Reggie Bannister is best known as the ice cream vendor extraordinaire from one of horror’s best loved franchises, but his story begins way before he captured the hearts and minds of horror fans around the world. This Long Beach, California native got his big break in show business when he met fledgling director Don Coscarelli in the early 1970s. Coscarelli cast Bannister in his directorial debut, ‘Jim, The World’s Greatest’ and again in his next feature ‘Kenny & Company’. The duo became fast friends and would team for a third time for what would become one of the most memorable and beloved horror films of all time, ‘Phantasm’. In the film, Bannister played “Reggie”, a guitar-playing ice cream man who, over the course of four films, would do battle with the forces of the Tall Man, a fleet of deadly of silver spheres, and other assorted demonic forces.
With a career spanning over forty years, Bannister has solidified himself as a legend in the horror industry and even earned the moniker of “The Hardest Working Man in Horror.” Aside from his successful career as a working actor, he runs a successful production company alongside his wife and is also an accomplished musician who has released six albums and fronts ‘The Reggie Bannister Band.’ As you can see, there is no slowing down the “Regman!”
Knowing that 2009 marks the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Phantasm’, Icon Vs. Icon‘s fearless reporter, Steve Johnson, was able to track down this horror icon for an exclusive interview. In the very in-depth interview, the pair discuss all aspects of Bannister’s very unique career in entertainment, his work with young filmmakers, his take on the state of the horror industry, and of course… all things ‘Phantasm!’
Where did you grow up?
Well, I’m not sure I ever grew up exactly. [laughs] I physically became an adult in Long Beach, California.
How did you first get involved in the film industry?
The thing is, I always knew who I was from the time I could start putting rational thought together. I always knew I was a singer. I knew music was in my future and I always knew I was an actor. From when I was a little kid in grammar school, I started acting in school plays and stuff like that. I stayed in theater arts throughout school all of the way to junior college, as well as music. I was always in choirs and stuff like that. The film thing came along in the 60’s after I was in a group called The Greenwood County Singers. We were very popular and were playing all kinds of places, and doing a lot of TV and stuff. Hullabaloo and the Hollywood Palace, these were all variety shows back in the day. We were working at Harris Club in Nevada and I was about twenty at the time, it was in the 60’s. My parents came up to see me do our thing, it was the ‘Andy Griffith Show,’ a variety show. Anyway, they brought my draft notice up. [laughs] So within a couple weeks I was gone. A year after that I was in Vietnam. I got out of there and got involved in a couple of other musical groups, and then ended up back at city college on the GI Bill studying theater arts. So I just kind of immersed myself in that because I really wasn’t crazy about the guy who was in charge of the music department, so I didn’t get into music at that point. I did a play. Actually it was a series of vignette, kind of short plays, that we did all as one thing. It was called ‘Circle Games.’ I got a call from a guy one morning who had seen me in that play. It turned out to be a guy named Paul Pepperman, who was a producer for Don Coscarelli. Don was shooting his first movie, it was called ‘Story of a Teenager.’ It starred Greg Harrison, who had just come over from Catalina to start his career. Angus Scrimm was in it, only his name was Rory Guy at the time. They needed some comedy relief at this particular point and they wrote this character, and they thought I would do very well at playing it. It was a character named O.D. Silengsly. Of course I had long hair at the time and I had to play this whacked out hang-glider pilot, who takes Greg and his younger brother on this little trip. Anyway, that was my first picture and it was with Don. My second picture was with Don and that was ‘Kenny & Company.’ My third picture was ‘Phantasm.’ Of course I kept playing music all through this period of time. That was mostly the way I made my money. So that’s the way the film thing started.
You are best known for your work in the ‘Phantasm’ series, how did you initially become involved with the project?
I had done Don’s first two pictures with him and we became real fast friends. He obviously saw that I was a chameleon [laughs] and had this range of characterization. One of the things he liked about me personally was that I am a very loyal person. So he wrote this character to be every guy’s guy, every man’s friend, the guy that would throw himself on the flames to the door of hell to save a friend. So we took that character and I took it and we talked it over. I kind of blew it out a little bit and made him kind of a characterization of me. That’s the way Reggie was born in the “Phantasm” series.
What did you think of the script when you first laid your hands on it?
Steve, I never had my hands on it. [laughs] I must tell you that I never really saw a script. It always seemed to me like we were flying by the seat of our pants, which was fun. We shot it over probably two and a half years because Don would rent the equipment on weekends. He’d rent it on a Friday and the deal was the equipment rental places were closed on Sunday, so you would get a free day [laughs] and you’d take it back on Monday. So we shot a lot of weekends and stuff. I would get these odd phone calls. I was actually running a club and playing in this club in Long Beach, and was actually the music director of the club as well. I’d get calls at the club and they’d go “hey, we need to shoot this stuff, we need to come by and get you after the club closes.” I’d go, “that’s two o’clock!” They’d go, “that’s ok, we just got to get you up in the mountains to shoot this scene.” That’s kind of the way the whole shoot went. When I would get to the location where we were shooting, Don would hand me what is called in the industry, sides, which is just the scene itself. I never saw it in the context of a whole story. It was always just sides. We’d talk it over and we’d go, “do you think Reggie would say this here, or how do you feel about this, or how do you feel about that?” We’d just kind of jam ideas. We shot it that way Steve. I honestly never saw a completed script. It was like falling in with your friends and you shoot this movie. That was ‘Phantasm.’
What was the atmosphere on the set like during the filming of ‘Phantasm?’
It was fun. For the most part, working with Don is like working with my brother. It’s pretty cool.
‘Phantasm’ is celebrating it’s thirtieth anniversary this year, when you started that project did you think that we would be sitting here years later discussing the impact that it had on fans around the world?
