For this entry of Ghost memberswe’ll take a look at the talked about but ultimately unproduced big screen from New Line Cinema Fantasy trilogy which was first announced in 2005. Rumored to be a reboot of Don Coscarelliit is (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) beloved sci-fi/horror franchise, this new series of films would have seen the return of Coscarelli (in a producer role) and Angus Scrimm, who played the franchise’s iconic villain The Tall Man. Additionally, the films had to take the tale back to its roots like the story of young Mike Pearson (played by A. Michael Baldwin in the original series), a young man who clashes with The Tall Man and his bladed flying chrome spheres after discovering the gruesome events unfolding at Morningside Cemetery, home to Scrimm’s villainous morgue attendant.
Joining us for this episode are Don Coscarelli, as well as screenwriter Stephen Susco, who was briefly attached to the short-lived project. The two were kind enough to discuss the origins of the project, where its story could have gone, and why it never came to fruition.
In March 2005, The Hollywood Reporter published an article claiming that filmmaker Don Coscarelli was in final negotiations with New Line Cinema to produce a revival of his iconic Fantasy franchise. “The film is being developed as a relaunch and as a possible trilogy on Mike’s coming of age“, claimed the article, inflaming genre websites with speculation about what this could mean for the long-running horror series. Isn’t It Cool News reported that Bruce Campbell would join the second and third films in this planned trilogy, with New Line apparently envisioning Mike’s character as “the Luke Skywalker of horror.” Ain’t It Cool noted that Bloody Disgusting followed up those initial reports with additional information, including New Line’s intention to upgrade the spheres and keep Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man, while aiming to make some a “definitive”. Fantasy trilogy which would amount to being “the star wars of horror”. These early reports also revealed that this project would also involve screenwriter Stephen Susco, who had just penned the recent horror hit. The Grudge.
Unfortunately, even for the project’s pedigree and its studio muscle, the project ultimately never came to fruition. The Franchise Would Eventually Continue In The Form Of David Hartman Directed Fantasy: Ravager, the 2016 episode that served as both the swansong for Scrimm and (to this day) the ending for the classic horror series. But what about this trilogy…?
While chatting with Mr. Coscarelli for an upcoming episode of Phantom Limbs on Fantasy 1999, this writer couldn’t help but ask about the New Line trilogy. Does he remember much about this particular project? “You know, I really don’t know,” laughed Coscarelli. “I had a meeting [with Stephen Susco]. He’s a nice guy. I remember the exec at the time, a guy named Jeff Katz, was really trying to generate a lot of excitement [for the project]. Part of that was prematurely announcing that it was going to be done, and then the deal never happened. So it was going nowhere.”
“Well, I can tell you it almost happened,” Mr. Susco begins, discussing the Fantasy trilogy project he was associated with for some time. “Just after The Grudge came out, New Line told me about it. It sounded like what happened was they were talking to Don about it, and Don said, “Well, you know, get me a writer to talk to.” Because The Grudge had just come out, I happened to be the guy to talk to for that little window, you know?
“It was a situation where they were like, ‘Do you love Fantasy?’ Yes. “Would you be interested in speaking with Don?” ‘Yeah. You want me to go out with Don Coscarelli, eat? I hope you are joking?!’ I happened to be a big fan… that movie was so instrumental for me, because horror was harder to get to when I was a kid. The cable didn’t turn on until I was about nine years old, where I’m from. So it was every once in a while turning on the TV on a Saturday afternoon, and seeing some crazy shit happen. A cemetery and a morgue and say ‘What am I looking at?’ My parents were like, ‘Turn it off! You can’t watch this! So here is, Fantasy got me. It was one of the movies that made me really love horror, so meeting Don was like meeting one of your heroes. It was one of those things where I didn’t really introduce it. I just sat and fucked for about ten minutes and then we started talking about it. It was like, ‘Are we interested in the same things?’
“It was going very well, and we had an agreement to do it. We had a great conversation with Mark Ordesky, who was doing The Lord of the Rings films for New Line. I remember he was like, ‘I wanna do this like a bigger one [series]. I don’t want to do it on an ad hoc basis. And [Don] was going to lead. He was just the nicest guy. There’s no pretension or Hollywood bullshit about her. He was so nice. So we had a great conversation about it…and he said, “Cool, let’s make this happen.”
