Director Don Coscarelli learned a hard lesson while shopping around his script for John Dies at the End.
One studio executive took the time to not only personally read the script but write glowing comments about the story's unique sense of humor.
Then Coscarelli, best known for cult hits like Phantasm, got to the final page where the executive shared why his company wouldn't produce it.
“We'd have to remove all those wonderful moments you think that are great,” Coscarelli recalls the executive explaining, adding the studio process would strip away everything that made John Dies at the End special.
Coscarelli persevered, and using a two unknown actors and some celebrity juice courtesy of co-star Paul Giamatti independently brought John Dies at the End to life all the same.
The film, based on the eccentric novel by David Wong, stars Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes as two young men who discover a strange drug called Soy Sauce which allows users to see into other dimensions. John Dies co-stars Clancy Brown, Doug Jones and Giamatti, an actor pal of the director's who helped him bring the script to the aforementioned studio.
Coscarelli says he's always concerned whether the themes he finds amusing will strike a chord with audiences.
“There are things that I find funny and tolerable .. I'd like to think I steer away from where you're ridiculing your own characters … it's something I'm always battling with. Have I gone too far?” he asks.
In John Dies at the End, a doorknob is transformed into male genitalia.
He keeps making movies all the same, a process that first caught Hollywood's attention with the original Phantasm, the film that established his name in the genre world.
“Talk about your reach exceeding your grasp. That's what Phantasm was – super ambitious on super-small resources,” he says of the 1979 film which introduced audiences to the iconic Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). “The original Phantasm is very funny even though it's considered a straight horror movie.”
When he read Wong's novel he thought he found a similar combination of humor and horror.
“There's these moments that are really freaky and hide under the bed scary, and then you flip the page and it's hilarious,” he says.
Coscarelli's track record includes not just the Phantasm franchise but the cable TV favorite The Beastmaster and a film about a black John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley battling a mummy. Naturally, Bubba Ho-Tep became a cult sensation, and now Coscarelli wants to make a sequel. He just can't scratch up the funding quite yet, and his leading man, Bruce Campbell, bailed on the project. Like John Dies at the End, don't consider Bubba Nosferatu, the film's working title, as dead.
Coscarelli isn't giving up, even if it means passing on projects that could get a much quicker green light.
"Do you wanna do Saw III, or do you want to continue to do something different?" he says.