Phantasm


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"Boooy! "

Nov 9th, 2009

I am a huge fan of the Phantasm films and have them all on VHS. When released on DVD I bought them again. For some strange reason my addiction to these flicks doesn't stop there, if you've seen it you know of the flying silver balls (I said balls). I went out and bought the special edition box set that is in the shape of the aforementioned balls. I love these films!

I saw this when I was quite young, it aired on the BBC (I later found out it was severely edited) and was presented by a strange devilman – for a couple of weeks he was the host of horror on BBC1 (does anyone else remember this or was I really tired?). This movie was strange, it's style was unlike anything I had seen before, elements were introduced that could form the basis of the plot but were quickly dropped (the fortune teller scene for example). In fact everything about this film screamed dream sequences and once I realized that this became one of my most entertaining experiences next to the Evil Dead films.

I'll try to give a brief synopsis but no matter what I write it won't really prepare you for what you're about to experience. Jody is looking after his younger brother, Mike, after the death of their parents. At the funeral Mike becomes obsessed with it's funeral director (The Tall Man) who seems to be up to something creepy. Cue women murdering people in graveyards, evil silver flying balls, extreme Jawas, portals to other dimensions and an ending that really defies belief.

I am truly at a loss for words here, I think these films are great but I know many who hate them. It's hard for me to find flaws in something I enjoy so much. Maybe if I list the problems my friends had it may help you decide if you want to watch this.

The first thing that comes up is that the film makes little sense; it's hard to work out what's happening and what scenes are important to the plot. True enough the plot is a strange one but we hardly step into David Lynch territory, as I pointed out before this is meant to be dream-like.

Some scenes have no overall purpose they're just there to be enjoyed and the final scene in the film confused the hell out of me and I had to watch it again to see if I'd missed something (I've learnt to appreciate it since).

There's not much horror is there? Not all "horror" is extreme violence; this one focuses more on creating a creepy atmosphere and bizarre antics. Don't get me wrong though, this is not PG fare, there is a graphic murder half way through involving the flying silver balls (this is one of the first times a character actually pisses himself upon death) that rivals anything you've seen in another horror film.

The little minions are a rip off of the Jawas in Star Wars. Released 2 years after A New Hope it may seem that way but production had already begun on this film, it's just a happy coincidence they look similar. I personally prefer the version we get here as these bad mother dudes are scary – especially when you find out what they are and what they really look like.

The acting is great but two people stand out for me. Angus Scrim as The Tall Man is truly a strange character and extremely terrifying despite being an old man. Nothing is revealed about his background, he's just an evil shit and his plan is so strange it's hard to figure out why he would want to do such a thing. The delivery of his lines (although minimal) is as creepy as they come but the hate that springs forth when he screams Boy! had me and my friends imitating it for years.

Reggie Bannister plays Reggie, an ice cream man turned hero, as he tries to help his friends Jody and Mike. This being the 70's this ice cream man is in no way creepy when he talks to Mike; you believe he's his friend rather than grooming him for some paedophilic activity. Here we only get a few glimpses of what Reggie was to become as the series progressed but he's a corny action hero on the scale of Ash – it's a shame he never gets the same kind of recognition.

The look of the film is beautiful despite it's morbid settings (graveyards, mausoleums etc), things do look a little dated due to it's age but not jarring enough to bring you out of the film. The scenes in the other dimension are amazing and something I would have liked to have seen more of but budget constraints obviously limited time here.

Don Coscarelli wrote, directed and edited this film, creating an original universe that stretches far beyond this one film. So far there have been 3 sequels and a comic book series and rumors still persist of a final flick (or a remake, but balls to that). The original run time for this was 3 hours but was edited down for a more manageable sit through. Most of the deleted scenes from the film were re-used in the fourth.

This is a great franchise which seems to have been buried away as many haven't even heard of these flicks. Don Coscarelli has a knack for creating heroes you can care for (see Bubba Ho-tep) and is able to work within the confines of a low budget, delivering stories that have more impact than big blockbusters. Watch this film and it's sequels for a truly strange experience but one you'll enjoy. 8/10

Trivia
The copyright date in the credits is 1977, the same as Star Wars
Angus Scrimm wore suits too small for him to make him appear taller
Called the Never Dead in Australia as of a famous dirty film out there called Fantasm

Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Released: 1979
Rating: 18
Starring: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm


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