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The DVD Vaults: Phantasm.
batturtle

 
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 body count.

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.





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