My Favorite Movies – Phantasm (1979)

17 Apr

By Tanner Smith

Just for fun, I’m going to insert quotes from Siskel & Ebert’s harshly negative review of this movie at certain points in this post, starting with, “[Phantasm] has no social significance whatsoever.” Already an odd start for reviewing a horror film.

To be honest, there are times when I’m looking at a cheesy horror or sci-fi or action film and wondering why it was made. But then there are times when I just have to answer my own question with, “Well, why not?”

Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” is a very unique supernatural-horror film. It has the biggest number of inventive horror aspects I’ve seen in just one movie. It has the very “indie” feel of making it up as they went along. It inspired a series of sequels that I honestly have no interest in whatsoever. And I have to wonder if I would enjoy it if I were seeing it for the first time today at age 28 as opposed to growing up with it since age 14.

Well, I revisited Phantasm as well as “The Gate,” another horror film I grew up with at the same time–and I’ll tell the truth: I didn’t enjoy “The Gate” nearly as much today as I did “Phantasm.” (So no, I won’t be talking about “The Gate” in this series. But it’s still a cool movie and I have a soft spot for it.)

So, what are among the horrors in “Phantasm?” Take it away, Ebert: “There’s a few nice touches, like a severed finger that kind of creeps around with a mind of its own and a weird little stainless steel ball that flies through the air, and it has two claws that come out, and they dig into your forehead, and the little screw comes out and drills into your brain…kinda like a lobotomy from a dentist!”

Yeah, there’s that and the three-foot hooded monsters and the giant fly creature and the seductive (and dangerous) Lady in Lavender and the super-strong Tall Man and the portal to another dimension and–should I continue?

Way before I read director Don Coscarelli’s memoir “True Indie,” about making his films with limited resources, I dug the hell out of “Phantasm” just because it was ambitious and creative and funny and also one of the inspirations for me as a filmmaker. Is it overstuffed with ideas? Absolutely–but what do I care anymore?

Ebert? “The movie’s really just a bunch of special effects and horror cliches borrowed secondhand from The Late Show–they’re sprung together, they make no particular point… If the movie had a better story and even remotely convincing characters, along with those unique little touches like that stainless steel buzzsaw for the brain, it might have been a pretty good horror film. But as it is, Phantasm is a mess!”

Oh, you’re just jealous because you couldn’t do it.

The scene with the sphere is still effective after all these years (I keep forgetting it’s tied to a fishing line and shot in reverse after it’s been thrown)–though, it’s hard to believe it almost gave the film an X rating; it’s kind of tame by today’s standards. The scene that frightens me the most is when the kid, Mike (Michael Baldwin), has a nightmare of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) looming over him like a boogeyman.

It’s just a fun movie about young people coming across something unexplainable and trying to survive it, much like Coscarelli’s inspiration, Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” And I admire the “true indie” spirit behind it.

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