A word of warning to parents! Keep an eye on what your youngsters take an interest in. Back in the 1960s, young Don Coscarelli was often left with the baby-sitter while his parents went out for the evening. Their instructions were few. Basically, young Don was not allowed to watch the late night horror films on television. Naturally, as soon as they left, the baby-sitter parked herself on the phone and Don went off to watch the late night horror flicks! This routine went on for years, putting a lot of ideas into Don's impressionable and creative young mind.
By the late 1970s, Don Coscarelli had grown up to become a very proficient director and producer of Hollywood movies - very good work if you can get it! His field of expertise? You guessed it - horror films. In 1979, he began filming on what was to become his first major success in the movie business. It was a relatively non-traditional horror movie which he had written himself whilst living in a secluded cabin in the mountains. The film was called "Phantasm". For dyed-in-the-wool Mopar fans, it needs no introduction.
Many scenes in the movie were influenced by things from Don's youth (No, he didn't have silver flying spheres buzzing about in his room as a child, heaven knows where that came from.) One of the more important items of note, as far as Mopar fanatics are concerned, is the evil black 'Cuda which played a major role in the film.
The choice of vehicles for Phantasm had its roots back in Don's high school days in the early 1970S. A schoolmate drove a brilliant, Sassy Grass Green, Pistol Grip 4speed 'Cuda with a white interior. The 'Cuda made a lasting impression on Don Coscarelli, and when it came time to decide what car to use for his movie, he knew what it had to be.
Back in 1979, muscle cars were simply used cars. It was not hard to locate a likely candidate for the film, and in short order, a well worn 1971 340, 4-speed 'Cuda was bought. Though it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, it was cheap and it had potential. The 'Cuda was sent to the bodyshop to be brought up to snuff for its Hollywood debut. Since it was to be featured in a very scary movie, filmed mostly at night around a graveyard, Don decided the 'Cuda should have a definite evil appearance itself. Thus the car was painted black. Accentuating the mirror finish black were subtle blue and gray pinstripes. Cragar chrome rims were added and fat tires installed all the way around. To help facilitate the rubber out back, the Phantasm, rear quarter panels were tastefully flared. One scene in the movie had the hero popping up through the roof of the 'Cuda with a shotgun to blast a hearse being driven by an alien dwarf returned from the dead. To make this task a bit easier on the actor's head, a black tinted sunroof was installed. After the body and paint work was finished, it was off to the movie set. There, the 'Cuda proved itself to be as much of a holy terror as the movie itself. Unlike today's films that use several identical cars painted up to look like one another, the original Phantasm movie used just one car. As such, it was given a busy work schedule. The 'Cuda's nine years of hard use conspired to give the movie crew fits. Don recalls that its electrical system was just about shot, and was a major source of headaches for the crew. It's 340 had been around the block more than a few times, and despite the sterling performances it delivered in the movie, in reality the damn thing ran terrible!
By the time filming was complete, the black 'Cuda was in pitiful mechanical condition and went to a member of the film crew. There it sat in his driveway until sold for $1,000 to an unknown buyer. At that point, the original Phantasm movie 'Cuda disappeared.
Years go by, and in the late 1980's, Don decided to film a sequel to the original Phantasm, which, by then, had become a major cult film. He assembled much of the original cast including the lovable Angus Scrimm, AKA, "The Tall Man", and Reggie Bannister, better known to us as Reggie the ice cream vendor. The sequel has our two heroes, Mike and Reggie, running around the countryside trying to stop the Tall Man's reign of terror.
Naturally, Phantasm II could not be made without the now familiar black 'Cuda for our heroes to ride around in. Don contacted Jim Capece, a member of the Barracuda Owner's club, to assist him in locating several cars for the film. By this time the muscle car craze was in full swing, and finding affordable '71 'Cudas was far more difficult than in 1979.
Jim suggested using cheaper 318 Barracudas and modifying them to appear as 'Cudas. That seemed logical, and soon there were four Barracudas sitting poised and ready for action. However, this motley assortment of Mopar iron could not be considered prime pickings by any means. Two were so decrepit they were selected for the crash scene at the end of the movie, and as such, received little cosmetic revamping. One was fixed up for most of the road work and driving scenes. The remaining car was treated to a nice cosmetic restoration for close up work. This is the car presented in MCG this month.
Since times had changed since 1979, it was decided to leave the 'Cuda clones fairly stock in appearance rather than flair the wheelwells and install sunroofs. As an added bit of drama for the car conscious in the audience, Hemicuda emblems were added to the hood. After all, if you're going to create the image of a bad-to-the-bone car, you might as well go all the way!
Throughout Phantasm II the 'Cuda is a high visible character. But alas, in the end, the Tall Man gets the best of the noble machine, and it exits the movie upside down in a ball of flames. Never fear Mopar fans! The car you saw burning fiercely near the end of the movie was merely one of the gutted out Barracudas, not the beautiful black car we grew to know and love throughout both movies. As you can see by this month's cover and our feature here, the Phantasm 'Cuda is alive and well - continuing its lonely vigil against Angus Scrimm and his evil flying silver spheres.
Today the 'Cuda resides in the garage of Don Coscarelli himself! Don couldn't bring himself to part with the car after the filming of Phantasm II, and decided to keep it for his own personal enjoyment. This most famous of '71 Cudas still uses its smooth-running little 318, allowing Don to drive it on sunny days with confidence in its dependability. For his go-fast moods, Don has a red on red AAR 'Cuda. Future plans for the black Phantasm 'Cuda look good indeed. Don plans to convert to 426 Hemi power in the near future. He's not merely talking about a simple engine swap either, Don plans to go the full conversion route; springs, rear end, everything!
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