I've wasted my life-I mean, I've enjoyed being a connoisseur of the classic
modern day horror movie offerings that "Hollywood" has sent our way. There
was Freddy giving Johnny Depp and all those other kids on Elm Street
nightmares. That hockey-masked Jason fella (and his mom) running around the
forest hacking up camp councilors. Michael Myers very, very, very slowly
stalking behind people, yet miraculously catching up to them in time to do
some good old fashioned killin'. Leatherface and his wacky chainsawing
ways. Reanimated Chucky dolls, nasty lil' Leprechauns, Wishmasters,
Pumpkinheads, Pinheads, Candyman, various manner of bad Stephen King
adaptations...and who could forget our old friend Bruce Campbell and his
battles versus all of them there Evil Dead?
But one of the few that has fallen through the cracks up until last night,
was Phantasm. This 1979 low budget oddity was written and directed by one
Don Coscarelli. His resume also includes: Phantasm II: Never Dead, Phantasm
III: Lord of the Dead, Phantasm IV: Oblivion and Beastmaster.
The movie opens with a completely gratuitous sex scene. Always a good start.
Then, the young woman stabs her partner and turns into a scary old guy.
Well, that's different. We pick up things after that with a lil' effeminate
girly kid spying on the funeral of that guy who got killed by the girl/old
guy. He spots the scary old guy (or Tall Man) lift up the casket all by
himself, and instead of thinking that the guys just unnaturally strong, he
jumps to the conclusion that he's some kind of graveyard dwelling monster.
After falling off of his motorcycle and getting stalked by some Jawa's from
Star Wars (frightening!), he makes a break for safer ground. We learn that
he's all messed up because his parents recently died. And understandably,
he doesn't take too kindly to the fact that the funeral parlor that their
bodies are in is being run by a creepy old strong guy and is crawling with
screeching hooded midgets. Who wouldn't be upset by that? So, as often
happen in these Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys type tales, he takes it upon himself
to poke his nose about where it don't belong and get a bunch of people
killed. Actually, for a supposed horror movie, there's an appallingly low
He resorts to a life of crime, breaking and entering into the scary old
guy's house. What's the defenseless elderly gentleman to do but sick a
super quick metallic tennis ball with knives after the lil' punk? The kid
escapes the 90 year old man (which really doesn't seem like it would be all
that difficult), and goes crying to his cool Partridge Family-esque older
brother. And seeing what instigated being cool back in those dark ages just
makes me more content to be as far away from that decade as possible. He
then gets a particularly pedophile-ish looking ice cream man to lend a hand.
I'm not exactly sure his involvement in the grand scheme of things. He
might be big brothers boyfriend...drug dealer...I don't know.
They go on a road trip to pester the old guy some more. Now, I won't give
away too much here, because I realize that chances are that immediately upon
reading this wonderful lil' piece the everyone is going to run out to their
local video emporium to rent or buy this lil' gem. And I wouldn't want to
upset anyone by ruining the film's exciting/action-packed conclusion. But
let's just say that it involves midget zombie Martians...I've said too much.
Phantasm stars Michael Baldwin (no relation to Alec, William etc...), Bill
Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, and Kathy Lester. In other words, a batch of
people that you never heard of before and you'll never hear of again. And
who could forget the stirring performance of Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man.
His groundbreaking portrayal of an old fossil chasing around a kid and
yelling "Boy!" was stirring and heartfelt. Plus, his name's Angus
Scrimm...what the hell else was he going to do with his life besides for be
a horror movie bad guy? "Angus Scrimm daycare. Angus speaking, how can I
kill you...I mean help you".
Variety praised that Phantasm would "scare [and] delight". And Newsweek
called it "off-the-wall scary [and] marvelous". You must remember that those
reviews were written in the swinging '70's though. When everyone was hopped
up on illegal narcotics, wearing bell-bottoms and swapping spouses at key
parties...so they can't really be trusted.
Next up to bat for Mr. Coscarelli is the muchly anticipated upcoming next
chapter in the Phantasm legacy, Phantasm's End. Now to be honest, I haven't
actually seen any of the Phantasm sequels, and I'm not all that sure if I
can rationalize giving up more hours of my life that I can never get back
over to the franchise. I'm also fairly positive that there's not anyone
actually anticipating the next chapter... but big time kudos' to Coscarelli
for stretching out a career from a forgettable movie that came out amid much
better scary fare for over two decades. The fifth film does have Bruce
Campbell in it though; so history dictates that it must be one of the
greatest movies of all time. Shh...don't ruin my fun.