On Thanksgiving Day, MonstersHD is having a "Thanksgiving Day of the Dead" promotion, and as part of that they are streaming two films live from their website. The first is the genre classic "Day of the Dead", and the second is Robert Kurtzman's 2005 zombie film "The Rage". The latter happens to star genre vet Reggie Bannister, most well known for his 4 appearances in the "Phantasm" series. Being a huge fan, I had to take the opportunity to interview him when it arose. The following is what came out of that conversation.
We've got to all hang together and keep this genre vital.
So what have you been up to lately?
We've been busy. Got a project shooting right now that we're co-producing. And then we just came out of a Halloween Haunted attraction thing that we put on in our little mountain community. But that's good to be busy when this is your day job.
So you do Haunted Houses?
We've done several haunted attractions over the yeras. Not like the giant ones that you might go to, but we'll do mostly community oriented stuff. We really like working with the community so this year we didn't have a lot of stuff going on appearance wise, so Gigi, my wife, agreed to design a haunted attraction on the property of this little bar and restaraunt in our little village. It's called the Stockade Grill & Whiskey. So we took their back area and she designed a real nice attraction called The Stockade Boot Hill. So you have the building, and the week of actual performances, and then a few days to get it pulled down. That all happened sort of right in the middle of a film project so we've been booking pretty good.
So I read on your IMDB that you used to act in student films in exchange for food...
Ya (laughs), I think everybody has to get into that at some point. Sometimes with these student films, the pay is food and copy. They'll feed you and give you a copy of the film when it's finished so you can use it to promote your career. Before I met Don Coscarelli, I had just come back from Vietnam in 1968, and was getting back into my life and playing a lot of music. I had a couple of great bands, but one of them broke up and I decided to take some time off and go back to a Jr. college in my town, Long Beach, California. So I decided to focus on acting since acting and music had always been kind of interchangable in my life. So I ended up doing a lot of acting. We were constantly doing plays and I tried to be in every one I could be in.
So ya, a guy would call me up and tell me he wanted me for his film, and I'd just say make sure there's lunch... and if I stay tonight make sure there's dinner (laughs). So it was really funny because Don and those guys saw me do one of those theater pieces, and they called me one morning and said they had seen me the previous night and had a character they wanted me to play. And I said, "you're going to feed me, right?" (laughs) And they said "no no, we're going to pay you!" (laughs). They said they were shooting in 35mm, and that was my first film with Don and it was called "Jim The World's Greatest".
So MonstersHD is doing this "Thanksgiving Day of the Dead" promotion this year, and that includes streaming "The Rage" from their website, which of course you were in. Why do you think Zombie movies have been so prolific over the last few years?
I've been talking about this today, and we were talking to Sherman Howard and Bob Kurtzman and Dave over at Monsters HD. It's a deep seeded fear to begin with. That came from a real mythos. It all kind of started if you remember the Bela Lugosi movie "White Zombie". And it was about, there was a certain herb or root that you could feed somebody and they would display all the attributes of death. There would be no pulse, no breath visible, and they would actually bury these people. It was a voodoo kind of thing. Then these guys who needed slaves to work their fields would dig these people up, and they were virtually blank pages. They couldn't think for themselves, they just did whatever they were told. They didn't require any money, they would work and sleep and that was it.
So that's kind of where the zombie thing came from. But the idea of flesheating is pretty horrific. Kurtzman was just saying today, "the idea of somebody eating my flesh, is tremendously horrific". But I said that once your flesh gets eaten in the zombie paradigm, you start eating flesh yourself. So that sounds maybe twice as disgusting to me. So there's a lot of things that carried it forward. And of course George Romero, one of his thoughts on the whole zombie thing was a political thought. We're all sort of zombies walking around and politicians get it over on us all the time.
I think it's an intersting concept that has probably run its course several times (laughs), over the years. I was reminded in our conversation earlier that a couple of years ago I did a picture called "Song of the Dead", and it was a zombie musical. It was such a hoot, the zombies actually had choreography where they dance and they sing. And I played the President of the United States. And in this elongated press conference explaining what had occurred to the American people. As a matter of fact we used that clip as a promotional clip for Barack Obama on a couple of our websites (laughs), because it was so funny. It kind of displays how politicians get it over on people and they just eat it up and walk away.
You've been a regular on the convention circuit for a while now, and you're constantly mentioned as being one of the nicest genre celebs to meet. Is it hard to keep that up, with how tiring those things can be?
Well certainly the conventions take a lot of energy, they just do. Your'e surrounded with people that love your work and it can't get much better than that. But they want to know a lot of information. That's one of the reasons why we're there. We want to get the word out on our films. I'm working on my 7th film this year, and like I said we're co-producing so ya, I want to get the word out.
So it's kind of a job, but I have to say that I've always really enjoyed it in the end, standing behind that table and talking to people, and getting together afterwards for maybe a bite to eat and a drink. It's kind of a big party, and if you have these conventions in a hotel, they're like big sleepovers dude. They're so fucking cool. You get together and you just hang out. People hang out at the bar in their pajamas sometimes. It's a lot of fun, and I have to say that without all those people that come to those conventions, we wouldn't be having this conversation. So it's pretty terrific to meet the fans, and I treat them like family because obviously they are. We're all in this genre together.
Do you ever marvel at how the Phantasm films have crossed generations? I mean I was negative three years old when the first film came out in 1979.
(laughs) It's funny but it points out a really interesting concept about the "Phantasm" series. We did the first one in 79, and Don didn't want to really get into sequel mode. He really wanted to do some other films after that. He kind of felt like he had done his scary film. It wasn't that he couldn't have just jumped in and done a sequel like "Friday the 13th" or something. He really for his own artistic value, he felt that he needed to try and do some other stuff. Finally he acquiesced and in 1987 we started working on "Phantasm II" for Universal Studios.
This series is a potboiler. We waited 10 years inbetween the first two films. So there was a whole new generation that was born in 1988 when we put out the second film. Then we followed up on that with a sequel right away in 93. So when you see the way the pictures fell together, we've been able to keep it boiling and tap a different generation of filmgoers as we went on with it. So I think that's really kind of the secret of the series and the age differences that I see between people at the cons. I see little kids that have seen it (laughs). It's like whoa, dad, what were you thinking?
Ya, well that could make you clean your drawers.
I saw your band play at Horror Hound last March. What's it like for you to mix your two passions of film and music?
I try and mix the band with a convention any chance I get, but I must tell you it's a grueling weekend at that point. When i've got the band there and we have to rehearse inbetween appearing downstairs and stuff, and then to actually play and that goes on into the wee hours of the night. So it's much more energetic (laughs) to have the band play at thge same time. Having said that, it's kind of a trip to keep both of those things together at the same time. It's gotten a little bit easier over the years. I want to play with the band and play music, but I have to fit it in with the acting thing as well.
So here's your token "Phantasm V" question. I saw IMDB has it listed as "In Production". Is that erroneous information?
Ya, I can tell you that's been up there for quite some time and we have tried to get it pulled off. Don has tried to. It seems to just be hanging in there. I am not sure how it got started... we're not working on a feature. We would like to be working on a feature and it's not to say that we won't be, but at this present time we're not. So we've had to kind of stamp that rumor down a bit. I have to tell you, that you guys will be the first to know (laughs), when we actually jump into this.
I read an interview with Bruce Campbell recently where he said that as time goes on, he's less and less interested in doing another "Evil Dead" film. Do you feel that at all with the "Phantasm" series?
Well... Bruce created this character, he is "Ash". And he's a terrific actor. He created a character that's very energetic and very athletic. There's a lot of work in playing Ash. I know there's a lot of physical work in the Reggie character. Maybe not for Bruce, but for me I've always tried to stay in as top physical condition as possible, because I've always done my own stunts when they let me do it. That can be pretty tough. So maybe that's Bruce's thinking. I know that I think about it, and like I said I try and stay in shape. As far as I'm concerned with the Phantasm thing, I'm good for it.
Is Angus [Scrimm] also good for it?
Well I think that Angus would like to give it one more, and have the story be some sort of conclusive thing, possibly for the character of the Tall Man to have some sort of resolution. I think that would be very pleasing for him.
I have to tell you, I was waiting for an elevator at a convention once and when it opened up, Angus was standing there just staring at me. I nearly peed myself.
(laughs) Ya, well that could make you clean your drawers. But of course he's a very gracious guy and a terrific guy to work with.
You have 9 films listed as either in production or in post-production. When do you find time to sleep?
Well, this is my day job and we worked on 7 film projects this year. My wife and I have a production company, Production Magic inc., and we've been working in production as well as acting. My wife is a terrific special effects makeup artist, and also other practical effects. So working together we've been able to do kind of package deals. People will call to get me for a part, and then we'd ask who was doing the special effects. So we can actually help each other. So we've always been in independant film, and we know how to cut corners and still make it look great. So it's been pretty neat, the last 13 years we've had our little company and making films together. We have a non profit company for our community, the Crestline Creative Arts Foundation. We teach kids how to make film, and any time we can bring them in to an actual film experience and they can intern on a film. So we're just into it. It's kind of our lives.
Any of your genre films you're in this year that you're excited about?
There's several. One called "Text" that I did earlier in the year. I would look for that. I've got a couple my tunes in that as well. Another one called "Satan Hates You", should be out in 2009. Angus is also in that film, and Debbie Rochon. I've done two films with Debbie Rochon this year. The other film was "Walking Distance", which we shot in Houston, Texas in August this year. That's a really, really off-center film. Very psychological and freaky. That's a really good one. I'm happy with all the films pretty much that I've shot this last year. They've been really good stories, and were pretty off-center for the most part.
Well I know you're a busy man, so thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.
Sure, I enjoy doing the interviews just like I enjoy meeting the fans. We've got to all hang together and keep this genre vital, so it doesn't get all bullshitty. Especially with remakes and stuff, sometimes that can get a little funny. I think there's so many original ideas out there, why not be shooting that stuff. Now with HD cameras, filmmaking is really available to us. So I think filmmaking has reached a new apex in terms of the availability to any filmmaker who wants to jump in.