Phantasm is my favourite horror movie of all time. It ticks all the boxes that a good horror flick should have. It is scary, gory, violent, weird and rather funny. Made on a shoestring budget by Don Coscarelli, this is an inspiration to all young filmmakers as to how to make something very big with very little in budget.
The storyline features a galactic overlord/ ghoul, or whatever he is, called the Tall Man and how he gathers human remains, crushes them up and reanimates them into psycho ‘Jawa-like’ midgets for the slave labour market in a far off dimension or planet. Yet the movie works best when focusing on the the family drama aspect and the overlying theme of fear, loss, madness and death (and a combination of all four).
24 year old Jody (Bill Thornbury) has looked after his young brother, Mike (A Michael Baldwin) since their parents died. Mike is still coming to terms with their deaths and is petrified that his brother will be next to meet his maker leaving him all alone. The arrival of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), his henchmen, rabid dwarf slaves and head drilling, flying spheres do not make his life any easier. Fortunately for resilient Mike, he has Jody, Reggie (family friend, monster killer and ice cream salesman) and their cool car on his side.
The reason that I loved and was petrified by Phantasm was that from a very early age I related to Mike’s predicament. I too feared growing up, losing the ones that I love and venturing into the unknown. There is also the suggestion that Mike has created this imaginary world (with ghouls and aliens) as an escape from the demise and breakdown of his family unit. The final reels with Reggie and Mike are very emotional and you want things to turn out okay but you know the story may still have a trick up it’s sleeve.
All the cast do a solid enough job in their roles. Reggie (Reggie Bannister) delivers most of the comic relief as the surrogate father figure to the boys and also hints to his action figure role in later Phantasm entries.
A final mention must be made regards the grandaddy of bogeymen, The Tall Man, played by Angus Scrimm. He is menacing and a threat throughout the film’s running time yet is limited to very little screen time. He is an unstoppable ghoul and wisely the director, Don Coscarelli does not explain too much about his origins and intentions. Yet the most memorable aspect of the movie are the skull drilling, metal balls. It was the movie’s first ball attack that resulted in the only cut by the US censors.
Phantasm is a truly original horror/ sci-fi classic.