into them and they strip the flesh from their victims bones. They look like big bird/bat-people.
Yeah! I forgot about those guys.
Do they have an official name?
We never had a good name. We used to call them the bird people because they had a relation to birds. But that's about all I can remember of their actual name.
I think they are the most underrated monsters ever created. I think they are the scariest things in the world. I have fever dreams about them.
That is so cool of you to say, but I will have to ask one question. How old were you when you saw The Beastmaster?
I was really little. I saw it on VHS.
They must have been pretty scary at that age, I'll bet. That's nice of you to say, [because] we put a lot of work into that thing. And I've gotten a few comments about them but they haven't risen to the success of some of my other bad characters I've created... They had to be winged, because there was a relationship with the eagle. That was what we were trying to make there. So once we had the design of them, and they had these big arms with wings on them, we thought that they could envelope their prey. But a lot of times it's not like the inspiration all comes at one moment. Sometimes you just start with an idea. Then you start to work with the special effect guys and someone throws out "Well, why don't they dissolve the guys." And another asks, "Well, how are we going to do that?" And the you have to figure out how they liquify the bodies, or if the bones just drop out. You should of seen how it was shot, you would've had a good laugh. We needed the monsters to be super tall so they could envelope a human. So everyone on set who were playing the characters were all basketball players. Everyone was about 7-feet tall. The lead guy was Daniel Zormeier, I think he was in the second Star Wars, he played a big Wookie or something.
John Dies At The End is currently available On Demand via iTunes, Amazon, and Xbox, and will hit theaters on January 25th.