Thanks to the nightmare-fuel performances of the late, great Angus Scrimm, Phantasm is one of the most beloved franchises in horror history. However, the five-film saga simply would not have had nearly as much heart had it not been for the ice cream man turned hero, Reggie.
Beyond his legacy as an actor, Reggie Bannister’s resume also boasts of credits as a producer, screenwriter and musician, to say nothing of his activist work and involvement with the independent Production Magic Incorporated. It goes without saying that Bannister’s referred to as the “hardest working man in horror” for a reason.
Recently, Reggie and his wife, actress / director / producer / special effects arist / manager Gigi “Fast Elk” Bannister phoned Horror Geek Life to discuss their favorite Phantasm memories, recollections of Scrimm, the body language of Ossie Davis and why they consider their fans “phamily.”
HorrorGeekLife: To begin, you’ve often said that what made Reggie’s character stand out was that he was “so human.” While he was similar to Bruce Campbell’s Ash in that he was an every man, Reggie was presented in a realistic way despite the very unreal events that took place around him. Can you talk about the uniqueness of that character?
Reggie Bannister: I became a human being (chuckles), and that was my training for that character. And as you said he’s every man’s man, he’s just a regular guy. I loved, I love actually, playing that role because he’s an ice cream man, okay? It’s as if an ice cream man had to go and save all the evil in the world and I just love that he built the four-barrel shotgun himself, very creative. And boy when that thing goes off, all four barrels? It’s a double trigger and you can pull one trigger and two barrels go off, and if you pull both of them at the same time they both go off. I always loved the scenes where there was a lot of stuff in front of me and I had to blow both of them off at the same time. It was pretty cool (chuckles).
HGL: As Reggie said in Ravager, the Phantasm saga is an epic story. What’s your favorite memory filming those five pictures? It doesn’t have to be a scene – just a moment from the process where you sat back and realized you were having a moment and it’s just stayed with you.
RB: When you were saying that, all of a sudden Angus Scrimm came to mind. We never were on the screen (together) until Ravager, so I cherish that scene. We’re confronting each other (chuckles), and we’re almost nose-to-nose — his nose was much higher up than mine (chuckles) — but we’re just staring at each other and he’s threatening my family and I’m just going ‘No, no, no. Blank you (laughs).’
Gigi Bannister: There’s that scene in the hospital, too.
RB: Oh, I love that scene in the hospital, as well, it’s like a dream sequence. I wake up in the hospital and I’m looking straight up at the ceiling and then I hear something next to me on the right. And in the hospital bed on the right is the Tall Man, and it’s like holy crapoli, now what? I just loved that scene and the nose-to-nose scene with him. I think those are my favorite scenes in the series, actually. I loved everything. I loved playing the character, I loved facing down evil for the sake of my buds and facing the gates of hell for their sake, and everybody’s sake, really, because you don’t want the Tall Man’s minions to be loosed on the Earth. And he pretty much has already, so I’ve got to do something.
HGL: You touched on Angus Scrimm. We all know what the late, great legend represents for the genre, particularly with the Phantasm series, but tell us what working with him over your decades-long relationship meant to you personally.
RB: We were friends and still are. We would get together sometimes in between scenes when they were setting things up and just sit and talk. He was pretty much interested in everything that was happening now, things that had happened in the past, the series itself. So we’d just get into these really neat, very personal conversations and he was just such a great guy. What’s funny about that he played — you know Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi — I mean he’s right in that group of creepy souls (laughs). The truth was that he was just the neatest guy, liked to laugh and have a good time.
GB: He used to call the house whenever we’d go and do an appearance together. He’d call everybody on Tuesdays, Monday was a day of rest. We’d all call it Tuesdays with Rory. He’d call us up and talk to Reggie for about five minutes and then he’d talk to me for an hour-and-a-half gossiping. It was great, he loved gossiping. We miss him so bad because to us it’s almost like he’s still with us. We have his picture, the last group picture we took is on our photo table and a wonderful picture of him from the set of Phantasm IV, the Jebediah laboratory set. It’s like he’s still with us. Sometimes I half expect that he’s going to call us again. All of us are still kind of going through a grieving process. It’s really hard when we all get together at conventions because nothing reminds us that he’s not with us anymore than when we’re all together.
HGL: Something that has struck me about the Phantasm series is the continuity. That’s something of a rarity in the genre, but Phantasm is about as linear as they come. How important was it during the process to build on the previous chapter and fight off the temptation to head in another direction?
RB: Yeah, I think basically Landon what it is, I think Don Coscarelli knew what Phantasm actually meant. You can look it up in the dictionary (laughs), or online now I guess, but it’s something that you see that has a a stone reality to you, but it’s not really happening, it’s not really there and it could change at any second. That’s why the Phantasm series is so fantastic if you will, it follows that paradigm of that concept to a tee. One minute I’m here, the next minute I’m out in the desert wandering around or driving the ‘Cuda or running away from balls either in the car or on foot. I’ll just go ahead and say it — it’s a balls out series (chuckles).
HGL: You’ve said that part of what made Phantasm so great was just the myriad ideas coming from so many involved with the project, so let’s talk about what I refer to as the ice cream commando scene from Oblivion. Dipping into the trunk of the Barracuda, prepping for what may have been the final battle and emerging with the ice cream uniform from the original — was that planned and in the script or was that idea concocted shortly before it was filmed?
RB: I think it was scripted. What I do is I read the script, I get conceptually where every scene is at and then I sort of wing it in terms of, I run stuff by Don, ‘Hey, I think I want to do this, I want to do that. Should I say this here? How ’bout if I put something in there?’ I think that’s why Phantasm is such a great series is because Don Coscarelli allows people to be creative. I think that’s the best thing. I’ve worked in some films where I’ve had directors that were just really Steady Eddies and wanted it to be exactly the way it was written and don’t verify or do something else, and that’s more like work (laughs) than being involved in the creative aspect of the project. So that’s what I’ve always loved about the Phantasms and several other films that I’ve made.
HGL: Horror fans get excited about seeing horror icons together on screen, like the aforementioned Campbell and yourself in Bubba Ho-Tep. Give us your take on that, do you get excited to act opposite someone like The King or even other stars you’ve appeared with in other pictures or is a project just a project?
RB: Oh no, it blows my mind. I played the hospital administrator in Bubba Ho-Tep and that was a lot of fun, especially with Bruce. I’m standing in between Bruce and Ossie Davis, and you just try to put yourself in the middle of those two guys (laughs). Think about how much fun it was just jammin’ stuff in between, getting to know each other. I had never obviously worked with Ossie, but I grew up with him as one of the great actors of our time, so it was stunning, it really was. I think that’s probably my favorite celebrity moment (laughs).
GB: There’s two things about that. One was a wonderful moment where Reggie and I went to the set and Ossie was there and they were breaking for lunch and Ossie was headed through a very dark pathway and there were a lot of cables and it was difficult to see. Reggie went to grab Ossie’s elbow to help him and he just kind of jerked his elbow away (laughs), like ‘I don’t need no help, what are you doin’?’ He didn’t say it but the body language was very clear.
RB: It was very clear to me, I’ll tell ya (laughs). When Ossie Davis looks at you like that you just kind of want to shrivel up and disappear.
GB: Another one was Bruce Campbell has a very distinct personality. When he was Elvis, he was Elvis. He’s a method actor and once he is Elvis, he is Elvis from the moment he sits down into the makeup chair until the moment they rip all of the crap off his face. I had a wonderful scene with him where they blew up my trailer (and singed my hair), and he really was Elvis, I felt like I was standing next to the King, baby! (chuckles) Then there was a friend of ours, Chuck Williams and another friend Dan Schweiger, they got to work with him and they said the same thing, it was really like working with Elvis. It was like that vibe, it was like you were standing next to someone special, but the moment he took the makeup off he was back to Bruce (laughs).
HGL: You once said that you like to intellectualize and talk politics among other things, so as a Vietnam veteran and American citizen, I wanted to gauge your perceptions of the political climate we currently find ourselves in.
GB: Yeah, we’re both veterans.
RB: How do I feel about the current administration, let’s say? (chuckles) I didn’t vote for the gent and I’m not looking forward to the next four years politically, we could be in big trouble.
GB: It’s a Phantasm (giggles).
RB: Yeah, we may have a Phantasm moment for real (chuckles). I don’t usually talk a lot of politics, I try and stay away from that, I like to stay with the creative conversations, but you can get creative about politics, as well.
GB: Like Alec Baldwin.
RB: Yeah, look at Alec Baldwin (chuckles). He played a great Trump, didn’t he? I guess that’s where I’m kind of at with what’s going on now. I feel like we’ve got a clown for a president, I won’t go any further than that (laughs).
GB: Also, I’m Native American, so we have some issues in the current situation. I have relatives who have, shall we say, an extended family that are immigrants, so we have some dogs in this fight.
