Reggie Bannister is excited. The actor and musician who is best known as “Reg”, the former ice-cream vendor-turned demon-fighter in the “Phantasm” series, has another plum role coming up in what has the makings of becoming a cult classic: Bubba Ho-Tep.
So who is this new Reggie Bannister character in Bubba? “It’s really funny,” he says, “I did this interview, an email interview, with a guy who has a magazine down in Argentina, and he said, ‘Wow, you starred in Bubba Ho-Tep with Bruce Campbell!’ And I said, ‘Man, I can hardly say that I ‘starred’ in Bubba Ho-Tep. Since there really wasn’t a part in Bubba for me!’ (laughs) Don really carved this part out for me, just because, I think that Don wanted to see me and Bruce and Ossie on screen together. What I’m doing, it’s a little bit similar to the ice cream guy in the first “Phantasm” film in the ‘what-the-hell-is-going-on-here?’ kind of an attitude. My character is the rest home administrator who’s responsible for the well being of all these geriatric folks. This is a rest home in Texas, for Christ’s sake. Nothing’s going on there. There’s nothing exciting about being in a rest home, nor should there be. So this is a guy who’s been doing his job, just smoothing along for all these years, now suddenly all this s**t is happening. He just doesn’t get it and what’s going on is revolving around Elvis and JFK. So he keeps looking at them askance going, ‘What do you guys know that I don’t? And can you help me out?’ It’s impossible to get answers out of Elvis and JFK. They’ve formed a bond and they’re not gonna give it up.”
For horror fans, the Reggie Bannister story starts in the late 70s, with a little runaway hit directed by Don Coscarelli, “Phantasm.” In “Phantasm,” Bannister teams up with a pair of brothers to stop a mysterious mortician – dubbed “The Tall Man” – from destroying their hometown. The film sparked a popular franchise, and “Reg” is a major player in each of the four episodes currently available, with rumors of a fifth installment – written by The Rules of Attraction director Roger Avery – looming on the horizon.
“Phantasm” creator Don Coscarelli is also responsible for the upcoming Bubba Ho-Tep. Based on a short story by cult writer Joe R. Lansdale (Mucho Mojo), Bubba is weird even by Lansdale standards; surreal even by “Phantasm” standards. “The story was written so wonderfully by Joe, and Don was very faithful to the story in his script. It explores some things about the male character that sitting there watching it on the screen makes you go, ‘Oooh! I don’t know if I want women to know that.’ It’s insightful, it’s funny. It’s got a few good jump scares in it, and it’s a charming, entertaining film.”
Bannister is in good company with Bubba, appearing on screen beside Ossie Davis (“Cotton Comes to Harlem”) and the cult legend Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead). “Bruce is … he is Elvis,” Bannister says of Bubba’s star. “I hate to even say that, it sounds so trite. But he really is. He plays him aged, and he plays him in flashbacks as the younger Elvis. And I was so proud to be on the set working on the same film with legendary actor Ossie Davis. He’s a terrific guy, by the way. He’s tall and straight and a good-looking gent. He’s got it all, man. (Actually) I didn’t work with a single actor that didn’t make filming a pleasure.”
The prospect of seeing Reggie on screen with Bruce Campbell is just as exciting to fans as it was for Coscarelli when he began casting. If the Internet buzz is any indication, Bubba Ho-Tep is one of the most eagerly anticipated movies awaiting an official release. (Bubba Ho-Tep has recently been picked up for theatrical distribution by American Cinematheque/Vitagraph Films.)
“As it turned out, it really was a lot of fun. When my character shows up on screen with Bruce for the fun time, it was such a hoot! And the crowd just went nuts over Bruce and I standing together just going through this scene. It’s a fun movie, and I walked out going, ‘Wow, was I entertained!’ And then I saw it at the San Diego Comic-Con – (Don) showed it at one of the UA theaters in the malls, and I think he had to turn away about five hundred people! I’m serious! These poor people, I felt so sorry for them. And then the crowd that was in there just f*****g blew the walls out. It was insane. Bruce comes on the screen and they went nuts. And then I come in for my piece (and the crowd went insane again). It was great working with Bruce. And I recount this story for anyone who asks me; I play music and have for a lot of years. And if you want to play music and get off by playing music with somebody else, you always play with somebody you consider to be your peer or better than you. It’s a drag – everybody has their level and everyone should try and raise the bar by playing with somebody who’s better than them. That’s the same thing in acting; it’s like jamming music. You want to play with someone who’s better than you. It was a real pleasure to jam with Bruce in Bubba. I don’t have a scene in particular with Ossie, beyond the ensemble pieces, but it was just a pleasure to have him there on the set.”
Get the rest of the interview in part two of REGGIE BANNISTER: IN THE COMPANY OF ELVIS, BUBBA AND THE TALL MAN>>>