Movie Review – Phantasm

1979 Avco Embassy

Three and Half Star

Phantasm has been one of my favorite horror movies since I first saw it in 1979. One of the things I love the most about it is its originality and the strange atmosphere that permeates every scene. I don’t know how writer and director Don Coscarelli managed to do it but he made one of the creepiest horror movies of all time on a shoestring budget with some seriously wacked out story elements.

Just look at the story – After one of their friends dies three guys discover someone is stealing bodies at the Morningside Funereal Home, not only stealing them but resurrecting them and shrinking them down into little demented dwarves. These dwarves are then stuffed into barrels and shipped off to another world through a portal that resembles a giant tuning fork. Guarding the hallways of Morningside are flying chrome spheres that drill into their victims heads and drain their blood. Meanwhile the mysterious Tall Man rules over all this insanity.

Sounds totally absurd huh? Damn right it does but like I said for some reason it works. Maybe it’s the cast, not great actors, but likable in a real world guys you have a beer with kind of way? Maybe it’s the cheaply built but extremely effective Morningside sets? Maybe it’s the Italian horror vibe or the awesome music score? I believe it’s all of the above but most of all it’s the mystery. None of this weirdness is ever explained. Not in this movie or in any of the three sequels. There are hints of possible explanations but nothing definite, no concrete answers to what the hell is going on and that to me is a big part of what makes this movie work. It’s like having a strange nightmare that you know is a nightmare but is still disturbing long after you wake up.

The good:

The cast. It’s hard to believe but these guys played these characters from 1978 to 1998 with only a ridiculous recast in the second sequel spoiling the continuity.

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My hair used to look like this when it still was attached to my head.

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Now I look more like this except far more handsome.

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Maybe I should wear a top hat.

This movie “feels” like an Italian horror movie to me. I know the director was influenced by them and he really captures the otherworldly atmosphere that oozes from Italian horror perfectly. The sets and lighting, music score, weird plot elements, and over the top gore add to that feeling immensely.

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Wanna play catch? I’ll throw first…

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Pick a dwarf any dwarf.

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I love the simplicity of this set.

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The not so good:

Jody’s “Never shoot a man unless you mean to kill him.” speech to Mike cracks me up every time I watch this. Jody makes it sound like he gets into gunfights on a regular basis.

It would have been nice to have just a little more explanation of what is going on.

Random thoughts and observations:

So the Tall Man is disguised as the Lady in Lavender having “relations” with Tommy? So does that mean that the Tall Man actually had sex with Tommy before killing him? Kinky.

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The Tall Man in disguise…

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…gets busy with Tommy before killing him…

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…and reverting to his “true” self.

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Tommy is dead…

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…but grows a beard and comes back as a killer dwarf.

What is up with the ending? The ending and various story elements have been debated endlessly by Phans of this movie. It all adds to the weirdness and can be interpreted in many ways. According to interviews I have read Don Coscarelli never intended to make a sequel so really had no explanation in mind when making this movie.

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Reggie is killed.

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The Tall Man is buried in a mine shaft under paper mache rocks.

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But it’s all a dream.

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Jody is actually the one who died in a car accident.

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Reggie is fine.

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But was it a dream or was it real? Boooooooyyyyyyyy…

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