I probably didn’t flash on the reality of it, but I had a gut feeling about it. On the very last day I shot on ‘Phantasm,’ I had this kind of feeling. What’s funny, at the time acting was just fun and I’d have done it for nothing. I was making money playing music and stuff like that, and we were having a hoot doing this thing. I didn’t really have a deal with anybody in the production company about any money. I hadn’t seen a dime. Nobody had paid me anything. Nobody had told me about any money. A friend of mine who was a music manager at the time said, “Reg, you must be kidding me. You don’t know what you are getting out of this?” He goes, “let me write up something for you and you take it into the guys, they’re your friends right?” I say, “yeah!” He says, “take this in and you guys can sit down, talk about what you’re worth to the production, and stuff like that.” So I took it in and one of the producers had a cow. He just had a cow. He thought I was holding him up. I said, “well you know I’ve got this gut feeling about this picture. What if it goes out and does this money and becomes this big thing and instead of me for Reggie you want to get Jack Nicholson?” I actually said that! [laughs] He goes, “Argggggg!” So finally they came back, we made a deal, and I got my little pittance for doing the part. As far as the whole thing about being known around the world. The internet wasn’t in place at that time, so nobody had any clue how big a genre film could get in the world in term of consciousness, and who’s aware of it, and who is aware of the characters, and who is aware of me. That came as a real surprise. That probably came at a time I was in Baltimore. We were there with Bruce Campbell and a bunch of other great people. It was at Horrorfind. It might have been the second or third year that I was there and I was sitting there with some fans that loved the series and stuff. They were from maybe London, I am not sure, I can’t really recall. We were chatting and having a drink after the show. One of them said, “this is awesome, we’re sitting here, you know you’re an icon right?” I was fairly stunned. I thought about it and I went, “wow, I guess an icon is somebody that is very well known throughout the world for this, or that, or the other thing.” So I went, “wow, I guess that’s true.” [laughs] It really hit me like a ton of bricks to tell you the truth. Honestly, I really do think it’s because of the shared consciousness of the internet that I am in that position and I am totally grateful for everybody who digs anything I do. It’s kind of weird, but I guess that’s it.
It seems that you and the rest of the cast developed a real bond over the course of the films. How often do you all get a chance to see each other and is it as much of a brotherhood between the cast as it appears to us looking in?
I think we see each other more now and are in communication with each other more now than we were shortly after we finished any one given film. For example, this is the thirtieth year and we’ve done several reunion convention appearances. That’s been a lot of fun. We were just in Seattle at Crypticon. It’s a lot of fun when we get together. When we’re putting these things together, we connect with each other quite a bit as well. So yeah, I have seen everybody more in the last year than probably ever before. We do stay in touch.
How much input did you have in developing the character of Reggie?
Don wrote the framework for Reg and pretty much let me go crazy with it. That particular character is close to me. It’s been terrific the last four or five years. I have been able to stretch into characters that are so far away from the Reg character. It’s been gratifying as an actor to be able to play characters with dialects and actual accents and stuff like that. I have been able to do that and that’s really been terrific. Different looks, you know. Cut your hair and bleach your hair out, beards. It’s been a lot of fun as an actor the last few years. The Reg character is pretty close to me and I understand him. He’s like putting on an old comfortable sweater. I just got him. I got him where he’s at now. That’s another nice thing about the Reg character. He grew from the ice cream man until he comes to the point where he says “I got it, we’re gonna stick a stake through his goddamn heart.” At that point there’s a big change in the Reg character and of course in the second picture, he builds the four barrel and all bets are off at that point. He just gets badder and badder as he goes, which is a lot of fun. One of my favorite genres is action and Reg gets a lot of action these days. [laughs] It’s fun.
You did much of your stunt work for the film, what was that like for you? Was that intimidating starting out?
No, actually I am a pretty physical guy and I always have been. I always liked hitting the gym. I did that for years and years. I played basketball. I started playing park ball, which is pretty physical. You never know who you are going to play. They knock you on your ass. There’s no rules or no refs out there. [laughs] So, I played a lot of park basketball for years, and years, and years. In fact, I played a little bit this last year, just fooling around a bit. I live in the mountains now, so I do a lot of hiking around. Everything is either up or down here. [laughs] So I go out on six or seven mile hikes. Go around our lake and come back. I’ll do that three to five times a week. So I am pretty physical, always have been, and always have embraced doing stunts. As a matter of fact, there is one stunt I really wanted to do in ‘Phantasm III.’ It’s when we go into my pad and I’ve got the shotgun. There’s somebody sitting in the chair, it turns around, and its Jody. He says a few things to us and then I see a light in the hallway. I turn around with the gun and for some unknown reason I can’t pull the trigger on the tall man. He’s walking right straight towards me. I’m kind of amazed by him, to actually see him. He lifts an eyebrow or whatever and I go flying up into the wall. When I first read it, I went, “I can do this.” I saw the call sheet and it called for this stunt guy named Gunther to do the stunt. John Stewart was our stunt coordinator on that. I was kind of upset and knew I could do that stunt. I walked up to Don and I said, “Don, we’re not going to need Gunther for this shot, I can do this. I can throw myself really hard into that back wall, just give me some back pads.” Don being the consummate director goes, “Oh, you can do it?” [laughs] It’s always nice to be able to sell the gag with your lead actor with his or her face right in the shot. I said, “no I can do it. If I bend my knees, I can throw it into the wall. I know I can. I can probably about get five feet up the wall and slide down.” He goes, “ok, well if you can convince John Stewart.” I said, “sure, I’ll go talk to John.” So I go talk to John and I go, “John, I can do this stunt man.” He looks at me and goes, “Reg, you’re not doing it.” I went, “John, I can do it. I can throw myself up there. I will sell this gag, I guarantee it.” John says, “you’re not doing it Reg.” Of course I say, “why?” He goes, “well what we’re going do, we’re going to use a shock chord.” A shock chord is when they put a harness on the actor and they cut their wardrobe in the back, and a line comes out from that. The line goes up over a pulley twenty feet high and then you get two big grips on the other end. At the right time they yank you backwards. I have worn the shock chord before in the first picture when I touch the two poles and I get jerked back. I kind of understand how it works. It can be very dangerous. For one thing, if you’re going to land on the floor or you’re on a pad, you can’t throw your arms back or you could break your wrists. The natural thing is to want to throw your arms back when you’re being jerked backwards. It turns out that they wanted me to fly like ten feet up onto the wall or twelve if they could get me that high. I went, “really?” He goes, “yeah!” I say, “well you better get Gunther suited up!” [laughs] Anyway, it was Gunther that did that gag because I wasn’t really ready for that one.
