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(1979) rated: R

Director: Don Coscarelli

Starring: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, and the imposing Angus Scrimm.

Synopsis: 13-year-old Mike Pearson (Michael Baldwin) witnesses some mysterious happenings at the nearby Morningside cemetery and decides to investigate. What he finds is a horrifying plot conceived by the malicious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). As if that wasn't enough, Mike has to deal with the possibility that his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) will leave him (their parents having died recently). But it seems that the strange events at Morningside will bring the brothers (and balding ice cream vendor Reggie) together in a fight against evil.

Review: Well, I have to confess, it's probably impossible for me to be an objective and impartial reviewer with this movie (I shall try my best!). I don't even know where to begin. I suppose I shall start by being unbiased and saying that the movie is definitely not perfect. Sometimes I wish that someone would take the time to update it and realize its full potential. However, the original film has become one of the most endearing yet terrifying horror movies I have ever seen.

Director/Screenwriter/Producer Don Coscarelli basically made the film with a shoestring budget and family and friends as actors. At times, this does detract from the movie as some of the special effects are, well, cheesy to say the least and the acting occasionally seems forced. Personally, I think all of the actors did a fantastic job portraying their respective characters, especially when they had to work with a cheesy effect. For instance, there is a scene in which a large bug attacks Mike and Jody and they catch it in a jacket and wrestle with it. The bug is one of the corniest effects I have ever seen, but the actors somehow manage to give the scene a little credibility (its still makes you laugh pretty hard though). At the time Angus Scrimm was known for being the "nice guy", but he was able to do a marvelous job playing the malevolent Tall Man (I still have nightmares where the Tall Man is chasing me).

Coscarelli's direction is well done with only a few blemishes that can be easily excused. He was able to craft some of the creepiest scenes in modern cinema with the help of an excellent set design, an awesome soundtrack, and some great acting. His use of symmetry and framing touches the imagination in a peculiar way as he manages to create a sense of Byzantine claustrophobia in the mausoleum, sometimes leaving the viewer as disoriented as the bewildered characters. The ending is puzzling, disturbing, and, of course, extremely effective as it leaves more questions than it answers.

As Coscarelli says, "I am fascinated and frightened by the American way of death... how a corpse is spirited away by the mortician to some place we are not allowed to go, refabricated by the embalmer, and grandly interred. I knew this subject would make a great horror movie." Indeed it has. The movie is a little rough around the edges, but it manages to get under your skin. As someone on Amazon put it, "Who would of thought a movie about grave robbing migets would be so damn scary." This is imaginative and unusual filmmaking that could probably use some revision, but its great anyway!

Did you notice:
• The unusual amount of Dos Equis beer. It turns out that they sponsored the film by contributing a garage full of beer!
• Most of the mysterious dwarves are played by costumed children, but many of the background dwarves are actually cardboard cutouts.

Did you know:
• Coscarelli wrote Phantasm in an isolated mountain cabin over an intense 3 week period. "The longer I stayed in that cabin, the stranger my concepts became," he noted.
• The Red Planet's sweeping plains are, in reality, the sloping side of a dam, given an unearthly sheen by trick photography.
• In addition to the Phantasm films, Don Coscarelli also directed the fantasy epic The Beastmaster.
• The flying sphere, inspired by one of Coscarelli's nightmares, was built by Will Green, who passed away before he could see his work on the big screen.

• What exactly is the Tall Man?
• What purpose do the spheres serve?
• Where is the Tall Man transporting his "slaves" and to what purpose does he hope to use them?
• What happened at the end?
• What would you do if you saw a mortician pick up a coffin that was supposed to be in the ground and put it back in the hearse?

Links: The best damn Phantasm site around!
It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie!: Rinkworks's Review of Phantasm which will most likely present a more accurate description of how you will like Phantasm than me:)
Phantasm (IMDB)

Phantasm II
Phantasm III
Phantasm IV
Evil Dead II
Army of Darkness

The Store:
Note: The DVD or Laserdisc presentation of Phantasm is far superior to the VHS format. The picture and sound are infinitely clearer and the DVD also features a whole slew of extra stuff, such as deleted scenes, interviews and all sorts of promotional stuff!
Phantasm (DVD)
Phantasm (VHS)

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