I first saw “Phantasm” thirteen years ago and it’s one of the more mind blowing horror films I’ve ever seen. It surely holds up better than the sequels, all of which I’d seen way before ever watching the original film. While “Phantasm” is still a bit of a goofy horror film in some instances, it’s also an entertaining one with some great moments of atmosphere and eeriness. Director Coscarelli is never afraid to stretch the limits of his premise, making “Phantasm” feel like some surreal nightmare that our characters are stuck in. There’s the demonic fly, the dwarf drones, and of course one of the best scenes involving character Mike watching the Tall Man stomp through his small town.
Angus Scrimm’s dialogue is slim but his presence is enormous, allowing for one of the most menacing villains in horror movie history. Coscarelli’s casting of Scrimm is genius as he elevates a pretty good horror movie in to an altogether great one. The Tall Man isn’t just powerful, but he’s also occasionally perverse who shape shifts in to women every now and then to trick our heroes, and even appears to Mike during a dream standing over his bed. What makes Tall Man even more perverse is his use of the dead, in which he turns them in to his bidding army of minions draped in hoods. Despite the age, “Phantasm” still garners some remarkable special effects and excellent gore that adds to the surrealism that emanates until the very end.
Even in 1979 there was nothing like Don Coscarelli’s horror science fiction film, and there still isn’t. There’s a supernatural mortician with super strength and shape shifting powers, air bound deadly silver spheres with weapons on its ends, and dwarf like monsters made up of the recently deceased. Not to mention even the protagonists are all oddities in and of themselves, including Reggie Bannister as Reggie, a man with a ponytail who works in an ice cream truck, and delights in being a musician. There are also scenes intended to be tense that are mostly comical including a sequence in a garage, and a confrontation with the shape shifting Tall Man, but Coscarelli salvages it all with a great mood and a memorable score.
A lot of the character motivations don’t make a lot of sense, which contributes to “Phantasm” not making too much sense when you hold it to the fire. While director Don Coscarelli thrives on the inexplicable, other elements are just there as a means of adding to the mounting weirdness and that concept works against the movie, and for it. “Phantasm” works mostly as an experience and is a solid genre entry thanks to its eccentric atmosphere and the great Angus Scrimm.
The Remastered version of “Phantasm” features “Graveyard Carz Episode” an eleven minute vignette with Don Coscarelli and A. Michael Baldwin. There are twenty eight minutes of interviews from 1979 on a TV show with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm. There are six deleted scenes, and the original trailer clocking in at two minutes. There’s also the two minute trailer for the “Remastered” film, and finally an audio commentary with Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury.