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
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›