Did you hang on to any movie memorabilia from the film?
Don has the guns. He has the stunt and the hero. The stunt gun doesn’t fire. Usually you have two weapons. You have a weapon that your actor carries all the time and then you have one that gets loaded and goes off. You don’t want that being carried all of the time because something could go wrong. He’s got both of those. I kept a couple pieces of wardrobe here and there that I thought were cool and he let me keep them. No I don’t have anything like that from the actual film. So anyway, Don’s got them.
You wife, Gigi, is a special effect artist. How did you two first meet?
We met right around ’93 or ’94. We had just done ‘Phantasm III.’ As you know, ‘Phantasm II’ and ‘Phantasm III’ were both Universal pictures. They gave ‘Phantasm II’ a pretty nice release, something like 2,200 to 2,300 theaters and pumped it up the week before it was released. That was good. When ‘Phantasm III’ came out, evidently there was some bad blood between the producers at Universal and Don. I think really what it was, was his independent spirit. He is a very independent guy, obviously. [laughs] Anybody that’s connected with “Bubba Ho-Tep” for example is pretty independent, or even the ‘Phantasm’ series, or any of the other stuff that he’s done. Evidently there was something going on, some politics or whatever. They wouldn’t release ‘Phantasm III’ theatrically, even though MCA Home Video, which was their home video subsidiary, wanted a theatrical release. As a matter of fact, they put up about 25,000 dollars to take the film out on a test run and put it in theaters unannounced, and see how it did, and do questionnaires afterwards. It did very, very, well. I was upset because it wasn’t going to get a theatrical and they were just sticks in the mud about it. I was upset. I thought if it is going to go out just as a video, it’s just going to show up on shelves in video stores around the country and no one is going to know it is there. I thought, well I’ve got to get out and talk about this picture because I think this picture is great. I was talking to a friend of mine one day, Michael Berryman. I was telling Michael about this and how pissed off I was. He goes, “you know what, I have been working with these two gals who have this group of actors that they take out and they do live events and do conventions and stuff, like sci-fi and horror conventions. You could get out and talk about this movie.” I went, “wow, that’s really cool!” He goes, “I tell you what, here’s the number of one of the gals. Her name is Gigi.” He gave me her number. I immediately called her and I said, “You don’t know me, my name is Reggie Bannister and I just did this movie called ‘Phantasm,’ blah, blah, blah.” I want to get out and talk about it. Can I be a part of your group of actors that goes out and talks about it?” She goes, “oh yeah!” I say, “ok, just as a precursor to the whole thing, they are going to show ‘Phantasm’ at the Sci-Fi and Horror Academy this weekend, would you like to meet me there and we can watch it together, and you can see what I am talking about?” So I met her and her partner at the time. Their company was called Production Magic. So we hit it off. I liked what they were doing and I wanted to help them with it because I am kind of an organizer myself. So I got involved in organizing these events with them and showing up and appearing at them. All kinds of actors and stuff would show up. Long story short, we stayed in communication from a business standpoint and then several years later that we hooked up as a couple. The other partner dropped out of the relationship and she and I started, incorporated here in the State of California, Production Magic, Inc. So that’s what we do now. We have certain production services that we can provide. We are a sweat equity production company. I do my acting and my music. We do live events. We just did a live event here in our small mountain community over the 4th of July weekend, a three day event, that brought about 10,000 people up here. My band flew in from Pittsburgh and we played all three days. It was a lot of work for us, but it was a lot of fun. So, we do that as well. We’re just kind of involved in making things happen.
You work with many film students and up-and-coming filmmakers. What is it like for you to work alongside these folks?
It’s been a mixed bag Steve. There’s a lot of young filmmakers or first time filmmakers and stuff. If they’re fortunate enough to come up with the money to make a film and they have a great script, they have a great story, they have three dimensional characters. If they have the money to do it and they send me the script, I look at it and if I see myself in the character that they see me in, we start talking. Then we get our financial thing figured out. A lot of times we figure Gigi into the factor because if they don’t have a lot of money, we can do a little package deal. Here’s Reg and Gigi, he’ll do the acting and I’ve even helped her with special effects. I’ve got a couple of special effects credits actually. I’d finish off my character in five days or whatever and then she’d be there for the rest of the shoot, so I’d help her and actually direct the special effects scenes and make sure that the safety was taken care of. We’re very indie minded people. The mixed bag comes in with the director. The director is god, but there are times when god needs to listen to man. [laughs] Sometimes young directors don’t want to listen to me, who has been doing this for forty years. Sometimes they won’t listen. We’ve had one pretty bad experience with one young director, well actually a couple. One of them had to do with the shoot at the time. They didn’t understand rules of the game. You can’t work an actor for sixteen hours, give them a two hour turn around, and expect them to come back and do their deal. That’s just not right. No matter what I could say to this one young director, he just kept doing stuff like that. I actually walked off the set one time and I was the assistant director as well. These are just mistakes of never having done it before and not having your ego under control to the point where you can listen to somebody that may know what they are talking about.
