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Phantasm Film and DVD
I was born in nineteen sixty-seven and I remember being eleven years old and walking past the old ABC cinema in Walsall, which is sadly no longer there, in nineteen seventy-nine. I was eleven, going on twelve and I saw a movie poster that would change my life forever. The poster in question was the movie poster for 'Phantasm'. It was an 'X' certificate, which made it taboo for me and it looked scary as hell. The tag line read ''If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead''. My Mother's voice telling me to hurry up and not to look at it or else I would have nightmares, made it seem even more enthralling.
Low and behold, just after tea that night, I saw the advert with a young boy waking up to find his bed in a cemetery and a scary looking tall man standing behind the bed and looming over him while hideous little creatures grabbed at him from either side.
I think I finally saw this movie when I was sixteen as my parents were horror fans. They were quite liberal in that way and thought that I could work out for myself that a movie was a movie in the safe knowledge that I would not turn into a career criminal. They were right and these days at sixty-nine, my Mother still loves horror movies and so does my Father and he's seventy-five this year; cool parents or what?
Phantasm was released in cinemas in 2009 in the UK and went to video a few months later. It easily survived the ninety eighty-three video nasty ban as it was intended more as a scary film than a gore fest. There are some moments in it that although laughable today would've been considered quite gruesome back then.
I have seen it again since in the nineties but have never watched the three sequels that it spawned. So after deciding to watch them I chose to buy all four movies so I could watch the story from the beginning. Before I talk about the movie, let's take a look at the plot.
The movie kicks off with two guys Jody and Reggie attending a close friend's funeral. They were close to Tommy and so was Jody's little brother, Mike, who Jody has kept away from the funeral due to the fact that they only lost their parents six months ago. He thinks that seeing Tommy in an open casket might be too much for Mike.
Jody enter the huge mausoleum where his parents are also buried and we are treated to the movies first 'jump' scene as the 'Tall Man' makes his first appearance by putting his hand on Jody's shoulder and announcing that the funeral is about to start. The Tall Man is a creepy looking Dude and he is very tall and also the towns funeral director.
Mike has been watching the funeral from afar with binoculars and once the mourners have left he witnesses the tall man lift Tommy's coffin into a hearse on his own. He investigates the mausoleum and is attacked by a man who is killed by a mysterious silver ball which embeds itself into his head via blades and drills a hole into his head.
What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse where Jody, Mike and Reggie try to find out the truth behind the Tall Man, the mausoleum and the strange little dwarf creatures they have seen about the place. They come across a car that drives itself and a room that contains a portal to what they think is another planet. Who is the Tall man and what is he doing with the towns deceased?
The one thing that will always stick with me from this movie is the score. The music is absolutely brilliant and I still loved it on this occasion. Frederic Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave created the soundtrack to the movie and the main title theme is brilliant. It is very reminiscent of John Carpenters theme for 'Halloween' and the tubular bells theme from 'The Exorcist'. It has that same synth sound with that deep and heavy back beat which seems to add more menace. I cannot believe that one reviewer lists one of the disadvantages as a 'poor soundtrack'!! Each to their own though, I suppose; but this soundtrack really is one of the cult soundtracks of seventies and eighties horror flicks and is a classic.
When the movie originally hit cinemas it was considered to be very scary indeed and its past is full of stories of people fainting or leaving the cinema, which quite frankly would be absurd to anyone today and most teenagers would find it laughable. I remember going to see the Exorcist in about nineteen ninety-two with a cinema full of teenagers at midnight, which was a strange experience as it was an eighteen certificate. I remember feeling quite miffed as you would've thought it was a comedy from their reactions. I can understand this to a certain extent these days from the kind of things teenagers are exposed to. These old seventies horrors are nothing to what they see now.
I must admit that Phantasm doesn't really stand the test of time when it comes to being scary and some of it is very tame and also very lame but for its time it was quite controversial and is still a classic for being one of the pioneers of the run of horror movie that assaulted the early nineteen eighties.
