October Horror Movie Series-Phantasm

October 6, 2008

I am a few days behind in posting the first two films of my October horror movie series but better late than never, so lets get started. Before I do though let me introduce this column to all of you and thank you for taking the time to stop by and read my humble little movie review journal. Each month I will be taking a look at film currently on dvd from a wide variety of genres, directors, actors, actresses, and pretty much every possible way you can think to group movies together. I will be looking at old and new releases and offering up my thoughts and opinions for your reading pleasure. My hope is that if you are familiar with the title, you will have a new way of looking at the film, or if it is new to you, you might go and watch it. If anyone ever has any titles of interest they would like to share or just opinions about the films reviewed, please feel free to leave comments. All right Here we go….

Phantasm(1979)-Dir. Don Coscalleri ; Anchor Bay DVD(2007)

So here is a film that is very minimal on gore(except for a scene involving a fountain of very 70’s blood effects) and that relies heavily on creepy atmosphere and moody music to set the tone for the bizarre story that plays out over the four films of the series. Last year Anchor Bay released this dvd along with Phantasm III Lord Of The Dead and this year they released Phantasm IV:Oblivion but I have not found anything on Phantasm II which, for better or worse, is not available on dvd yet. It would be great to see them put together a really nice box set of all 4 films as they have done an excellent job cleaning up the prints and putting some nice features together for the films.

Combining science fiction and horror elements, Phantasm tells the story of a young boy who literally stumbles into the horror that is The Tall Man, played with the quiet restraint of a real terrifying presence by Angus Scrimm, who reprised the role 3 more times. The Tall Man steals dead bodies and murders people and brings them back as undead slaves who strangely resemble the jawas from Star Wars. After being chased and terrorized  by nightmares, a severed finger that morphs into a demonic fly, and followed by the notorious killer ball(which along with Angus Scrimm growling “Boy” is probably the most iconic aspect of the film), a young Mike(A. Michael Baldwin), older brother Jody(Bill Thornbury), and ice-cream truck driving best friend Reggie(Reggie Bannister)come face to face with what really goes on at Morning Side cemetery 

Low budget horror never looked as good as it did in the 1970’s which along with the 1930’s and 40’s, saw the greatest strides(I am convinced) in the development of the genre. The 1980’s just took the foundation  70’s films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween had built and splattered blood all over it. Even in this context though, Phantasm  is an anomaly of 1970’s horror. Even The Exorcist or its regretable sequel did not have some of the bizarre qualities that this movie contains. THe film manages to never take itself quite so seriously while still maintaining a creepy atmosphere and that is very impressive. Combining the science fictional element of a other-worldly dimensional hell that is being populated by the dead from our world and the classic horror element of the lone figure who brings death and destruction and cannot be stopped(at least not until after several sequels) is also a nice touch. Good horror films always seem to know how to effectively use minimalist sets most effectively to create claustrophobia and fear and Phantasm makes exceptional use of the cemetery, mortuary, and elements of the town in reoccurring images that set a very deliberate mood. The whole idea of dreams and being pursued continually set up the idea that this is an inescapable horror. Of course, it is the perfect set-up for several sequels because it leaves so many elements of the plot a mystery but the original chill from that you get from this movie is satisfying enough and I was so absorbed in the atmosphere and strange vision of the film that I was not too concerned with being given an explanation of the events I just watched unfold. In fact, Phantasm works best without any further explanation because it is exactly that which makes this a chilling experience. “Less is more” almost holds true for horror films and this is why many of these films from the 1970’s are so great.

Up Next is the last film(for now) in the Phantasm  series, Phantasm IV: Oblivion  which I will be posting later this afternoon. Posts for this column will come out regularly every week. I will also include movie reviews and halloween related news and events so stay tuned……..

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