Another time, we had a piece that we really loved and became associate producers on it. I also assisted the direction of that. A young, first time filmmaker. These guys are nice guys by the way. There was nothing personal in any this. They just couldn’t get it somehow. Another problem is when you get a cut back of the film and it doesn’t even look like the film you shot because the guy doesn’t know how to edit, the sound sucks, or whatever. There’s been a few of those experiences. On the other hand, there’s been experiences with young first time directors where you could see their heart was in the right place. They listened to us and they really wanted the best project they could create. I have faith in those projects, that they will find something. We did a picture in 2004 or something called ‘Song of the Dead.’ It is just a wacky zombie musical. I thought, god this is great, and oh by the way, I get to play the President of the United States. I get to sing the President of the United States. So we did it and I thought this is a really fun project. They sent me the project and it was cut together well. The acting was pretty much as I expected it to be, which really kind of fit the whole atmosphere of the piece. The cabin in the woods, everybody meets, and now the zombies want to eat you, but they’re singing and they’ve got choreography. At the time I thought this was a great little piece and I sure hope they get something and it gets distributed somewhere. They showed it to Don Coscarelli and he loved it. As you probably know, a company called Monarch Pictures picked that up this year and gave it a limited theatrical release in the mid-west and south. It went to DVD first in Europe and now I think it is on DVD here. That’s a little picture that was a great joy to make with first time filmmakers and it went out and found its little niche. I think everybody should watch it personally. [laughs] It depends on who you are working with and if they can accept criticism and get into creative jams with you without thinking that it is criticism or feeling like you are putting them down or something. If they are open, its a really great experience. I did one with a guy named Duane Stinnett called ‘Gangs of the Dead.’ It was a lot of fun man. Duane was great to work with. This little picture that he spent everything he had, but it really in the end wasn’t much money, has been on cable for like four years. Unbelievable! It was on pay per view for a year and a half and now it has started showing up on regular cable, Sci-Fi or whatever is going on. So there’s and opportunity and that’s what gives you the faith to want to go out and stretch into these young indie, first time filmmakers. Every once in a while man, it just goes bam! You can really feel proud of it and you feel proud for them. We still do it and we aren’t going to stop doing it. I’m going to work on a trailer for a thing that I read three years ago.
My Fed Ex guy, [laughs] who delivers to my place here in the mountains said “hey, me and some friends wrote this script.” I read it and it is really good. It’s called ‘Floaters.’ It’s about out of body experience and stuff like that. They wanted to come and meet with me to get my take on it. I gave them my take on it, my positive criticism, and what it would take to get it off the ground. Don’t you know that just today, Danny came to my door and he didn’t have any Fed Ex with him. He wanted to talk to me because they got up some money and they want to shoot a two to three minute trailer. They want me involved in it. It’s exciting to think that after all of these years they’re still on it. These are like hounds from hell. Independent filmmakers, the hounds of hell. They do not give up and this is a perfect example. So we are probably going to shoot that in August and I am looking forward to it. I am talking to some other guys right now that are young, good, independent filmmakers. We’re going to be shooting probably between September and maybe August. In the spring and summer of next year we’re going to be shooting probably three films. Two with this one group of young filmmakers and one with another group. It’s a joy. In the end, it’s a joy. It’s a mixed bag sometimes, but out of all of the experiences I have had with first time filmmakers, there’s only been a couple that I was kind of disappointed in the end result.
You mentioned special effects. Which do you prefer, old school make-up and blood or CG?
It all depends really. I prefer in camera stuff. If you go back to “Phantasm,” how do you make this ball fly through the air without going CGI. If you recall in the first picture, there’s this one shot of the ball flying down a mausoleum hallway. You see the ball and then you see the hallway. You can see pretty much that the ball is standing still and the hallway is moving. [laughs] The first CGI was really pretty much superimposition, where they would superimpose an image on another image, or stop motion animation like ‘King Kong,’ ‘Mighty Joe Young,’ or ‘Godzilla.’ Name a monster movie. That was a stop shot thing that they did with these actual little model creatures. For the most part, the ‘Phantasm’ stuff has been in camera. The spheres and anything that goes on. In part IV I am in the motel room and the sphere comes and nails my hand to the wall. I grab the tuning fork and I hit it and I bring it up to the sphere and it explodes in my hand. They actually put a charge in my hand and it was a little too heavy. I actually burned my hand on that one, but it looked dynamite in camera. [laughs] Having said that, in “Phantasm IV” as well, there’s a scene up front in the montage where you see spheres coming around a corner of the mausoleum. That was CGI. I found that when I was working on a music video for my album “Love That’s Gone.” We were up in a studio in Orange County, California and it was a studio that had a lot of different things going on it it. I was in a music section of the studio where I could do film and music editing. So, we were working on the ‘Love That’s Gone’ video and somebody came up and said there’s a guy downstairs that’s a big fan of ‘Phantasm’ and would really love to meet you and would really love to show you something. So I went downstairs and it was this guy who worked in the CGI shop downstairs. So I met him and he showed me this rough draft of these spheres coming around the corner of the mausoleum walls and coming right into the camera. I went, “wow! that’s really cool!” He goes, “oh really, you like it?” I go, “yeah, that’s really bitchin’!” Fast forward a little bit. I went to work on some ADR with Don or just to go see some of the editing stuff he put together and that was in Santa Monica, just outside of the airport. I was watching some stuff and I said, “by the way Don, we found a guy that does really great CGI. He’s a fan and he did the sphere and stuff. He showed us this little clip and it’s really bitchin’.” He goes, “really?” I go, “yeah, do you want to talk to him?” He goes, “awwww man, we’re a little over budget and I don’t have any money.” Gigi goes, “Don, do you want the spheres or not?” Oh, I know what he did! The guy burned me a tape. We showed it to Don and Don went, “wow! that’s really cool!” Gigi goes, “Don, do you want it or not?” He goes, “well yeah!” She immediately called the shop and they said, “we can make some sort of a deal, what can you guys come up with?” It wasn’t much, but we got it. So that CGI worked really well. CGI has come a long, long way and there’s certain times when CGI can really work well. For the most part, I love to see it happen in camera. I hate to keep bending your ear like this, but it’s an exciting aspect of film making. In camera gags, CGI gags, or whatever. In ‘Phantasm’ for example, Kerry Prior did the spheres. He took care of the spheres in ‘Phantasm III’ and ‘Phantasm IV’. He’s very, very creative. He also did the scarabs in “Bubba Ho-Tep.” He’s a very terrific guy to work with and a very nice guy. Like I was mentioning the superimposition of a sphere on a wall that’s going past in the background, the sphere just kind of hanging there and you can see that. Instead of doing something like that when you want to see the sphere flying down the hallway and you see the mausoleum wall with the crypts in the background and it’s moving forward, towards somebody. In ‘Phantasm IV’, he built this clear plastic frame that attached to the camera lens. There was a half a sphere that fit into that frame, right in front of the camera lens. So you turn the camera towards the wall of the mausoleum and then you get about three big grips pushing this dolly while you’re burning film. You see the sphere physically, in the camera, moving down the hallway. Then he had a little radio controlled motor on it and at a certain point Don would go “ok, blades!” This thing is flying down the hallway, seemingly on its own because it is in clear plexiglas and all of a sudden you see the blades go boom! You see that! In camera! Go back to ‘Phantasm IV’ and you’ll see it. It was either III or IV, I can’t remember. In camera stuff is always preferable if you can do it and if you can’t do it, CGI has gotten to the point where it is acceptable in my estimation.
