Interview with Reggie Bannister (from the Phantasm Films)
by Michael McCarty & Cristopher DeRose
40 years ago, a small indie horror was released called PHANTASM
PHANTASM was a game changer combing horror, science fiction, dark fantasy
on a shoestring budget ….
Cristopher DeRose and I interviewed one of the stars of the film, Reggie Bannister for MORE GIANTS OF THE GENRE by Michael McCarty. (Which is unfortunately out of print).
Cristopher DeRose also reprinted the book SCRIBES OF SPECULATIVE FICTION which is in print.
At the end of this interview, we will have links to my interview book called MODERN MYTHMAKERS and SCRIBES OF SPECULATIVE FICTION.
Please, please and please support both of us artists … we need the support and thank you!!!!
I remember the first time I saw “Phantasm.” I was working at the Bel-Air Drive-In Theater and the movie was a double feature with “Dawn Of The Dead.” There was a lot of buzz about George Romero’s remake of “Night Of The Living Dead,” but all I heard about “Phantasm” was from the movie ad that said: “a truly bizarre science-fiction horror fantasy” which really doesn’t say much at all.
When the film started and the plot unfolded about two parentless brothers living next door to a local funeral parlor. I was hooked. And when The Tall Man threw the brain-drilling sphere that gushes out gallons of blood — I knew this was bound to be a bloody classic.
“Phantasm” was an inventive creepy low-budget macabre masterpiece. One of my favorite characters was Reg (played by Reggie Bannister) the rock n roll ice cream man who rocked his way through the sequels.
I found Reggie Bannister to be a laid-back, friendly guy who really knows how to rock n roll. It was a pleasure talking with a cult legend.
THE PHANTASM MAN:
Interview With Reggie Bannister
by Michael McCarty & Cristopher DeRose
Long Beach, California born Reggie Bannister is best known as the ice cream man extraordinare in “Phantasm,” a role he landed after serving in the Viet Nam war and meeting Don Coscarelli, who gave him his first acting gig in Coscarelli’s directorial debut, “Jim, The World’s Greatest.”
Reggie went on to work with Coscarelli in their next pre-“Phantasm” film, “Kenny And Company” before cameras rolled on what would become one of the most memorable (and best) low-budget horror films of all time, “Phantasm,” where he played (fittingly enough) Reg, the guitar-playing ice cream man.
“Survival Quest” followed, as did the three other “Phantasm” sequels. Reggie, a constant fan favorite at horror cons, has continued his acting in not only television, but other movies like “Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation” and “The Wishmaster: Demolitionist,” as well as forming his own production company.
Not one to stay in one avenue of expression, Reggie and his band, Reggie B & the Jizz Wailin’ Ya Doggie recorded their debut CD “Fools Paradise” and continue to perform and record while October Guitars will be creating a signature guitar for him.
Reggie’s latest venture is “Bubba Ho-Tep,” based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale and also stars Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell. Coscarelli wrote the screenplay and directed the movie.
(Reggie Bannister who appeared in all the PHANTASM films, here, battling the flying sphere)
MICHAEL McCARTY: When you were making the first “Phantasm” movie, did you ever imagine that it would still be popular over two decades later and achieve such cult status?
REGGIE BANNISTER: There are two types of movies, that actors secretly or openly want to be involved in. They want to make a really good horror movie and scare the hell out of people or make a cowboy movie and ride a horse. We got to do a horror movie.
When we first did “Phantasm,” it was done with the full intent of making a scary movie. That is what we all wanted to do. I don’t think anybody realized that this would still be going on all these years later. Towards the end of “Phantasm,” I had a gut feeling, that we had done something pretty special.
MICHAEL: What are some of the changes that you have noticed in independent pictures over the years?
REGGIE: Special effects. Across the board with the development of technology and artistic techniques. It started, at first with the special latex for special effects make-up and now we have computer graphics. It’s absolutely amazing stuff.
The down side to the special effects craze — is the story gets lost, good acting gets lost, good concepts get lost to special effects.
MICHAEL: What motivated you to take the role in “Phantasm” in the first place?
REGGIE: Money (laughs).
I’m just kidding. I’m a very creative person and I love to create. Basically we didn’t even discuss money and I really never saw any money until the end of the filming when the picture was picked up. To tell the truth, we all did the movie on spec.
I love to act, I love to play music — that is why I did it then and that is why I still do it now. I still throw myself out there to be a part of low budget or almost no budget movies — but my one rule is it has to be a Screen Actors Guild film.
MICHAEL: “Phantasm III” had more humor in it than the others, do you think that distracted from the horror aspect in the series it was originally based on or not?
REGGIE: Some people thought that it distracted, some loved the humor. My character Reg — is really a humorless character.
He’s a musician who has traveled around the world and played guitar with these bands, got tired of it and wanted to settle down in his own little hometown. What does he do? Open an ice cream parlor. He invents his own venue so he can sit there and play guitar and sell ice cream to the kids in an ice cream truck.