A soon as you watch it now, you know it's a seventies movie with the massive shirt collars and flared jeans and the dialogue is non-committal and badly structured; but let's not forget that they were not working with a massive budget. The props were mediocre and the actors relatively inexperienced when it came to the big screen.
The now iconic (in the world of horror at least) silver balls flying around guarding the Tall man were deadly spheres that contained blades and a drill. The first scene where we saw one embed itself into a man's skull and drill a hole was a dreadful scene back in nineteen seventy-nine but today it is rather pathetic to be honest and the colour of the blood is so red and so tomato ketchup that it is almost unblood-like.
The same goes for the yellow blood or substance that comes from the Tall man's hand when Mike chops off his fingers with a knife. It looks like custard and probably is. The film makers can be forgiven for this though as at the time it was a big deal to see fingers chopped off in the cinema and a man having a hole drilled in his head was shocking.
Don Coscarelli wrote, directed and produced the movie and by today's standards it would've been regarded as a huge success and a crowd puller. The tag-line 'If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead' was a master stroke when it came to promotion. It was more a challenge to movie goers than a pull-line and it worked tremendously well in terms of sales.
The script would be panned by most critics but the storyline is actually quite cool if you like your portal, time-travel, scary and mysterious plots and if you read behind the lines; i.e.: the corny dialogue, then you can find an interesting story that conjures up a lot of questions.
With a small budget and an inexperienced crew comes the inevitable mistakes and there are a few. Some of the continuity is terrible but again, back in nineteen seventy-nine, I doubt many people noticed most of them on the big screen. Most of them are just silly little things like Michael losing one of his trainers but then wearing both of them again in the next scene. I suppose he could've had two pairs right? A lot of the dialogue is basically padding to get to the next high point or dramatic scene and this is very evident in some of the pointless drivel that the characters blurt out.
The thing with Phantasm is that you have to take it at face value and embrace it for what it is. If it was dissected scene by scene you could pull it to pieces but what is the point? I would rather remember it with fondness and even though it may not really stand up as a great film today you can see why it was a cinema favourite back in seventy nine.
The Tall man is such an iconic villain and one of the great boogeymanesque characters of horror movie history. The movie has gained a huge cult following and spawned, as I said earlier, three sequels; which I will no doubt be reviewing at a later stage.
I give Phantasm three out of five stars because the soundtrack is fabulous and it had a brilliant ad campaign that made me curious as a child.
Phantasm is one of the weirdest Sci-Fi/Horror movies I've ever seen but is also one of the most enjoyable despite the low budget afforded to it.
The story surrounds a 13-year old boy the name of Michael Pearson and he has a few personal problems in his life. His parents have passed away and he is being cared for by his older brother Jody.
One day, one of Jody's Friends, Tommy, is found mysteriously dead in Morningside Cemetery. Jody attends the funeral along with Reggie who is an ice-cream seller. He is also the closest friend to Mike and Jody. Unfortunately Mike cannot attend the funeral as he had terrible nightmares when he went to his own parent's funeral a few years back and can't and won't go through that again..
He does however spy on proceedings from a behind a bush in the cemetery where no-one can see him. After everyone has left once the funeral is over, Mike sees a very tall and creepy looking man lift up Tommy's coffin all by himself, loads it into a hearse and drives off.
Mike is extremely shocked by what he saw and demands answers. Therefore he goes to investigate one night at the mortuary and realizes that it's not just a mortuary but a terrible, horrifying place. Corpses are dug from graves and transformed into Dwarves in cloaks and unattached limbs turn into mutant insects. These roam the hallways and kill their unsuspecting victims. Mike manages to escape this hell hole, and manages to get a finger he severed from the hand of the tall man he saw at the cemetery. Once he shows this grisly souvenir to Jody, he starts to believe his stories, especially as the finger still moves about despite being cut off, with yellow blood oozing from it. And so begins a chilling investigation into what exactly this tall man is doing and why. Pretty weird isn't it?!