RB: Getting back to the Vietnam thing. I was not for that war, I was against it, but there was this thing called the draft. I had friends who were going to Canada and I wasn’t going to do that, I stand up to what’s in front of me, and so just like anything else I just thought, ‘Soldier? Really? You’re gonna be a soldier? Okay, well then you’re going to be the baddest-ass soldier that ever put on a uniform.’ So I just took that attitude, Landon, and just went for it. I was a head radio operator for an automatic weapons specialty group.
GB: He was around .40-caliber weapons all the time, 40 and .50-caliber weapons and he’s lost some of his hearing because of it. He’s a service connected disabled veteran because of it, on top of which he was exposed to Agent Orange.
RB: Which we didn’t know.
GB: He was at the pinnacle of his musical career because he was part of the Greenwood County Singers, which was a hugely popular group. They had a huge hit called “The New Frankie and Johnny,” they were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and they were performing at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe with Carol Channing when he got his draft notice. His mom and dad drove up from Long Beach and handed him his draft notice. A couple of weeks later he was in basic training at Fort Gordon?
RB: Fort Ord for basic training, then I went to Fort Gordon, Georgia and then to Vietnam. Now when I look at it, Landon, I just go ‘Well, are you happy with who you are, Reg?’ And I am, so that must mean that that experience was worthwhile for me. The main thing I didn’t like being a part of was being the killing machine, but then as citizens, when this country goes to war we’re all part of the killing machine, aren’t we? We don’t really have a say in what’s going on. Anyway, aren’t you glad you asked? (laughs)
HGL: Yes, I am.
GB: There’s a saying that goes ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ We firmly believe in that.
HGL: Thank you for that response, it is truly appreciated. My last question is a little bit lighter in nature. Whether at a convention, a chance encounter on the street or even through fan mail, what is the strangest request you’ve ever received from a Phantasm fan?
GB: Reggie’s always told me that the strangest request was from a woman that asked him to sign her boobies. And then she went and tattooed it (giggles).
RB: Oh, that’s right (laughs).
GB: I believe that was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
RB: Actually, I’ve signed limbs before, like legs, and they’ve tattooed it on there.
GB: It’s a little strange when people send me photos of their appendages and it’s Reggie’s face (chuckles).
RB: Oh yeah, that’s really odd.
GB: And recently, I guess it was about a year ago, maybe two years ago where we were at a convention back east and there was a woodworker and he actually gave us a couple of wood discs and they had both my image and Reggie’s image burned into it and it looks just like the photograph. It’s just really amazing. Our fans, I swear, I know probably every celebrity says this but, we have the best fans. We always say you can’t say Phantasm without saying fan.
Reggie and I had a fall in June of 2016 and Reggie was pretty seriously injured. He broke his back in two places and he was in the hospital for 35 days.
RB: It was like a stunt I didn’t plan.
GB: He did not plan that stunt and I did not sign on for that, it was not in my contract. We fell in our house, and if you saw Ravager you saw that our cabin was in that movie and our stairs are very radical. We did not have rails on our stairs, banisters if you will (chuckles), and we do now. I fell, I landed first and he landed on top of me and he went out. So he was in the hospital for 35 days and we had, I think it was close to 200 cards and letters and I can’t even count how many emails, texts and postings on Facebook to Reggie and me of prayers and support from the fans and colleagues, but mostly the fans. At Christmas we took every card that we received from fans and we sent them Christmas cards and they were all excited, they posted on Facebook. But it’s funny, that’s the relationship we have with our fans because they’re family. P-H, phamily.
HGL: How are the two of you now?
GB: We’re hanging in there. My back is kind of jacked up, but his has apparently healed pretty good. We both still have pain issues, but the VA (Veterans Affairs) has taken good care of us.
RB: By the way, talking about the VA, that’s one of the real positive things that came out of me being drafted (chuckles). I can’t even tell you what’s it like to have the kind of doctors and the kind of care that we get fro the VA. It’s just absolutely amazing. We go in anytime we have a problem or just to get a check-up or whatever, and you just can’t believe it’s so doable in terms of financial and stuff like that. These guys are the best at the VA. So hey, guys!
HGL: Thank you for talking with us, thank you for your service, thank you for all the great movies and we wish you nothing but the best.
GB: Thanks for letting us call in.
RB: Yeah, really had a good time, babe.
“Have You Seen It?” by Reggie B & the Jizz Wailin’ Ya’ Doggies from the Phantasm IV: Oblivion soundtrack