Susco also reveals that a bit of unique marketing for the potential project came up during those early meetings. “We had a really cool ad, a trailer designed to look like a car ad. You were going to move over the chrome, close up, like how they turn off the chrome lights. It was going to be like ‘0 to 60 at 1.6 miles per hour. Can penetrate the skin up to…’ What?! And then you were going to see the ball, and that was going to be the big announcement for the movie.
So what would have been the story of this trilogy? “In my memory, I liked the idea of rebooting the franchise, but it’s basically a sequel,” says Susco. “That all of these characters, all of the original actors show up, and it’s basically the same thing that never stopped and we sort of catch up.
“The same guys, many years later. The idea was that we wanted him to feel like an echo of himself for the first half of the film, where he was very isolated. You know, a kid playing in the woods, near a morgue, and strange things were happening at the funeral home. So a third or halfway through, it felt like it was a remake with a modern flare. But once you got into it, it was Angus Scrimm, and it was Reggie Bannister. These guys come in and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is a continuing story!‘”
In today’s climate of legacy requels and sequels, an approach like this might not seem like much of a novelty. But at the height of the horror remake craze, reviving a well-known franchise with its original canon and cast must have felt revolutionary. “I think that’s why we kind of had common ground,” Susco says. “That I was like, ‘I’d rather continue the story.’ And I think that’s what he wanted to do too. He wanted the same actors, the same crew, but I think he had the idea of trying to fool everyone, because he also knew that that was what would make New Line happy. Because New Line had made Chainsaw Massacre at that time, which was a very modern reboot, and it was very successful for them.
“I think Don loved this subversiveness of basically fooling people, making fans angry because they were like, ‘This is a remake! You don’t need to do a remake! And then actually , I was like, ‘No, this isn’t a remake. This looks like a remake. But then basically giving it a bigger scale to continue the story you always wanted to continue.
“I wish I could give you more details, but it was very fleeting. It was more like, ‘Is this a writer I can work with? Am I going to hate him or are we on the same wavelength? But I went there as a lover of Fantasy. So it was easy math, you know?
So why is this major studio relaunching Fantasy You have never arrived on the screens? “It was an interesting thing,” Susco says. “It didn’t get much further than that because they made my writing deal and then they tried to make a deal with Don. But look, the deal didn’t happen because… I mean, he made those movies on his own. They were his babies. And he was savvy, he was really smart. He was like, ‘I need creative control. I won’t let people get away. with that. So if we want to do that, I have to have creative control, final editing.
“I would have loved to do that with them, but I really respect that he wouldn’t sell it. He wouldn’t let him be vulnerable to a business. I’m not saying New Line, but the fact is… when you sell a property to distribute to a company like that, they’ll want the right to do future derivative works with it. That’s how it is. It’s completely normal that they want that. But kudos to Don for saying, “I’ll never let this fall into the hands of someone who can just run with it and cut me out of it and do whatever they want with it.” He just respected his own work too much, you know? So yeah, man. good for him.”
Closing our conversation on this unrealized Fantasy trilogy, Susco points out that the series remains in good hands to this day. “At least we have the security of knowing that it will only work if Don thinks it will work well,” he says. “Because it’s clear he’s totally okay with walking away from a huge amount of money to do it. He won’t sell it. It is therefore rare and pleasant.
We will leave the final word to Coscarelli himself, who specifies that “it was almost twenty years ago now. A long time ago. But yeah, in the meantime, there’s still a lot of interest in doing something with it. Fantasy. I’m constantly responding to varying levels of interest and such, but nothing to report on that yet.”
Special thanks to Don Coscarelli and Stephen Susco for their time and ideas.
It was Ghost members, a recurring feature that delves into planned-but-unproduced horror sequels and remakes — expansions to the genre movies we love, appendages to the horror franchises we love — that were sadly cut short of surpassing the planning stages. Here we chat with the creators of those undone ends to get their unique insight into those follow-ups that never were, with the chats standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what could have been. .
Kit, Borys (2005, March) “Phantasm” in New Line Airspace. Retrieved May 7, 2022, from The Hollywood Reporter website: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/film/brief_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000835831
Quint (2005, March 10) PHANTASM lives again, booyyy! New Line will be producing a new trilogy based on the Coscarelli originals!! Retrieved May 7, 2022, from Ain’t It Cool News website: http://legacy.aintitcool.com/node/19602