Phantasm is a 1979 horror film written, directed, edited and co-produced by Don Coscarelli. Supposedly to get in the proper mind set to write this film Coscarelli spent his time writing Phantasm in a secluded cabin. Phantasm is also based of a dream Coscarelli had as a child. Knowing this makes the movie make much more sense. Phantasm has a loyal cult following and spawned 3 sequels starting almost decade after the initial films release.
Phantasm follows Mike Pearson (A. Micheal Baldwin) and his older brother Jody (Bill Thornberry). Jody is Mikes legal guarding and has been taking care of his since their parents died some years prior. Jody is thinking of leaving and having Mike be taken care of by their Aunt, but Mike wants him to stay. Jody and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) attend the funeral of friend who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. While hiding in the bushes spying on his brother at the funeral Mike witness the undertaker known as The Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) load the coffin, body and all by himself into the hearse unaided. The rest of the film follows Mike as he tries to uncover who The Tall Man is and convince his brother and Reggie of the danger. Eventually Mike convinces both Jody and Reggie leading to the trio confronting The Tall Man.
A lot goes on in this film it’s always one weird thing after another. The mood and pace never let up leaving you with a surreal dreamlike quality. It’s a haunting and creepy story that has earned its cult fan base. But its the music for me that really sets up the perfect ambiance for Phantasm to flourish. The music is exceedingly memorable and has a way of sticking in your mind after the film has ended.
The acting is solid with Baldwin and Thornberry doing a great job portraying real brothers. For me its the strongest part of the story outside the Tall Man. Reggie is also a very likable and memorable character as an ass kicking ice cream man. This is very nice to see in an independent low budget feature like Phantasm as its often the amateur actors tend to lack chemistry with one another.
But the real selling point is Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man.To accentuate the height of The Tall Man Scrimm who is already 6’3″ wore shoes with a 3′ lift and wore suites that were to a few sizes to small. Combine this with fact that in the first film we never learn his motivations makes him an unforgettable and gripping antagonist. Scrimm’s perfect in this role with a haunting screen presence and delivering his few lines in his unique eerie voice. Scrimm delivers my all time favorite line in the whole of Phantasm franchise during a chase sequence towards the end of the film.
Now I am a fan of aspects of this film but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan it or the franchise it started. The first Phantasm film I remember watching was Phantasm 2 on television and it lacked the charm that this one uses to its full advantage. It wasn’t until last year that I watched the original for the first time at the repeated requests of friend who is a big fan of this movie and of Scrimm in particular. But the ending really kills it for me. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it always leaves me unsatisfied and could have been vastly improved by simply ending the movie 5 minutes sooner. Phantasm is a good enough horror flick with memorable characters, music and imagery but gets to caught up in being to vague and surreal. So end of the day Phantasm gets an 8/10.
“You play a good game boy, but the game is finished, now you die.” – The Tall Man