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Like everyone that has reviewed this film before me, I am going to sing it's
praises, however, unlike those before me, I'm not quite sure why. This film
did everything it was supposed to do as a horror film. It scared me in a
few areas, it was quite gory in others and it was easily one of the ten most
quirky and bizarre films I have ever seen. I can't tell you why anything
transpires the way it does in here, I can't even tell you why people do the
things they do, but I don't really think that is the point of the film.
Like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, this is more of mind altering
experience or a dream that just doesn't make any sense. Perhaps this is a
film that is esoteric by design and if that is the case then perhaps I
should just watch it over and over again until I do have some sort of
puerile grasp of it.
Dictionary.com's definition of a phantasm is "in Platonic philosophy,
objective reality as observed by the five senses." Another definiton it
gives is simply, "a notion". And if you watch this film from beginning to
end you will see why this makes all the sense in the world, yet it is still
an abstruse concept that is meant to be exactly what it
The film begins with a funeral of one of Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie's
(Reggie Bannister) best friends. Jody's little brother, Mikey ( A Michael
Baldwin) is a precocious kid who can't seem to stay in one place and follows
his big brother everywhere he goes. Hence he is at the funeral but is
surreptitiously hiding out in the bushes. As the funeral ends, he sees the
caretaker lift a casket all by himself and put it into his truck. This is
the nascency of the bizaare rituals that encompass the film.
Michael decides to investigate the strange looking mansion where the
cemetery rests. Once he breaks into the house, he is chased by some strange
Jawa looking creatures and by a sphere that seems to come out of nowhere and
drains your head of blood. He does escape and finally gets his big brother
to believe him when he says that things aren't quite right up at the
Morningside Cemetery. Now, up until this point, the film is quite linear.
You have your classic set-up, a spooky looking mansion where the dead are
taken and your typical stupid characters that do the traditional scary movie
things, like going to investigate a haunted house all by yourself,
gratuitous breast shots, some eerie music and dark nights. But that is
where the title "typical horror film" ends and it crosses over into Rod
Serling territory. From here on out, it just goes weird, but in a goosebump
inducing way that keeps you frozen in your seat.
Don Coscarelli can take all of the praise and/or blame for this eccentric
film. He wrote, produced, directed, was the DP, the editor and as another
reviewer so aptly pointed out, he probably swept the floors at night and
fetched coffee for those on the set. This is his incarnation. I also
happen to agree with other viewers that say that this film has one of the
most haunting yet mellifluous scores which is on par with Carpenter's
Halloween theme. Both are intricate pieces to the presence of the film.
Words like haunting, eerie, creepy and forbidding all come to mind when you
hear the score. It is also uncanny to see some of the similarities to A
Nightmare On Elm Street and Phantasm. Nightmare was a little more clear
with what it was trying to say but both films have an overtly murky and
dream like exploration into realms that many of us have yet to
The underlying theme in this film is the unsolved questions that plague many
of us when we wonder what happens when you die. Most of us believe that you
go to Heaven or Hell. But those are just theories. And if theories are
unproven then what is stop you from believing that this movie could really
be the answer to those questions? As the tag line for the film so
poignantly points out, "If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead."
What if all of this was true? What if you could be stolen and made into
something that you did not ask to become? Who is the Tall Man and what is
he doing here in our world? One of the most harrowing yet well done plot
pieces is when Mikey goes to the girl's house and finds an old picture of
the Tall Man sitting on a horse carriage, looking like it is circa 1776.
This leaves the viewer ripe with questions.
Phantasm will leave you with more questions than answers but I will say this
about the film. In a day and age where you get prosaic, banal and myopic
efforts like ( take your pick of most of the horror that has "graced" our
screens since the Scream and Blair Witch craze) and you compare them to
films like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Phantasm, you quickly
realize that the 70's and early 80's was the genesis of the horror film. I
realize horror probably dates back to Nosferatu and it became respected with
Psycho, but to look at the films that were born in the 70's and 80's, it's a
veritable, indefeasible list of some of the most revered and imitated horror
films of all time. Now that I have seen Phantasm I can easily see the mark
it has left on other films.
9 out of 10----As I said, I still can't tell you what this film is all about
nor can I tell you what it all means or how it all ends, all I can say is
that it made me feel something strange with it's disingenuous stroke of the
brush. This is a film that absolutely demands a second and third
viewing....which is what I am about to do right now. BOY!!!!!!!
Tags for Phantasm Full Movie
A. Michael Baldwin
, Bill Thornbury
, Kathy Lester
, Reggie Bannister
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