I really enjoyed this particular horror movie as it's incredibly original as you can tell from my synopsis and is pretty frightening too without ever going over the top and being too gory like some recent films. I found that the movie preys on your fears as I'm sure most of us are all in some way scared of cemeteries, mortuaries, funerals etc. after dark and this film features all those things. There is also a deeper message that deals with what happens to you after death and do you really go to heaven and what becomes of you? It really got me thinking about the whole thing while watching.
There is plenty of action in Phantasm to keep you interested with car chases, fights and the investigation of the creepy mortuary all thrown in. Considering the low budget for this film the special effects are not bad and the action sequences are fantastic. Along with everything else one of the things that makes this movie so enjoyable is the scenery and atmosphere which is so dark and evil and makes you feel very uncomfortable in your seat.
Overall, Phantasm is a movie that must be seen by every Horror movie fan who wants to see what a true Horror film is all about and made with a low budget. It is interesting to see the comparison between this and some of the big budget horrors out nowadays. There is so much dark and haunting images and themes and mix this with a great cast and brilliant music and albeit weird, but well written story. If you can pick it up on DVD then do it..
Phantasm is a cult 1979 low-budget horror film written and directed by Don Coscarelli. The story is set in a small Californian town - where people have started to vanish and dead bodies are mysteriously disappearing from the local cemetery - and revolves around perceptive shaggy haired adolescent Mike (Michael Baldwin) who lives with his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) after the death of their parents. Jody is a musician and plays together in a three-piece blues band with friends, part-time ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Tommy (Bill Cone). Bad things start to happen though when Tommy is murdered in Morningside cemetery by a strange 'lady in lavender' (Kathy Lester) and young Mike surreptitiously tags along to attend the funeral. He is perturbed by some very odd noises and shocked to secretly spy the director of Morningside cemetery, a sinister and mysterious figure known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), effortlessly lift Tommy's heavy coffin into a hearse single-handedly as if it weighed nothing at all.
Mike subsequently visits a fortune teller (Mary Ellen Shaw) who only speaks through her granddaughter (Terrie Kalbus). He is fearful of Jody leaving him to go on tour and seeks reassurance and also confesses about the incident at Morningside cemetery. The fortune teller produces a mysterious black box and tells Mike that fear is the real killer. When the fortune teller's granddaughter disappears after a visit to Morningside cemetery, Mike, Jody and Reggie soon find themselves drawn ever deeper into mystery and danger with increasingly surreal and odd occurrences abounding and the nightmarish Tall Man seemingly everywhere and slowly taking control of the town...
A big component of the fun and point of the Phantasm films I think is that you generally have no idea what is going on most of the time. This is a film (and series) that substitutes a surreal ambience and a palpable feeling of dread for any noticeable adherence to conventional coherence or structure and actually works all the better for it. The Tall Man, played by the wonderful Angus Scrimm and looking uncannily like a permanently scowling long-haired version of Ian Duncan Smith in a black suit that really is far too small for him, is a great ambiguous horror villain that you become eager to find out more about. The Tall Man is a vivid creation and anticipates the arrival of Freddy Kruger with the frequent blurring of the line between fantasy and reality and his ability to be both everywhere and nowhere. Scrimm seems to be relishing his role here and is very good value, especially when he drawls "You play a good game boy" to Mike in his rather sneering and sombre voice.
The Tall Man is never really adequately explained too much in terms of origin or motivation in Phantasm and this dreamlike air of vagueness makes both the character creepier and the film on the whole more intriguing, pulling the viewer deeper into the mystery. He appears, for reasons best known to himself!, to be stealing dead bodies from the cemetery to resuscitate into malevolent hooded mutant dwarves with yellow blood and then send on to a very strange place indeed. We do get a brief glimpse in Phantasm of where he sends these bodies in a fairly inventive and striking sequence executed in an admirably homemade but clever fashion that enjoyably sends the film veering across sharply into a science fiction direction. The Tall Man's demonic hooded dwarves in Phantasm owe an obvious debt to the similarly hooded and diminutive Jawa creatures from the original Star Wars but are reasonably creepy as they make life difficult for Mike and friends - although they are probably a tad more effective early on in the film when they aren't revealed too much. The meshing of genres by Coscarelli makes Phantasm a winning mixture of sci-fi, horror and more surreal bonkers elements.
