Feb. 13 2013 04:01 PM

Oscar-nominated actor and Phantasm' director team up for a small-budget horror comedy

film
Paul Giamatti brings the star power.

Most filmmakers, after reading David Wong's Internet-serialized novel John Dies at the End, would likely think it impossible to make into a movie. It's a strange book, told from the point of view of a snarky protagonist. But Don Coscarelli, the director behind the Phantasm franchise and the cult hits Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep, isn't most filmmakers.

"Look, I'm an optimist," he tells CityBeat. "I saw a path when I read the book."

That path led to the big-screen horror-comedy adaptation, which opens at Hillcrest Cinemas on Friday, Feb. 15. The movie is about two slackers, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), who have a business saving clients from the supernatural. When the movie opens, Dave is sitting at a diner with reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), telling him about the duo's experience with Soy Sauce, a new street drug that kills almost everyone who comes in contact with it and seems to be opening a portal to another dimension, whose inhabitants are determined to take over this one.

That's a lot to take on without much of a budget, so you might find it odd that a Hollywood star like Giamatti is appearing in the independently financed effort, especially in a supporting role. But Giamatti's more than just an actor here— he also produced the film, along with Coscarelli, and was one of the driving forces in making it happen.

"We met through Eli Roth," Giamatti says, referring to the horror director behind the Hostel movies. "I'm not a huge fan of those super-violent torture films, but I actually like Eli's torture movies. He got the two of us together, and we tried to make a sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep. It nearly happened, and then didn't, but Don said, ‘Let's just make this one. I think I can actually do this one without a studio helping us out.' That seemed insane to me, that he was going to do this with me without any support, but that's how he does things."

The movie is at times clever and funny, and seriously bloody, even if the ending doesn't quite live up to the promise of the beginning. Putting it together was a challenge, since there was no studio funding, but, Giamatti says, plenty of people want to work with Coscarelli.

"He can call in favors, and there are people who just really love him and really love what he does," he says. "He's got some of the top guys, some of the best prosthetic guys in Hollywood, and they did it for free because they love his stuff, they love what he's doing and they love the fact that he's an old-school, handson eccentric maverick out there doing his own thing." 

One of the biggest changes for Coscarelli is the way John Dies at the End will get to audiences. Though it's having a small theatrical release, it's been available since late 2012 in other ways, like video on demand, iTunes, Xbox and Amazon Instant Video. That's kind of ironic, because Coscarelli's movies have usually gained notoriety after they've left theaters and been discovered on DVD or at midnight screenings. The distribution switcheroo is new to him.

"Some of my later Phantasm films, like Phantasm 3 and Phantasm 4, received the curse of going direct to video," he says. When a title went straight to video back in the day, it was perceived as being junk. We worked very hard on those movies, and I'm still very proud of them, but the nature of the distribution informed how people perceived them. Now folks are accepting this completely. It's weird, but it's an entirely new generation that's used to getting their media where they want and when they want it. Having it available on iPad or iPhone or on their TV right away is preferable to them, so we'll see how it works out. It's still in theaters, which is good, but it's definitely a new world out there."


Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.

Related
Related to:

Calendar

  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • The former local boy and creator of the highly influential blog, Advanced Style, will be signing and discussing his third book, Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, which features inspiring pictures and stories...
  • C.J. Chenier and Bonsoir Catin headline this annual Cajun inspired festival. Also enjoy 10,000 pounds of crawfish, dancing and cooking demonstrations. Held at Spanish Landing Park, across from the...
  • A Cinco de Mayo party featuring $2 tacos, cocktails and live music from Bostich+Fussible, Javiera Mena and Gepe
  • A spoken word showcase hosted by English instructor Karla Cordero and her City College students. There will also be a special reading from poet Mercedez Holtry, as well as an art and photography show....
  • Widely known as host of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and for his role in the Showtime dramedy Weeds, Kevin Nealon brings his unique humor back to the stand-up stage
  • New works from over a dozen UCSD undergraduate students. Participating artists include Charity Algarme, Richard Lin, Joseph Maas, Ignatius Nguyen, and more
  • This video art exhibition from UCSD MFA candidate Stefani Byrd features two installations that explore the themes of breath, mediation, and the nature of time. Takes place in the VAF Performance Space,...
See all events on Thursday, May 5