When I first started writing film reviews, I did it for pure enjoyment. I’d write about the acting performances, the special effects, and any other element that appeared on the surface of all films I was watching. Now, almost four years later, I’ve found myself using a more critical eye to try to turn films that I don’t necessarily enjoy into something that still presents some enjoyable traits. Sure, I still look at things like the actors and effects, but I need to dig a little deeper sometimes. That is exactly what had to be done with my latest viewing of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, as, and I know I may hear it from most horror film enthusiasts after I say this but, I feel this is one isn’t quite as good as everyone makes it out to be.
When Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) secretly watches his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and the rest of the patrons at their friend Tommy’s funeral, he happens to spy a mysterious man single-handedly lift Tommy’s casket and drive away with it. The brothers soon realize that there is more to this Tall Man, including his army of shrunken-down undead slaves.
I remember first watching Phantasm a couple of years back and being completely underwhelmed by my viewing experience. Is this really the same Phantasm film that everyone had deemed a ‘classic?’ What was I missing? Unfortunately, I seem to ask myself this question quite often when it comes to the horror genre, as I am apparently in the minority when it comes to disliking films that most call ‘classic’ or ‘best movie of the year’ (see The Babadook, It Follows, or Starry Eyes). Without giving it much more thought, I moved on with my life. Years later, with another shot at the film, now remastered in all of its beautiful HD glory, I can finally figure out what I missed the first time around… err… maybe not.
Phantasm is pretty much the 1979 version of any indie horror film that comes out today — the acting isn’t the greatest, the blood and gore effects are lackluster, and quite frankly, the story seems quite convoluted at times. My second viewing went pretty much just as my first did. It wasn’t until about 85% of the film had run its course that I finally got a little hint of what people were talking about. The last 20 minutes or so finally explain the Ewok-inspired demons that were running around all throughout the film and managed to tie up some other loose ends that were just dangling around in my brain.
While I stand firm on my stance that Coscarelli’s 1979 sci-fi scare flick isn’t the greatest, I do have to put some things into perspective. This film was created in 1978 and released a year later in 1979. Seventy-nine. That is damn near 40 years ago! If I was alive and had seen this film 40 years ago, I probably would have run out of the theater, screaming like a little girl. I mean, this stuff is kind of ahead of its time; Different dimensions, floating spheres that can drill into your skull, and an army of shrunken re-animated corpses. This is some rough stuff, folks. Add in some occasional gorgeous cinematography and lighting techniques (Reg’s ice cream truck on its side, lights shining through all windows, I’m looking at you!) and a high-key piano score that, to this day, is still simultaneously creepy and beautiful and you have yourself a pretty damn good horror feature. Whoa, I finally see what all the fuss is about! And to think, it only took a few years of analyzing the horror genre from top to bottom to figure it all out. Pfft.
Almost four decades after its original release and years of being touted as a cult classic, writer/director/cinematographer/editor/younameithedidit Don Coscarelli’s first horror film has finally received a much-deserved high-definition remaster and Blu-ray home release. Restored and presented by Bad Robot Productions, which happens to be founded and run by another jack-of-all-trades in the film industry, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), this truly is the best we will ever see Phantasm. The film looks and sounds fantastic and really does do it justice. Included on the release are a few special features, my favorite of which is a vintage interview segment with both Coscarelli and actor, Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man, himself, that sheds some insight on the making of the film and also shows what a great actor the late Scrimm truly was.
If you are a fan of the film, this home release is a must-have for your collection. Be sure to pick up a copy on Blu-ray, available now from Well Go USA Entertainment.
I give this film 3.5 severed fingers out of 5.