The film is perhaps most famous for the strange flying metallic silver spheres that The Tall Man controls telepathically and uses to despatch people who poke their nose around the mausoleum too much for his liking. Coscarelli makes inventive use of these spheres with an eerie humming noise signaling ther imminent arrival and plenty of fun low-angle camera shots from the POV of a sphere as it races towards someone down a corridor. The amazing mortuary sets (all accomplished on a shoestring budget) are a big part of the film and its strong undercurrent of dread and otherworldliness. There is some gore but the film also understands the importance of atmosphere with wonderfully spooky and very immediate and distinctive music not entirely unlike the famous John Carpenter Halloween theme. Phantasm eventually piles on the surreal horror antics in a very entertaining fashion and makes great use of old staples like cemeteries under the moonlight, strange foggy goings on in the dead of night and spooky mirrors that seem to be hiding something.
Phantasm was an exceptionally low-budget endeavour but despite this the effects and overall look and design of the film still hold up fairly well after all these years. Many of the cast and crew were apparently friends helping each other out with numerous relatives roped in to be extras and because of this you get a real sense in the film of characters who really care about each other and who you come to care about too. The film has nice poignant elements of a family drama at times too with young Mike worried about Jody leaving him after the death of their parents. The relationship between the brothers is nicely conveyed through a love of cars and the near legendary Reggie Bannister is very likeable as the ice cream man turned action hero, a role he would return to for several cheap and cheerful sequels. "Okay. I see it, I see it all now," says Reggie, a trifle optimistically. "What we gotta do is we gotta snag that tall dude and stomp the shit out of him, and we'll find out what the hell is going on up there."
Although no one here was ever likely to be nominated for an acting award, the variable thesping and DIY ethic to Phantasm means that it doesn't really matter a great deal and somehow fits into the spirit of the film. We like Mike, Jody and Reggie and therefore root for them in the film, making their plight more engaging and tense. The real star of the film though is undoubtedly Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man.
Overall, Phantasm is an enjoyable and likeable slice of low-budget horror nonsense that is still well worth watching if you've never seen it before.
Reggie: OK, I see it all now. We gotta stomp the s**t outta that tall dude! When Mike follows his older brother to an old cemetery while spying on him, he soon notices some pretty strange events are happening here, they all lead back to the tall undertaker that runs the Morning Side funeral home. As Mike investigates further, the tall undertaker (known as the tall man) gets annoyed that this kid and soon enough Mike find?s himself in a world of trouble. Released in 1979, both written and directed by Don Coscarelli?s Phantasm is a strange and twisted tale, it is reported it originally started out as a simple movie about a young boy who has strange fantasy to escape the real world where his parents have both recently died in an accident. Somewhere along the line the film mutated and added more of these supernatural elements thus creating the film we have now, where the supernatural events are not just dreams or fantasy but actually take place in the real world ? or do they? At the very start of Phantasm we see a funeral attended by Mike?s Brother Jody and his friend Reggie, Reggie comments that it is good that they didn?t bring Mike, Jody agrees telling us he had nightmares for weeks after the death of his parents. We then see Mike visit a fortune-teller, as Mike is convinced that Jody too will leave him. We also learn here that Jody is actually also dead, in a car accident, so just what is going on in Phantasm? That?s the beauty of the film, its amazing ability to surprise and shock before finally wrapping the film up nicely. Michael Baldwin as Mike is quite good for a child actor, handles the emotional scenes very well and does suffer from the annoying kid factor a few times. Bill Thornbury is also good as Jody, plays the good guy big brother part well. Stand out performance is definitely from Reggie Bannister as Reggie the ice-cream man, the guy just emits coolness in his character. Angus Scrimm as the tall man is one scary guy
and helps the films all-round creepiness feel. The film has a very grim look, nice shots, groovy ball POV?s, smoke machines in the cemetery, slow motion and amazingly creepy lighting. Scenes filmed in the funeral home look great, the long marble filled corridors have never looked scarier than here. Its also strange that all the sequels and the trailers focus on the Tall mans flying metal balls, as they play such a small part in the first film. The effects here are also pretty good, im guessing the budget was pretty low, I think Don Coscarelli finances the Phantasm films himself, but you can?t tell that it is a low budget film, the sets and effects all look good.