What is your feeling on this latest trend in Hollywood of remaking movies and how do you feel about the modern day horror film?
Lets go to the beginning. One of the first films that was ever shot was ‘Nosferatu,’ which was 1909 or 1912, somewhere in there. It’s a vampire film. Horror was really a foundational genre and concept in film making, period. In the 30’s and 40’s, Universal Studios was going down the tubes. What saved their ass? Horror. ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein,’ they captured the imagination of the world, that these creatures could actually exist and you could see them on the screen. Wow! How cool is that! Saved Universal’s ass! Having said that, the big studios have always treated horror like a stepchild. Like it wasn’t really a legitimate genre or like it wasn’t really legitimate pictures. They can’t deny how much money a particular franchise has made. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ ‘The Hills Have Eyes,’ whatever. Name something that has been remade. They can’t deny that and at the same time they understand a particular truth. With every decade you have new, young consciousness that has never seen the original of almost anything. So their idea is that if the original stone in the quiet pool created this kind of a ripple effect and made this kind of money, let’s take that original stone and put some kids in it and capture this new audience and then we’ll start off with more sequels from there.
From a business standpoint it’s pretty clever. From an artistic standpoint, it stinks. From a creative standpoint, it stinks. Steve, I am reading scripts. As I mentioned, there’s three films that I am looking at that are going to shoot between September and next spring. I tell you man, these scripts are really good. One of them is almost sci-fi, but it has its little horrific spin on it and it’s so twisted. In terms of the characters, they’re three dimensional, it causes the person that’s seeing this go down to have a reaction if a character gets killed. Either you go, “yeah!” or you go, “awww man, they killed that character!” You care about the characters and you wonder where they’re going and how this story is spinning out. This one is called ‘Give War A Chance.’ [laughs] I looked at the title and went, “ok” and then I read it and went, “this is a great fucking script!” Another one from the same guys is called “After Dark.” It’s also a great, dark, twisted script with three dimensional characters. I am really looking forward to working on these projects because they are so good. The studios will spend millions and millions of dollars on remakes, rehashes of old stories and ignore great scripts like I am reading and projects that I am involved in. There’s one that I think is going to be out this year called ‘Walking Distance.’ We shot it last year. Mel House was the writer/director. He’s a terrific creative mind and a really terrific director. It’s just a whacked out script. It gets you involved. The characters are so diverse and it leads you into a story where you are sitting there at the end going, “I don’t know man, what did I just go through?” and wondering if it could actually happen or if it isn’t happening somewhere in the world. I think it is going to be a great film. I have seen three trailers for it and it just kicks ass. There’s all this great stuff out there, why aren’t the studios spending millions of dollars on that? Again, it goes back to the history of the genre. They treat it like it’s not legitimate, it’s not mainstream. I think it is mainstream because everybody gets scared right? Everybody likes a good scream on a roller coaster. Everybody has fun doing it, they pay money to do it. In terms of remakes, that’s my impression and that’s my opinion of what’s going on.
‘Phantasm V’ is obviously on the minds of all the fans of the series. What can you tell us about that?
Thirty years into the franchise, we feel positive about some stuff that has been thrown around today. There has been talk of possibly doing something this year with the series. That would be really great. At this point, I really have nothing to report. We would love to give it a send up and I think we need to do it sooner than later, for some obvious reasons. I can’t really report on anything today.
What can fans your fans catch you in next?
I don’t have a release date for the things that are coming up this year. There are several things coming up. ‘Walking Distance’ is going to get a release sometime either this year or early next year. There’s another picture called ‘Satan Hates You.’ Angus is in that as well. Larry Fessenden is in it. Michael Berryman is in it. A lot of good people are in it. I understand that it is going to be released sometime in the first quarter of next year. There’s another “mainstream” picture that we shot up here where I live, up in the mountains, called ‘Small Town Saturday Night.’ I am in that, but we also provided a lot of production services for that project. We found all of the locations. There were over thirty locations, which for a low budget picture is a lot of moving around. Obviously, we found them at a real decent price or they wouldn’t be able to afford thirty plus locations. We contributed a lot to the production. Like I said, I am in it. Gigi has a little cameo in it as a matter of fact. The project features a lot of good actors. John Hawkes, Chris Pine, Robert Pine, Lin Shaye are in it. Of course Chris is now Captain Kirk. We just had a cast and crew screening on that picture about two months ago. I was talking to Chris and I went, “dude, are you having people jumping out of bushes with cameras?” and he goes, “yeah.” I go, “well, I really kind of like my level of celebrity dude. I said, “I live in a small mountain community and everybody kind of knows me, but nobody is all over me and I don’t have to live in a compound or put walls up all around me, but you may want to buy an island somewhere in the Bermudas. He goes, “I know man.” Chris is a very fine actor and I hope now that he is Captain Kirk, people go back and look at some of the other stuff he has done. He was in “Smokin’ Aces.” He was great in ‘Smokin’ Aces.’ He was in ‘Just My Luck,’ the Lindsay Lohan movie. He was great in that. For a young guy, he embraces character parts. I think it is because of the way he was brought up with his dad and his dad has always been a character actor. He’s a terrific actor and he has his head really screwed on tight, which made me feel good because he was all of a sudden catapulted into this part and into this kind of situation that he is now dealing with. I was a little concerned about it, but after talking to him at this cast and crew screening, he’s good for it. He’ll do great at whatever he does. I would think that that would find distribution sometime probably sooner than later, just due to the cast. There’s another one called ‘Text’ that I think would find distribution fairly soon.
I did a really wacky picture with Joe Estevez. Joe and I are good friends and when we get together on camera, it’s a pretty special time. It was called ‘Doctor Spine.’ It’s just a wacky story about a guy who fixes backs and how he ends up being a serial killer. Joe and I exist in his mind. I exist as a character that he read about when he was a boy in an adventure series. I wear an eye patch and I have an English accent. I am this adventurous guy. Joe plays his deceased father who is also a serial killer. I don’t want to tell you too much about it because hopefully it will get out and everybody will have fun with it and not know too much about it before they go into the theater. It’s funny stuff. So yeah, I’ve got some stuff that’s kind of in the tube. This year or early next year should be happening. There’s another thing I did this year for Mary Lambert from ‘Pet Sematary’ and Elizabeth Stanley, who is the producer. She’s got this thing called ‘The Dark Path Chronicles’ already on the internet. They are really smart, young vampire story kind of things put to music. I don’t think there is any one that is more than about five or six minutes. They’re really kind of like vampire music video things. Very smart story. She wanted to expand it into more like thirty minute segments and/or possible shoot a feature on it. So I did about a fifteen or twenty minute segment with her. My character organizes the vampires in L.A. I am kind of like the godfather of the vampires, which was a fun part because I’ve never got to play a vampire. She really let me have my way with him. So that was a lot of fun. You can look for that. You can go see what she’s already got up over on fearnet.com.
We’ve seen you at a lot of conventions. Do you enjoy getting out and meeting your fans?
Yeah! Like I said, that all really started in ’93 or ’94 when I met Gigi. What I said about ‘Phantasm III’ started to become the rule of law with horror films. Unless the studios were behind them and spent millions and millions of dollars on them, they just kind of showed up. You didn’t hear about them, unless it is like ‘The Orphan.’ They’re really promoting that now and I am sure there was a lot of money spent on that, and there was a big studio behind that. That’s why it’s out there. I’ll go and see it and we can talk about it later. [laughs] There’s a lot more stuff that goes direct to video and a lot of stuff I have done over the years has been in that bag. ‘Song of the Dead’ got a limited theatrical release. ‘Gangs of the Dead’ has been all over cable. ‘Fallen Angel’ got a limited theatrical release and has been on cable. Most of everything just ends up on video store shelves or on Amazon. Mostly on the internet is where people get their stuff now. You have to get out there and talk about it or people are not going to know about it. They’re just not. So, I am dedicated to that. I am an unabashed p.r. guy for my own stuff because I think it is good stuff and if I didn’t think it was good stuff, I wouldn’t talk about it. The conventions are not only opportunities for me to talk about the stuff that’s out there that I am involved in, it’s also an opportunity for me to meet the fans. Like I said before about the icon trip. If somebody loves my stuff so much that they’ll pay to come and see me at a convention, then I want to sit and talk to them. I treat everybody like family and they dig that. So they’re going to go out when I tell them I’ve got this going on and I’ve got this going on, they’re going to check it out. So I am just kind of like a one man p.r. machine.
How did music first come into your life?
Like I said before, I always knew I was going to be a musician and an actor. I just always knew. Having said that, I have the same emotions as every normal human being. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to have love in my life. I just wanted all of that. I grew up with “Leave it to Beaver” and stuff like that. [laughs] I always knew that that was going to happen too. If you look at where I started year-wise in film and how much film I did at certain times, you’ll see that there are periods of time where I couldn’t do a lot of films. I couldn’t get myself out there to audition or do a lot of stuff like that because I had to take care of my family. I had to raise my children and stuff like that. So, I had to do a lot of day jobs. I did everything from drive a taxi in Long Beach to being a mason’s tender in Orange County area of California. Mason’s tender by the way is a brutal job. I was in sales and marketing for night reuters newspapers for several years. I was a shipping manager in charge of a shipping department for a high end furniture store for a lot of years. Having said that, music has been a constant thread through my life. For one thing, it was the thing that made me a lot of money early on in my life. All of the way through college I was in musical groups. I was in choirs. We did everything from classic Bach and Beethoven, to gospel, to Americana. At about fifteen years old I picked up a guitar and learned how to play guitar to accompany myself. I was a singer, but I always figured if I wanted to sing something that somebody didn’t know, that would be a drag. I wouldn’t be able to do it, so I knew I had to defend my voice. So, I picked up guitar. It was totally out of self defense.
I auditioned for a group called The Young Americans shortly after I picked up guitar and knew about three chords. I was a founding member of The Young Americans. We went out and I did that for probably a year. We went out and did TV stuff and live appearances. We did a Bing Crosby special back in ’62, I guess. I started playing folk clubs around Long Beach and started making a few bucks doing that because The Young Americans didn’t really pay anything. It was kind of a volunteer thing, you just showed up and did your deal. Then a friend of mine that I was playing music with, Tom Robbins, who’s nephew is Tim Robbins, knew some guys that I had always admired and I had seen in the coffee house circuit. A couple of guys named Carson and Van Dyke Parks. They were called the Steeltown Two. I always loved them and never really knew them that well, but Tom knew them pretty well. They were starting a group for a record company. They already had the guarantee that if they put this large folk group together because the Christy Minstrels had just come out and had a very popular start to their career. Cap Records in New York wanted to put a big folk group together and they trusted this guy named Terry Gilkyson. He used to write music for Disney. He was a folk writer. They trusted him and he trusted Carson and Van Dyke to put a group together from L.A. They put out a very specific call through certain people that they knew. One of them was Tom. They wanted to get people in to look at this music and sing it down and see how they felt about this guy, that guy, or that guy. I had been in choir so I could read music pretty well. They liked me. They liked my voice. I loved them. They liked Tom. So Tom and I became founding members of The Greenwood County Singers. We did an album within a couple of weeks of deciding who was going to be in the group. There were six of us. There were a couple of chicks and four guys. We did a piece of music called “The New Frankie and Johnny,” which was a ragtime piece that a guy who used to illustrate for Playboy magazine wrote with another guy named Bob Gibson. We put that song on the album and released it as a single and it was a big hit. It went to like number four on the Billboard Top 10.
One album followed another and we ended up doing four albums between ’63 and ’66. We did a lot of TV. We did the Hollywood Palace with George Burns and Wayne Newton and a bunch of other people. We did a lot of local TV. We worked with Stevie Wonder. We did some Lake Tahoe stuff at the casinos. We went on tour with Robert Goulet. We did a Red Skeleton show. We did a Hullabaloo with Sonny and Cher and The Rolling Stones and a bunch of other people there. It was a very successful group. I made a lot of money with those guys, just in appearance money. Steve Martin used to open for us. He played banjo and stuff. Jen Denver used to open for us. I made a lot of money on music. I got through the draft situation, came back, and I was in a group called Stone Country. Steve Young was in that group. He wrote some stuff for The Eagles. Before I got drafted, I met Steve Stills through Van Dyke Parks and we were thinking about putting a group together. Van Dyke Parks wrote a bunch of stuff for the Beach Boys and was involved in Brian Wilson’s last album. For a little color, when I was in The Greenwoods we used to party with The Righteous Brothers, Jackie DeShannon, The Byrds, and stuff like that. It was a lot of fun. Anyway, back to Stone Country. I was them for about a year or so. We worked with Carol Channing in Vegas and we did some more TV. There were a lot of variety shows in those years. A friend of mine named Jim Gallagher, who I had been in the army with, was a great guitar player. We had a little group in the army. We had been playing together with some others guys and we sounded really good. I was writing all of the music for them. Jim said he knew a guy up in Utah, up in Salt Lake City. He called and said he was a “wealthy hippie.” [laughs] This guy had told James that if you run into a bunch of guys in L.A. and you feel good about the group, come up here and I’ll outfit you, meaning that he would pay for all of the amps and all of the gear and equipment. So we moved up to Salt Lake City and started a group called Jamie Rush. We played at a place called The Old Mill just outside of Salt Lake City. It was a really neat, big, giant place. It had been an old logging mill. So we became the band for the old mill. We worked there for about a year. We opened for The Animals there. I left there, that’s when I came back to Long Beach. The group fell apart. I was very disappointed. I fell into the theater thing, but I was still playing. I played in a group called The Good Band. We called it The Good Band because it was so damn good we didn’t know what else to call it. I wrote pretty much most of the music for that as well. Then I fell into a thing with a guy named Dennis DeCastro, who is one of the most powerful singer/songwriters I have ever known. We became DeCastro and Bannister. We were working steady in the Long Beach area. We were working like four to five nights a week and then we would do concerts sometimes on the side. Get a drummer and bass player and do concerts. As a duo, we were really powerful. We did a concert at the Shrine Auditorium with Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly. Real rich musical history. It’s funny because everyone knows me from the film thing, but I’ve worked with icons in music. Nobody really is kind of hip to that.
How did you first assemble The Reggie Bannister Band?
That was kind of a trip. All of my bands have been a trip. It was like, talk to a friend and they would go, “hey man, I know this guy that’s really, really good and I think you guys would sound good together.” All of a sudden then I had The Good Band. With Dennis DeCastro, I was running this music club in Long Beach down in Belmont Shore. It was called the West Coast Bodega. This was in the 70’s. I had guys like Vince Gill coming in on the open mic nights, then I’d hire him to come in during the rest of the week. I’d be playing there as well. Vince was living in Huntington Beach or Hermosa Beach or something. He was just kind of starting to find himself and figure out who he was. Gene Taylor from Canned Heat would come in and bang on the keyboards. Steve Gillette would come in. That’s the kind of atmosphere it was. There was another little bar just a few doors down. I think it was called the Bayshore Saloon. Somebody said, “hey man, you gotta go see this guy Dennis DeCastro. He’s fucking great!” I went, “ok.” So I would take a break and I would run down to the Bayshore Saloon. I’d sit there and listen to Dennis and kind of sing with him from my stool at the bar, and realized that we would sound great together. I approached him and we started DeCastro and Bannister, which lasted for like four years. This is all by way of saying, I’m sitting on my deck one day in 2004, 2005, 2006. Somewhere in there. [laughs] I come out here in the summer to study scripts. I was looking at a script. I was looking at a character and I was working it, and stuff like that. I had the door open to the house. Our office is upstairs and Gigi comes down the stairs and says, “hey Reg!” I go, “yeah, yeah.” She goes, “I just had this weird phone call. It’s this guy in Pittsburgh and his name is Scarfo.” I go, ok.” She goes, “he’d like you to come out to Pittsburgh. He has a music bar called The Smiling Moose in Pittsburgh. He’d like you to come out this October. He’s a drummer and he’s got a bunch of musician friends. He’d like you to come out and play and get to know ya. He’ll pay for you to come out and if you want to make a few bucks on the side, you can sell some merch and stuff like that.” I went, “what did you say his name was?” She goes, “Scarfo.” I said, “what did you say the name of the club was.” She goes, “The Smiling Moose.” I said, “call him and work it out!” [laughs] I couldn’t resist. I think I first asked her if we had anything going on during that weekend or whatever. So I went out there and I met Mike Scarfo. He’s a great guy and a great drummer. He comes out of metal and scatter-punk and stuff like that. Then I met one of his friends who plays bass and came out of the same bag, Paul Miser. We got together and played. I ran down some of the stuff that I like to play and they dug it. So it just kind of happened like that Steve. It was just kind of a weird experience, like all of my putting band together experiences are. We just decided to call it the Reggie Bannister Band. It seemed simple and to the point. Of course they were into scatter-punk and metal, so I decided to do an acoustic album with them. [laughs] It turned out great. So the “Naked Truth” was born. I just went crazy with the album. I did an eight panel digipak. I decided to do a DVD as well since I had the eight panel digipak. The DVD has “Love That’s Gone,” the video I was telling you about. The buffalo video. It is very tough to watch by the way, but everybody needs to see it because it’s a slaughter going on in Montana of the buffalo or the American bison. So that’s on the DVD. Some behind the scenes stuff is on the DVD. It’s really good stuff. If anybody wants to check it out, they can check it out on cdbaby.com. Both of my albums are on cdbaby.
For those who might not have had the chance to check out your music, how would you best describe it?
In one word. It’s eclectic. I have been doing this, it’s been my life for a long time. I have been influenced by everything that’s happened since we did Bach. That guy died 360 years ago or something like that, but I was influenced by that. The folk thing influenced me incredibly. That was my first really professional experience in music. That turned into more like a folk rock, which kind of went into country rock. You get into The Eagles, then you get into other facets of that and various artists. There’s various things that I have really enjoyed throughout. I had a lot of fun with funk at one point. On my first album, I’ve got a song called “She Does It Real Good,” that’s just funky as hell. Some of this stuff is making it’s way into the movies that I have been doing. There’s a movie called ‘The Quiet Ones'” that they’re still in post on. There’s a couple of my tunes that they wanted in that. I mentioned ‘Text.’ There’s a couple of my tunes that they wanted in that. So I’d say it’s eclectic. The “Naked Truth” is really all acoustic, but it get very rocky and folky. Most of the songs on both of my albums is stuff that I wrote. I’ve got a song on my first album and a song on my second album that Dennis DeCastro wrote. I just love his stuff. There’s a song on my second album called ‘Love at the Five and Dime.’ It’s a Nanci Griffith song. This artist named Kathy Mattea had a hit on it in ’93. It’s just a great story. It’s kind of a folk, country thing. If you go to cdbaby.com, you can listen to snippets of stuff. You can buy downloads of stuff or you can by albums themselves. You can see where my head is at musically. It’s a rich musical history that I have drawn from and that’s what I write. I think people will dig it.
What is the typical songwriting process like for you?
I don’t really have a typical songwriting process, unless I am constrained to compose something for a film. If that’s the case, I sit down and I submerge myself in the story. If I am going to portray a particular character, like a lead character in a film, I will tune into their personality or their character quality. I just let it happen. I start playing and I just let it happen. I get a concept and then I just start playing. The music usually makes the words happen. Once I am into it, it happens really fast.
You are a busy man, how often do you get to perform live?
That’s a trip. With my band, it hard because we are almost bi-coastal. They came out for my 4th of July thing. We try and offer up the band when we are dealing with a convention or a film festival. For example, I had the band in Seattle for Crypticon. That was great. We played at Fango last year in L.A. That was great. So anytime I have a live appearance, we offer up the band. The next time we play is not going to be until The Eerie Horror Film Festival in Pennsylvania.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to those who are just starting out and considering making a career in the music industry?
The industry has changed a great deal. I mean, a great deal. The big distributors are not all that they used to be because of the internet. You can go on and get downloads for very little money. You can sell the album online. You can give it away. Some of the larger groups now are just giving it away. They go on tour and make their money on tour. If you are a musician, you are going to be a musician from the time you are born, to the time you die. It’s on you, it’s like a disease. [laughs] You’re not going to escape it. You just gotta be ready for the long haul. So what you need to really do is just keep your head down and create your music and play it. Every opportunity you get to play it in front of somebody, do it! Do it! At some point you’ll look up and you’ll have a body of work and your life will have been what it’s been. [laughs] Either you’ll be playing to thousands of people in a giant arena or you’ll be playing in small clubs and bars. It really almost doesn’t matter because it’s a god given talent and you don’t have a choice in the thing. That’s where I am at musically and acting wise. If you go out and get a MBA because you just totally fucking love business, I would give you the same advice. Keep your head down, get your experience, keep doing it. Hopefully you’ll wake up and you’ll look up and you’ll be in a spot that really turns you on and really is a payback for all you’ve done for whatever it is that you’re into.
Is there anything else you want to add or say to your fans?
Just hang in there and keep your fingers crossed for another ‘Phantasm’ episode, if we can call them episodes. They are kind of like earthquakes, they show up when you least expect them. [laughs] Keep your eye out for that. Keep an eye out for my stuff. If you need to know what I am doing, imdb.com is a pretty good source. There’s some stuff on there that’s bullshit. There’s stuff on my page that Gigi and I both have tried to get rid of to no avail. For the most part, ninety eight percent is real stuff and keep an eye out for that stuff. Keep looking for me. I am out there working, doing it. Don’t be afraid to search out my stuff on the internet. That’s the best way to find me. Look for these releases. Look for ‘Small Town Saturday Night.’ Look for ‘Walking Distance,’ ‘Satan Hates You.’ These things are going to be coming at you and I want you to see them if you dig what I do.
Thanks for your time, Reggie! All the best to you!
For all the latest information on all things Reggie Bannister, visit his official website at www.reggiebannister.com.
Don’t forget to swing by the official site of the Phantasm franchise at www.phantasm.com.