By the second film he’s thrown into this chaotic nightmare, he’s chasing after a Phantasm, characters in a reality that you aren’t even sure they exist.
When he presents his natural character to these situations, it can be pretty funny at times. It is only funny, when it happens to a character who doesn’t think it is humorous or doesn’t know it is humorous.
If you go back through comedy and you see Harold Lloyd who was hanging from a clock tower. Charlie Chaplin getting caught in the gears of a modern mechanized society. You never see those characters understand what they are going through is funny, half of it was tragic. They were putting their lives and bodies on the line for a laugh.
It was only natural, in the third picture, Reg was sold on the idea of trying to vanquish this evil force in the world. Trying to be the soldier, trying to be the heavy-duty warrior type. When in fact he is a musician and an ice cream man (laughs).
There are some people who hate “Phantasm III” because it was humorous, but they still like my character. But I talked to other people who loved “Phantasm III” and thought it was their favorite film in the series.
It evens out.
MICHAEL: Were you concerned that you or anyone else in “Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead” was being overshadowed by The Tall Man played by Angus Scrimm (Lawrence Rory Guy)?
REGGIE: There’s only one Tall Man and there is only one Reg. What is interesting about our relationship, is how it developed. I’m the ice cream man and The Tall Man can’t stand the cold. We are arch nemesis to one another. We are the characters who have faced off to each other in the whole series. Some of the other characters have come and gone. Some have come back. There is always Reg and The Tall Man squaring off.
I don’t feel there is any overshadowing there. I feel The Tall Man is a unique entity, he’s the pro-generator of the entire Paradine. He’s such a necessary character. Reg is a necessary character too — because without those two characters coming together, there isn’t much of a story at all.
MICHAEL: You also appeared in “Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation” with Maud Adams and Clint Howard (director Ron Howard’s brother). How was it being a part of a franchise besides the “Phantasm” series?
REGGIE: I’m really good friends with Brian Yuzna (the director of the movie). Brian always wanted to stick me in one of his movies — he got to direct one part of that franchise. It was a lot of fun. What makes the film experience fun is when you’re working with professionals. I have worked with other people before where it was a chore just to get a scene shot. That’s a drag. But when you work with people like Brian Yuzna or Robert Kurtzman — I was in Wishmaster: The Demolitionist” — Bob is a real pro.
Working on “Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation” — that has to be the longest title in the history of film (laughs).
Brian sent me the script and I was suppose to play the part of an editor of a newspaper called “The Public Eye.” My character was named Eli, he was a nervous habit guy with a lot of high energy. He smoked constantly. I had a problem with that because I hadn’t smoke at the time. I have smoked off and on in my life, but I didn’t smoke at that time for about four years. I thought that might be problematic for me having to smoke.
I tried to talk to Brian about this the first day of shooting. I said, “Brian, can I talk to you about my character.” He said, “yeah, yeah, sure.” “Eli is firing up one cigarette after another. I said how about this. What if it was sunflower seeds. I keep eating sunflower seeds and stick them inside my mouth and I’m spitting out the seeds everywhere, people could be grossed out. It could be a really funny bit.” Brian listened, pulled down on his chin and said, “No Reg, he’s a smoker.”
I said to the assistant director, “Well go get me a couple packs of Marlboro’s.” I was just hours away from shooting.
Do you know what it’s like to smoke when you haven’t smoked? You almost pass out, it makes you so high.
The very first scene of that film, I got through my lines, I didn’t know who the hell I was, or who my character was. And when I watch it back, and know where my head was — during those opening lines — I have to laugh.
MICHAEL: You worked with Don Coscarelli the producer, writer, cinematographer and director of the first “Phantasm” movie and writer and director for the rest of the series. You just worked with him again in “Bubba Ho-Tep.” What is Don like as a director?
REGGIE: Don is a real perfectionist. He’ll shoot five-to-one. It’s how many times you shoot a scene. He’ll shoot it five times to get the one that he wants. Little details, little innuendoes, little things you extrapolate and read lines differently. He’s really fun to work with.
MICHAEL: Is “Phantasm 4: The Oblivion” the end of the series? Or is there going to be a sequel?
REGGIE: There is a script written (called “Phantasm’s End) by Roger Avary who has written “Pulp Fiction” and “Killing Zoe.” He’s worked with Spelling Entertainment over the years, he’s working with Lion’s Gate on something right now.
Before Don (Coscarelli) got into filming “Bubba Ho-Tep” last year — he was really pushing to get “Phantasm 5” funded. He had to pull away from that because he really wanted to do “Bubba Ho-Tep.”
So its possible, you could see something at the end of this year heating up for “Phantasm 5.”
We normally start shooting “Phantasm” movies in the dead of winter. I don’t know why that is, except maybe some forces in the universe want to see us freeze our asses off (laughs).
MICHAEL: The ending to the first “Phantasm” movie would have been unheard of in a major production. Do you think the smaller budget allowed you greater artistic control?