This cult film has to be one of the most original and weird films I have seen. It is about a boy who sees strange things at the cemetary like a tall man who can carry a coffin with some in by himself and midgits in brown cloaks. He tells his brother who at first doesn't believe him but when he sees it for himself agrees to got the cemetary. They discover the tall man is turning the dead into his slaves. They must stop him before it's too late. The story line is confusing and it has to be watched a couple of times to understand it but it has some original ideas, like killer balls and the tall man is an excellent villian. I would recommend it to any horror fan.
This is the first film in the Phantasm quartet and was first made in 1979. It never quite got the attention it deserved with the more high profile horror films produced around the time (like Halloween in 1978 and Friday the 13th in 1980) overshadowing it, which is a shame as it is a highly effective horror film that relies more on style and an original story than shocks (although it does have some!) to entertain. The film starts with a young boy – Mike (played by Michael Baldwin) noticing some strange goings on at the local cemetery (Morningside) and in particular the Undertaker “The Tall Man” ((played with great style and malevolence by Angus Scrimm who is truly foreboding and scary), who appears to have great strength and (according to old photographs) is extremely old! Mike tells his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and family Reggie (Reggie Bannister) about his suspicions and they are sceptical, Jody investigates and not long after dies in car crash. So Mike and Reggie decide to try and find out what is going on – it is during these efforts that they encounter the Tall Man’s slaves…cloaked dwarves who are extremely vicious, and the guardians of the Tall Mans plans…The Silver Spheres – flying metallic balls about three times the size of a cricket ball which fly though the air hunting intruders and have a nice line in weaponry – a spike to impale themselves in the forehead and a small drill, with an exhaust at the back for the blood. Where do the dwarves come from? What is their purpose? Who is the Tall Man? And where does he come from? Well to find out you will have to watch this (and the subsequent) film(s). Most of the film is shot in the dark so it can be hard seeing what is going on at times, but this really adds to the atmosphere and tension, and this is heightened by the very effective musical score. The film does have some gore, but it is not excessive and fits in well with the con
text of the story and unusually for a horror film it also borders at times on being an action movie. This series of films must be watched in order, otherwise it will be very hard to understand exactly what is going on in subsequent films as they have a unique continuity for feature films and also rely a lot on flashbacks. For fans of the horror genre this film comes highly recommended, it is out on DVD on Region 2, but my advice would be to get the Region 1 release as it has more extras and is also presented in widescreen (unlike the R2 version, which although it does have some nice extras is 4:3 television ratio).
Don Coscarelli as about 20 years old when he made this ultra low-budget chiller, and he (along with his leading men) seems to have based his entire career on it. The story follows a young man who suspects some dodgy goings on in the local graveyard. Along with an ice cream man (armed with a 4 barreled (!?!) shotgun), he saves he day... for a while. Without giving *too* much away, it involved The Tall Man, an alien being who is stealing brains from corpses, turning them into midget zombies and sending them back to his homeworld. The standout 'characters' or chrome metal spheres, which fly around, drilling holes into people who go snooping. it's a real case of 'seen one, seen 'em all', and though the 3 (to date) sequels gradually explain more of what's going on, you won't be any the wiser when the credits roll on part 4. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.. The second part is the best, but you can do far worse than seeing this bizarre, unique piece of cinema.