Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
Two brothers, still dealing with the death of their parents, realize something is wrong at the local mortuary. They, along with their ice cream man friend, try and stop The Tall Man from taking those dearly departed to his own version of hell.
Is it good movie?
It is strange to think that the first time I saw Phantasm, I had very mixed emotions. I remember the television ads gave me nightmares and I thought it would be much too freaky to see in the theatre so I waited until video. The copy I watched was grainy and made the low-budget shocker look cheap and kinda lame. So what happened? Why did this movie turn into a must own classic over the years for my pathetic little life. I just sort of “got it” after awhile. Every so often I’d rent it and it always seemed to get better and better. And recently checking in on the Anchor Bay re-release, I am happy to say that this is one of the most creatively insane and original horror tales ever told. A classic which finally gets the treatment it deserves. To this day I’ve never seen anything quite like the “Phantasm” series (although the sequels don’t quite live up to this).
Michael and Jody are brothers, played by Michael Baldwin and John Thornbury, who have lost their parents in a car accident. And when Jody’s buddy is killed, they find strange goings on at the local mortuary run by The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Unaware that Michael has followed his brother and his brothers pal Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to the funeral, Michael sees the same man of considerable height lift a heavy casket and put it back in his hearse after the funeral. Knowing something is desperately wrong; Michael tries to convince his brother of the bad mojo going on only to be treated like a thirteen year-old with too much imagination. But when Michael narrowly escapes the Tall Man after collecting a little bit of proof, they begin to realize that once the dead are not resting in peace.
What follows throughout are nightmarish visions only slightly grounded in reality. When Michael falls asleep he wakes in the middle of a cemetery while The Tall Man watches over with bodies rising from the ground. And who can forget that silver ball that drills into your head and bleeds you dry. Although this is far from gory and some of the effects look like the cost of the movie… cheap, this creative trip into the unknown world of death is so compelling that the rubber fly thing will hardly bother most. This film also contains a terrific bond between a young teen and the older brother who means everything to him. He follows him around everywhere, afraid that he will leave him alone as did his parents. The sub-plot with these two, and also Reggie who has become a sort of uncle to Michael is very believable and makes it easy to invest in these characters. The scares aren’t cheap; they are earned because the actors are believable enough to create genuine sympathy without the fodder found in most horror films.
My biggest complaint is the ending. There is a twist which without giving anything away for the two of you that haven’t seen this feels a bit cheap and it has been used much too often in this genre. But the final frames make up for it and may have inspired Wes Craven for another series of Nightmares. Phantasm is, as cliché as it sounds, a thinking man’s horror show. Occasionally the budget shows but director Don Coscarelli has a flair for oddball horror drenched in the bizarre. Part science fiction, part horror and part comedy, this is that rare breed of horror film that will still have people saying “BOOOOYYYYYYYYYY!” many years from now.
Video / Audio
Video: I really don’t think Phantasm could look much better than this. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is Phantastic aside from a few moments of grain.
Audio: The DTS 5.1 and Dolby Surround 5.1 and 2.0 are crystal clear. All the gushing blood and flying spheres have never sounded better; as does the creepy score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave.
As for special features, Anchor Bay rewards fans of the movie with some fascinating extras including Audio Commentary with Don Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury and Angus Scrimm. Although this has been recycled from previous releases, it is still a fascinating and informative listen. They seem to still be good friends and have many terrific memories of doing the film together. I especially liked how if things slow down, Michael asks another question and keeps it moving. Great stuff.
Are you ready for Phantasmagoria (35:51)? I sure was. This is a terrific look at the cast and crew and the making of Phantasm. If anything, I think I would have really loved a full-length documentary but hey… this is still a great look back and classic horror.
And just in case you needed more, we have Phantasm: Behind-the-scenes (19:57) which gives us a literal behind the scenes look at the making of the film in all its grainy glory. One of the most entertaining moments… seeing Reggie and the battle of the barrels.
Next up, we get Phantasm: Actor’s Having a Ball (4:31) where the actors share memories of working on the film, including Kathy Lester’s memories of a troublemaking thirteen-year-old by the name of Michael Baldwin.
The Deleted Scenes (8:14) are an interesting addition with more brother bonding and the fire extinguisher death ultimately not used in the film. I liked all these scenes, yet I can see why they were taken out but I wouldn’t have minded seeing the drunken ice cream fight make it in the final print… funny shite.
One of the best features is this 1979 Phantasm Interview from a television talk show featuring director Don and Angus Scrimm. In the interview, Don mentions that he never went into this for money and it’s nice to see that he has stuck by that even to this day. Seriously, you don’t see Bubba Ho Tep Happy Meals.
We also get a 1988 Fangoria TV Commercial (:47) with Angus himself. Along with that we have him doing a great split personality act at the 1989 Fangoria Convention Appearance (10:46). This guy is just funny as hell and really seems to care about The Tall Man, the evil persona he brought to life. I dig this guy.
Finally we have a few Trailers, one for the original film. Then we have another for Phantasm 3 and 3 television spots, including the one that scared the crap out of me as a kid.
And in the Also on DVD, we have previews for “Phantasm 3”, “Survival Quest”, “Incident on and off a Mountain Road”, “Kenny and Company”, “Re-Animator” and “Night of the Living Dorks”
Phantasm still remains one of the most influential horror films of the late Seventies with its strong mix of science fiction, horror and comedy. The character development between brothers Michael and Jody is surprisingly rich as is their relationship with ice cream man Reggie. The flying sphere, the Tall man and that creepy mortuary make for a unique horror experience, an original and clever film. Yes, sometimes the special effects reflect the low-budget and the “is it a dream” moment in the end is not necessarily the best choice but the heart and soul of Don Coscarelli make it one of the most original horror fantasies of all time.