That is the joy of independent film. There are a lot of problems with independent films, mostly you don’t have the money and you really have to restrain yourself. You have to figure out how to get by without having any money and look like you’re putting money on the screen.
Talking about special effects, I wish you could have seen us trying to put together some of the special effects for the original “Phantasm.” We still stand beside a camera, with certain scenes with the sphere — the ball flying. In “Phantasm III,” I stood next to the camera in the mausoleum and we took turns throwing the sphere down the hallway — away from the camera — so we could reverse the direction of the sphere coming into the camera. We took turns so we could get the height right for the lens. A long throw so you could see it coming from down the hall. We’ve done some wacky things to get the effects — it has worked well for us.
MICHAEL: What are the pros and cons of doing a direct-to-video movie?
REGGIE: There’s a whole step in the process of marketing a movie to become successful that you lose going direct-to-video. If you could get a theatrical, or limited theatrical release you would be more successful.
With a limited theatrical release, you’re counting on your movie being so good in a few little theaters around the country that people will talk about it. They tell other people to go see it. Then you get more screens. There are films that have grown exponentially from limited release into 1,200 screens, 2,000 screens.
You have a higher level of marketing awareness to the consumer. That means you see ads on TV, your movie gets criticized (laughs) or reviewed in newspapers across the country.
You start to gain some marketability. So when this film does leave the theaters — then you can ship all kinds of video and DVD units. You’ll already have that high level of marketability for the video stores for rentals. And when it goes on to cable stations and people look in their “TV Guide” and say, “Boy, I wanted to see that film. I didn’t see it when it was in the theater.”
Then it goes into general TV release – you might have the network lease the film. It all starts with a theatrical release.
The cons — you have a film that goes direct-to-video, it goes on video shelves unnoticed. It cuts so much out of the process. Who is going to know it is out there to rent it? Or to buy it? Or even to notice it exists?
If you go to theatrical release, you have a world of marketing in front of you. That means a lot of money. That can mean a franchise started, that could mean doing a sequel to that film. But if you go direct-to-video you just show up on video shelves around the country.
MICHAEL: Did “Phantasm II” suffer or benefit from the replacement of Michael Baldwin with James LeGros?
REGGIE: There was some controversy about that. It is always difficult when you see an original film and you fall in love with it and the characters. Michael was much beloved — obviously — that is why his character has been so much a part of the series throughout (Michael Baldwin was in the original, “Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead,” “Phantasm 4: The Oblivion”). When “Phantasm II” came out, there was a controversy among the hardcore fans about the character of Michael and James LeGros.
Having said that, James LeGros did a terrific job. I really enjoyed working with James on that film. We had a lot of fun. He’s a really great guy and a fine actor. He went on to do “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Singles,” he just starred in a movie that is based on “Macbeth” with Christopher Walken in it — it’s a wonderful film, but I can’t recall the name of it offhand.
I can’t tell you how many people come up and tell me, “my favorite film was “Phantasm II.”
What happened was, with “Phantasm II,” a lot of people who hadn’t seen the first one, saw “Phantasm II.” It broke at a time, 1988, when the first film was almost ten years old. There was a whole new generation of people who enjoyed horror films that never saw “Phantasm.” So when they saw “Phantasm II” — it was their initial experience, they had no idea that Michael had been swapped out. They actually had to go back, to see the first one, to find out that character was replaced with another actor.
Even the hardcore fans, who went “I hate “Phantasm II” because they don’t have Michael in it,” have come around and done a 360. Irregardless it is a great film. I have to agree, I think “II” busted out and opened that world of “Phantasm” in a way that had to be done. I think it is a remarkable film for both its special effects and more linear story line that carries the plot so far that it led to “Phantasm III” and “IV.”
MICHAEL: Any last words?
REGGIE: The fact that I’m sitting here and talking to you, and know that the readers of More Giants Of The Genre want to hear my opinions about horror films and film making is extremely gratifying. I really appreciate everybody’s support of my particular job — that what it is really, I’m an actor, that is my job. To have people appreciate your work is awesome to me.
I want to let everyone know, who has read this particular interview, that I just love and appreciate them for supporting me and my work.
I’ve been involved in some productions, that didn’t have a lot of money, but had an incredible amount of integrity and wanted really to give everyone the best of conceptual story lines and the best in visuals and acting performances. People like Don Coscarelli, Brian Yuzna and Bob Kurtzman — they are terrific people and want to do the best for the fans out there.
Thank you, thank you — that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
THE PHANTASM FILMOGRAPHY:
Phantasm II (1988)
Lord of the Dead (1994)
If you liked this interview or the other blog article, please consider buying MODERN MYTHMAKERS by Michael McCarty
The ebook for MODERN MYTHMAKERS is only .99 cents … follow the link below… follow your dreams:
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Cristopher DeRose’s SCRIBES OF SPECULATIVE FICTION, which has a few interviews, co-written by me. The link is: