Jody is the kind of guy that every 1970s teen looked up to. He's in his early 20s, has a cool car, splendid '70s hair, leather jacket, plays guitar and (naturally) snags all the girls. His little brother, Mike, in particul... more »ar, admires him and emulates him at every turn. Things start to go astray, however, when the two brothers and their friend Reggie attend a funeral for a friend. Mike notices a tall man working at the funeral home; in the course of his snooping, he sees the tall man put a loaded coffin into the back of a hearse as easily as if it was a shoebox. Jody doesn't believe his little brother's stories, though, until he brings home the tall man's severed finger, still wriggling in what appears to be French's mustard. From there, the film picks up a terrific momentum that doesn't let up until the sequel-ripe twist ending. Phantasm was one of the first horror movies to break the unspoken rule that victims were supposed to scream, fall down, and cower until they were killed. Instead, Mike and Jody are resourceful and smart, aggressively pursuing the evil inside the funeral home with a shotgun and Colt pistol. Furthermore, the script has a great deal of character development, especially in the relationship between the two brothers. The film even has a surprisingly glossy look, despite its low-budget origins, and little outright gore (except for the infamous steel spheres that drill into victims' heads). This drive-in favorite was a big success at the time of its release, and spawned three sequels. Little wonder; it includes an inventive story, likable characters, a runaway pace, and, of course, evil dwarves cloaked in Army blankets. The end result is one of the better horror films of the late 1970s. Hot-rod fans take note: Jody drives a Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda, the pinnacle of 1960s muscle cars, rounding out his status as a Cool Guy. --Jerry Renshaw
The music and suspense is what makes this horror flick great even though it is dated and has none of the recent horror CGI. A must watch for horror fans!
Dark dreams are made of this...
Wing J. Flanagan | Orlando, Florida United States | 05/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If good films are like waking dreams, then good horror films are like waking nightmares. Few can match the power of Phantasm in this regard. Masquerading as a B-shocker, it gradually develops a kind psychological depth shared only by the best in the genre - films like The Exorcist and Silence of the Lambs.To begin with, the story is frankly outrageous: after the death of a close friend, two brothers (Mike and Jody, played by Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury) discover some strange things about the Morningside Funeral Home where their friend - and their parents, who died two years earlier - are interred. It seems the dour funeral director (a character known only as The Tall Man, indelibly rendered by Angus Scrimm) is not quite human. He's able to lift fully occupied coffins by himself, as the younger Mike secretly observes; he bleeds yellow blood; he has a strange reaction to cold; and he is aided by small silver spheres that roam the halls of the mausoleum, doing unspeakably gruesome things to intruders. It seems his main activity, though, involves a novel use of the corpses of the dearly departed - a use we learn in the striking left-turn the film takes in the third act. Somehow, what could have been a very silly film takes on an unnerving, Lynchian kind of surreality, thanks in large measure to a well-developed subtext about abandonment, isolation, despair, and guilt. These are the anxieties that drive nightmares, and - despite the frequent humor throughout - writer/director Don Coscerelli infuses the proceedings with a poignant sense of sadness and dread. Like Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, or Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Phantasm isn't just a scary film; it has the authentic texture of a dark, disturbing dream. And this, in a film where a major sequence involves a large, obviously rubber insect flown around on a fishing line! It could have been a real Ed Wood moment, but instead, we buy into it somehow. Amazing.
In The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm has created a classic horror film villain, in the Frankenstein's monster/Dracula/Wolfman/Mummy sense, rather in than the Freddy/Jason tradition. There is no sense of irony in his conception or performance. No camp. No winking, wisecracking, or self-aware irony. Just a powerful, implacable, evil presence. Reggie Bannister rounds out the cast as a musician/ice cream vendor (!) who assists the brothers in their quest to rid the world (or at least their town) of the evil that has descended.The performances (a couple of minor characters notwithstanding) are remarkably skilled, walking that fine line between believability and exaggeration virtually demanded by the genre.The DVD is crisp and well produced. There is a delightful introduction by The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, to get things rolling. There is a good deal of supplemental material to be found on the disc, and a thorough commentary track by Coscarelli, Scrimm, Baldwin, and Thornbury.All told, an excellent addition to any horror fan's collection."
Beware the Tall Man, Booooyyyy!
Michael R Gates | Nampa, ID United States | 04/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead." Or so goes one of the taglines used in the promotions for PHANTASM, the 1979 low-budget film from auteur Don Coscarelli that has become a much-loved horror classic. By today's standards, the film doesn't quite reach the level of fright promised by that slogan. But PHANTASM is nonetheless a well-made indie flick that has always been a real crowd-pleaser due to its enigmatic, unpredictable script; the ingenious and effective low-budget special FX; excellent directing and cinematography by Coscarelli; good acting, especially from the four principals; and a very memorable, haunting score.PHANTASM follows precocious 13-year-old Michael (Michael Baldwin), his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury), and friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) as they investigate the enigmatic goings-on at the creepy nearby funeral parlor. Just who or what is that terrifying Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) that seems to have the run of the place? What is his part in the recent disappearance of corpses at the mortuary, and what is his relationship to the elfish eidolons lurking in the graveyard shadows?PHANTASM's script is loosely structured and rather weak in spots, but this actually heightens the unpredictability of the plot and thereby gives the film an unnerving surrealistic quality. And when combined with bizarre imagery (e.g., an airborne chromed sphere drilling into a human head); gloomy, atmospheric sets and on-location sites; and a genuinely creepy, inscrutable antagonist like the Tall Man, the movie transcends the script and evolves into a 90-minute spine-tingling nightmare-on-film.The excellent musical score also adds much to the nightmarish quality of PHANTASM. Composed by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, it is stylistically reminiscent of John Carpenter's score for his groundbreaking film HALLOWEEN, released a year earlier. But unlike Carpenter's one-man synthesizer score, Myrow and Seagrave's music is performed on multiple instruments, delivering a rich, three-dimensional sound that makes PHANTASM's aural atmosphere seem much more ominous than that of HALLOWEEN.Though it has been over 20 years since its initial release, PHANTASM has aged surprisingly well. As with its aforementioned predecessor HALLOWEEN, the gore is minimal, especially when compared to the wave of bloody horror films that splashed up on the cinematic shore in the 1980s and beyond. But the eerie, surreal ambiance of PHANTASM can still make a viewer's skin crawl, and the malignant Tall Man, with all his accursed accoutrements and paranormal paraphernalia, is still pretty damned creepy. Yes, PHANTASM has a certain ineffable 1970s drive-in quality that identifies it as a product of its era, but rather than being an annoyance, this seems to add yet another layer of "otherworldliness"--at least from a contemporary standpoint.MGM's DVD release of PHANTASM offers the film in a non-anamorphic letterbox format in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The digital transfer is pretty clean, with only moderate filmic and digital artifacts sometimes apparent. Colors are bright and vivid, though darks are a bit on the muddy side. Soundtrack audio options include a new Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound remix, which sounds good, or the film's original 2.0 mono.The supplements on MGM's DVD release of PHANTASM are outstanding. First off, the disc comes packaged with a very nice booklet that contains a note from writer/director Don Coscarelli, as well as a myriad of interesting tidbits about the film and its stars. On the disc itself, a really cool alternate audio track offers a feature commentary with Coscarelli and the film's principal actors. Also included are outtakes, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, TV interviews with Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm, and much more! These extras alone are worth the very reasonable retail price, but buyers get the cool film, too!To recap, PHANTASM is a minor cult classic that both ardent horror fans and casual viewers alike will find genuinely enjoyable, and the loaded-with-extras DVD from MGM is nothing short of Phantastic!"
A horror classic
ChefBum | Fremont,, CA United States | 09/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think that Phantasm was a big surprise hit back in '79 for different reasons than why it has endured as a cult movie to this day.
Sure, the special effects haven't aged as well as some, but they were remarkable for a low-budget movie made only two years after Star Wars came out. At the time, Phantasm did not come across as a low budget movie at all and I think it shocked everybody. It's taken decades and many technical developments in SFX along the way to finally make this movie's technical limitations more glaringly obvious. At the time? There wasn't a 12-year old in the country who didn't think it was impressive.
Phantasm was bizarre enough and had enough shock moments to scare and thrill young viewers, and the killer silver balls were such a unique cinematic experience that nobody else has even tried to emulate them in a similar horror film.
But while Coscarelli was able to brilliantly evoke and convey his unique nightmare vision of the strange tall man, the mysterious silver balls, and grave-robbing interdimensional evil cloaked dwarves, what makes this film endure is what I believe is the human element.
As opposed to the shallow, vapid, teen slasher flicks to follow it, Phantasm's characters are allowed to develop into involving, three dimensional people. I believe that is what gives this movie some legs, and what has allowed for relevant Phantasm sequels (ii- iv). There is a unique, profound sadness in Mike Pearson's compulsive need to follow his big brother around after the deaths of both of their parents. And in the end, there is an even deeper sadness when the audience realizes that his big brother Jody has been dead all along as well. The characters are allowed to show and feel emotional depth-- sorrow, fear, anger, frustration. They aren't cardboard props to be slashed by the villain. They're intrepid, resourceful, and you can't help but like them and relate to them... especially when they're just sittin' on the porch strummin' the guitar and singing some tunes.
Phantasm's surrealness is only reinforced when it is made the backdrop of such normal human characters and behavior. Otherwise, cloaked dark dwarves and flying silver balls would seem quite random and stupid if put in the context of your typical teen slasher flick (another sorority/campfire bimbofest, anyone?). This is where most of the low-budget cookie-cutter horror films fail nowadays."
Inspector Gadget | On the trail of Doctor Claw | 04/26/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I don't quite understand this film. It's odd but certainly original. It is just so weird I don't know how to describe it. The whole film is like this bizarre dream. It's great to see it get such fab treatment on DVD though with tonnes of extras. Although the commentary is recycled as the cast and crew constantly refer to it as as "Laserdisc". This is probably why it is non-anamorphic too. None of the cast seemed to amount to much except the sequels (none of which I have seen). This film pre-dates the stalk 'n' slash genre of the '80's incase you didn't know. The sequels must be released on DVD soon."
It's cheesy,it's campy, it's confusing as hell..and its cool
Jesse Melat | Cleveland | 09/07/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm sitting here trying to find a way to effectively summarize the plot of Don Coscarelli's cult horror classic...and I can't. What I will say is this: don't expect Alien/Halloween style horror. This one works on a completely different level. The plot holes, the gaps in common sense, and the surreality of the world in which _Phantasm_ occurs are what is "frightening". Don't expect too much in the way of endearing characters; they're flat as a board with plastic lines and even more plastic acting, but that doesn't really get in the way of the movie's enjoyment all too much; it's the environment, the profound sense of place that Coscarelli has(by the end of the movie, you'll know the layout of Morningside Cemetery, the Funeral Parlor/Mausoleum, and Jody's house as if you had actually lived in these structures,) as well as his wonderful cinematography; every shot is absolutely gorgeous and takes full advantage of the distortion/fuzz quality that film possessed in 1979. The music is superb, fitting the slightly ridiculous, euphoric feel of the photography and story perfectly, tinkling, vintage synths and gothic chorus put through a kind of vo-coder-esque electronic filter. Some cult movies truly do not deserve their cult status, this I will admit, but _Phantasm_ does. It is imminently watchable despite its flaws, over and over again somehow fascinating; you're always discovering something new or having a new revelation to pertain the "what the hell was that?" that was running through your mind during your last viewing. And...who can't love Angus Scrimm's ominous presence as the ubiquitous and ever short-spoken Tall Man?Though I have no intention of giving the twist ending(s)(there are two, technically) away, I will say that you may feel a tad disappointed with their sudden execution the first time you see it, but in retrospect and especially in consecutive viewings, the twist ending lends a bit of sense to the otherwise non-sensical flow of the plot. Note: Okay, I lied, I'm going to spoil the ending below.The notion the entire film is an adolescent boy's fantastical nightmare lends some artistic credibility to Coscarelli's admittedly convoluted science fiction/horror storyline, the things that don't make sense(e.g. the blackout after which all of the characters are inexplicably transported to different sections of the cemetery and funeral parlor, and Jody's moving of the boulders that are way too heavy for any human being to even budge) suddenly are put in a context that, while admittedly a tad cop-outesque, saves the movie on the whole. Art film, horror film, fantasy film? Hell if I know, really. Just see it...you'll like it."