For this entry of Phantom Limbs, we’ll be taking another trip into the Tall Man’s dimension to dig up details on the unproduced follow-up issues to XMachina’s Phantasm: Overminds, an ambitious comic book based on Don Coscarelli’s iconic horror film series that sadly never made it beyond its debut issue.

On hand to discuss this essential but nigh forgotten extension to the film franchise is writer Stephen Romano of Eibon Press fame, who reveals the comic’s origins, the story it was meant to tell over the course of its intended four issues, and why it never made it past its inaugural outing. In addition, Romano reveals details behind Phantasm Forever, the planned fifth Phantasm film whose story was rooted in that original comic book tale.

“What happened with me, like with most people, is that I saw Phantasm at a relatively early age,” Mr. Romano begins. “It was one of those movies that really knocked me on my ass. You know, you’ll hear a lot of creative professionals, especially in the horror business, telling you that. Or even that a movie like [Coscarelli’s] Beastmaster was heavily influencing on them, or heavily formative on them. We all just loved that movie. So I was a fan carrying that around with me for years.”

Phantasm’s silver sphere attacks

At the beginning stages of his professional career, Romano found himself organizing events for the Alamo Drafthouse alongside founder Tim League. Among those events was a Phantasm film festival, which was originally intended to feature franchise star Reggie Bannister. However, Bannister would boost the event’s visibility considerably when he invited along another key creative from the film series. “I knew Reggie Bannister,” Romano explains. “We invited Reggie to come and be a part of our Phantasm film festival. He called up Don Coscarelli and said, ‘Hey, you should talk to this Romano guy. He’s really crazy, and he’s got a lot of cool ideas. Let’s do this film festival.’ So I had Don as my guest for a long weekend, when we showed all four Phantasm films. They were all 35 millimeter release prints, which Don brought and let us use.”

Once the festival concluded, Romano approached the filmmaker with three television scripts based on the Phantasm films. “I had heard that Don might want to do a TV show, and I knew he owned the rights. So while I was organizing the festival, I wrote these crazy scripts … and I put those in front of Don. At first, he didn’t want to read them because he’s wary of anything fan-generated, just like anybody should be in this world. But he was really nice. I finally got him to read them when I said, ‘Look, if you don’t wanna make it as a TV show or, or even a movie, why don’t we do it as a comic book?’ I did the entire program guide for the Phantasm film festival in a comic book format, like a mini-comic of the first Phantasm movie. Don really liked all that.

“So that’s what I did. I gave those to him and he took ’em away and he really liked them. He called me back and said, ‘Okay, what would it take to do this comic book series?’ And I said, ‘Well, this is what it would take, this is how much money we would need to print them.’ He wanted to do it himself. He didn’t want to go through anybody else, he wanted to own it all and have complete control over how it was going to be sold.”

As Coscarelli went off to film Bubba Ho-Tep, Romano got to work on the Phantasm comic book, pulling ideas from his original television scripts while boosting the original story’s scope. “It was a comic book, and suddenly it was an unlimited budget. We could do whatever we wanted. I thought, ‘Well, let’s just go crazy and do something really insane and set it in some post-apocalyptic future with a lot of really crazy new ideas.’”

Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man in ‘Phantasm’ (1979)

Romano notes that he was more drawn to the film series’ bizarre dream logic, and attempted to tap into that aspect rather than attempt to merely explain away The Tall Man’s origins in a more linear fashion. “So I put together this crazy, freewheeling, badass four issue outline inspired by but not completely adhering to what I’d written in those TV scripts. Don really liked the outline for the four issues. It was going to be a complete story, interlocking through the four issues.

Romano spent a year on the comic with artist Michael Broom, the length of time owing to the fact that the artists weren’t being paid. “We were just kind of doing the punk rock thing,” Romano explains. “It was not a Marvel Comics thing. It was not even an IDW thing. We were just putting together a low budget [project], kind of like Don was doing at the same time with Bubba Ho-Tep. We just threw it together by hook or by crook. We got it colored and we sent it off to press. We got it back, and I will never forget the day the final books arrived at Don’s house. He called me up and he said, ‘Stephen, you’re a genius!’ [laughs]. Which is exactly the sort of thing you want to hear from one of those guys whose movies you grew up watching. It was really an honor.”

So what story did the Phantasm comic tell, and where was the story meant to go in the unpublished follow-up issues? According to Romano, he was interested in shifting the films’ POV back in the direction of the original film: “I have always been fascinated by the deeper implications of all this stuff. I thought that it would be very interesting if we went back to it being Mike’s story for one thing, because I thought that the first movie was about Mike, right? So it’s gotta come back to him eventually.

A page from ‘Phantasm Overminds’ (via Dread Central)

“Not that I don’t let like Reggie as a character or anything,” Romano points out, “but I just felt like it was time to get back to Mike. So we put him in the center of things because I wanted to have him wake up many, many years later and ‘Guess what, kid? It was all a dream!’ Just like at the end of the first movie. He’s in this really high-tech hospital run by a guy named Don Quezada. In case you don’t know, that’s a reference to the producer of Phantasm II, Roberto A. Quezada.”

The comic begins several hundred years in the future, with Mike having been kept on ice in a high-tech compound for ages. It’s revealed that our young hero has the power to manifest different versions of reality through his dreams, and he’s not the only one capable of this feat. In fact, he’s far from it. “There are a lot of other people that have fallen victim to this coma that he was in, and inside this coma they dream new realities. Doctor Quezada is fascinated by this and he’s trying to study it, he’s trying to harness it, he’s trying to control it. And one of the other people who is in this facility happens to be Rocky, who is someone that Michael dreamt about in one of his many adventures (in Phantasm III to be exact). She remembers him too, but they apparently never really went through any of that stuff. So it’s all very metaphysical and strange and weird.”

Mike and Rocky battle The Tall Man in ‘Phantasm Overminds’ (via Dread Central)

As our heroes are trying to get their bearings, Quezada turns into the Tall Man, intoning a familiar line: “Ah, boy, it’s been a good game…” Mike fights the Tall Man’s silver sentinel spheres alongside a katana-wielding Rocky, before a massive monster bursts up through the floor, yelling the Tall Man’s iconic “BOOOOOOY!!!”

And so ended the first issue of Phantasm: Overminds. Sadly, the people who managed to track down an issue back in the day would never be able to read beyond the comic’s cliffhanger ending. So what would have happened next?!

“They faced the Tall Man in this weird nightmare zone,” Romano reveals. “Michael summons his inner strength so that he is not afraid of this thing, and it sort of dissipates in front of him. Then the lights come on and you realize it was all Quezada, pulling a mindfuck on him.

“It was a part of a weird dream simulation machine that he was running, and he goes, ‘Oh, you’re doing great. You’re learning to control your fear. This is wonderful. Soon, you’ll be strong enough to go against the real deal.’ So what ends up happening is, because he’s being so elliptical and pulling this weird shit on them, Rocky and Mike turn on him and start torturing him. [laughs] It’s this horrible scene where they start yanking at his teeth and stuff to tell them what the fuck is going on. ‘Clearly, you know something we don’t.’”

An ad for ‘Phantasm Overminds’ issue 2, featuring Reggie

Quezada eventually reveals to the pair that they’re in an underground bunker several miles under the Earth’s surface, which has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust and alien warfare. “The gravers have totally taken over everything,” Romano says, referencing the Tall Man’s zombie slaves. “Reggie, by the way, is out there too, wandering around, trying to find Mike, which sort of ties into [Phantasm IV: Oblivion]. But he hasn’t been able to find him. There’s this whole sequence in the second issue where you see Reggie going through these adventures and blowing away gravers, and he’s saved this kid who has a sphere in his head. So the idea is that Mike is trapped way down below in this nightmare hospital, and Reggie’s up top trying to find him.

“So [Mike and Rocky] torture the doc to get the secrets, they figure out what’s kind of going on, and then they decide to blow the place. So they plant all these bombs in the underground facility, and then they battle with the Tall Man. They barely escape. They blow the whole hospital and get the hell out of there. That was the end of the second issue.”

Beyond the second book, the next two issues would have found Mike and Reggie fighting to get to each other, all while trying to survive the wasteland and “unravel the mysteries of what’s in Mike’s head in terms of this ability alter reality with his dreams. Then Reggie and Mike would have their adventures. Rocky is with them, of course, battling monsters and everything. The end of it was the final reunion between Reggie and Mike. That would’ve set up another series, which would’ve been fun, too.”

Romano also reveals that the third issue was intended to debut Kid Dead, a bizarre new character of his own creation. “Kid Dead is this crazy 16 year old zombie kid. He’s looking for a fight, he’s got nothing to lose, don’t fuck with him or you’ll be just as dead as he is. [laughs] He wears a trench coat, has a cricket bat with the words ‘Eat Me’ carved into it. He’s got long hair, and he gets around on roller skates.”

Because the character never appeared in a published Phantasm comic, and Romano never signed over the rights to the character, he was able to repurpose Kid Dead for two other projects years later. “I ended up reclaiming it first for my book Shock Festival,” Romano says, referencing his 2008 book which chronicled the histories of numerous imaginary grindhouse films. “That was a career milestone for me. When I was developing that book over a two year period of time, almost entirely by myself … I was just pulling every idea outta my ass that I possibly could, finding things I had come up with when I was 17 years old. And I saw Kid Dead lying around and I went, ‘Oh, well, let’s put him in there. Let’s make him into an imaginary movie.’”

Kid Dead from Stephen Romano’s ‘Shock Festival’ (2008)

While Kid Dead was initially meant to be a character that our heroes meet in the wasteland in the Phantasm comics, he wound up playing an even more integral role in Romano’s comic book series Wasteland 1989, which “similarly takes place in a shattered wasteland. He’s a suicidal zombie who can’t die. That’s the hook of what I recreated him as. He wants to die, and yet no matter how many times he tries suicide, it won’t work. And so he’s tormented, and he goes around wearing a dynamite vest as a symbol of his wanting to die. But he ends up using it a lot on other people. [laughs] He gets in big battles, and he’s the bad guy in the first issue of Wasteland. Then ultimately he teams up with [comic heroine] Janet in issue number 3, and they have these crazy adventures.”

Kid Dead’s comic book debut in ‘Wasteland 1989’ (courtesy of Stephen Romano)

Ultimately, Romano notes that his four color take on Phantasm dealt “with levels of reality, alternate dimensions, versions of yourself that exist in parallel worlds. And that was what Don seized on.” Indeed, while the comic book never made it beyond its first issue, Romano’s core story would be developed further into another medium…

Phantasm Forever. Some Phans may have heard that title bandied about alongside other unmade sequels like New Line’s reboot trilogy and the Roger Avary-penned Phantasm 1999, but what exactly was this particular project? “Don and I eventually developed those TV scripts into a thing called Phantasm Forever,” Romano explains. “Which was going to be the original Phantasm V. It’s not exactly like my comic book. My comic book was darker and more complex, I think. And, of course, a thousand times more action. [laughs]

Forever had its own trajectories, because it was more of a sequel to the movies that could be done inexpensively. There was no way you’d ever be able to shoot anything in my comic books on the kind of budgets that the Phantasm movies have ever had. I mean, that was all just nuts. But Phantasm Forever started with Mike waking up in the hospital, and everybody’s telling him ‘It was all a dream. It was a dream!’ Then it progresses from there as Michael figures out that there are these different realities and quantum physics, all of that wonderful stuff.”

Romano also says that Forever would have been focused more on the characters than the sci-fi/horror spectacle of it all. “I wanted to build Jody and Reggie and Michael as fully developed and dimensional characters,” he says, noting that this approach would have harkened back to the original film. “I think the first movie’s a symphony, in the way that it manages to develop those two kids and make you really feel for them. It’s all very beautifully drawn very quickly in the first movie, and I wanted to kind of get back to that. The comic books have far less of that in there, because it’s more concerned with visuals and story and everything. But had it continued for the full four issues, we would’ve gotten to do more of that.”

Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury and A. Michael Baldwin at the ‘Phantasm Forever’ read-through (via Dread Central)

Phantasm Forever even got as far as a table read, Romano reveals. In addition to mainstays Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and Bill Thornbury, the read-through also included Phantasm III’s Gloria Lynne Henry reprising her role of Rocky, with Hellraiser alum Ashley Laurence tackling a brand new character. “It was all shot with green screens and everything, and Don has a whole version of that in his computer somewhere. I’ve never even seen it. I’m thankful for all of it, because that was an experience like most fanboys will never have. I mean, I wrote this script, it had all the original Phantasm people in it, plus we cast Ashley Lawrence as a new face. We all got together one day and they read through it a bunch of times in front of cameras. What could be finer? It was just completely cool. And even though the movie didn’t happen after that, who cares? I mean, I will have that memory forever.”

Gloria Lynne Henry as Rocky in ‘Phantasm III’ (1994)

As with Phantasm 1999, this writer wonders if Phantasm Forever was possibly meant to be a franchise capper, much as the eventual Phantasm V: Ravager appears to be. “Most people who saw Ravager took it for what it was, kind of a goodbye kiss,” Romano says. “But there was also a post-credit sequence in it, in which you saw sort of the inkling of maybe what could be. They had that new character in there, and they had him hook up with Rocky at the end. Our thing was somewhat similar to that. Yeah, it was sort of a franchise capper, but there was a nifty thing at the end, too, where it could go on. You know, you never wanna just completely, definitively end these things. You always want to have some inkling that maybe it could go on, because who knows? It could be successful. And who knows, we might just wanna do it. Why not? So we didn’t keep it wide open, but we definitely set the stage for another film, or series of films, in Forever.”

Angus Scrimm and A. Michael Baldwin prepare to read ‘Phantasm Forever’ (via Dread Central)

So why is it that the film never came to pass? “Unfortunately, there were a number of reasons why it didn’t happen. It was tragic, but that’s how these things work. You know, you work on something, you hope it’s gonna happen, and if you’re working on spec you better be ready for it not to happen, because it won’t! I’m just here to tell you! [laughs] Movies require a lot of things. They require money, they require luck, they require very dedicated people who are willing to suffer – years, sometimes – to get it made. And sometimes all of those disparate elements don’t come together. Sometimes there’s maybe one or two or three elements that don’t fall in line.”

In advance of this article going up, Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli was kind enough to provide some thoughts on Phantasm Forever as well. “Stephen Romano wrote a wonderful screenplay,” Coscarelli says. “The staged reading was shot with the entire Phantasm cast. The cast was terrific and included Hellraiser‘s Ashley Laurence who came out to help us with an interesting new character. Angus Scrimm did some truly phenomenal work that day.”

Coscarelli also recognizes that his fanbase is clamoring for more Phantasm, especially something as tantalizing as a completely new story realized by the franchise’s core cast.Phantasm fans have hounded me for years about putting it out, and one day I hope to share it with them.”

In closing out our talk, Romano sums up his time working within the Phantasm franchise. “I got a lot out of that, that association and my business inside the Phantasm world, and it was really all because of the Phantasm comic. That was the first thing that I set forward to do with Don, where I took a lot of those ideas from the TV scripts and then I made them into this comic series. Even though the comic book didn’t go on, my career sure as hell did, and Don was my first mentor in the film business.

“My final thoughts would be of that of gratitude. It was a time in my life where I needed someone to believe in me, and Don Coscarelli believed in me. He let me play in his backyard and do those comic books. He wrote a glowing afterward for the first issue that talked about how great and wonderful it all was. And, you know, that eventually led to us working together on Masters of Horror, which was incredible. I’ll always be thankful for those projects, and all those great adventures we had.

“I have no regrets. It all led to the career I have now. It was all leading somewhere. I’m glad it did.”

Very special thanks to Stephen Romano for his time and insights.

The cover of ‘Phantasm Overminds’ 1

This has been Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which takes a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we chat with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

Select images sourced from:

Romano, Stephen (2015, November) Stephen Romano’s Kingdom: PHANTASM FOREVER Part 3. Retrieved May 31st, 2022 from Dread Central website:

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