Sunday, October 31, 2010

Phantasm (1979)

A strange horror picture written, produced, and directed by then-23-year-old Don Coscarelli, Phantasm is filled with images that burned themselves into viewers’ brains—literally, as you’ll discover in a moment. The movie isn’t particularly frightening, and it takes forever to kick into gear, but the sheer ’70s-ness of the thing contributes to its mystique. Everyone in the cast has a little too much hair, much of it feathered, Farrah Fawcett-style; the plot is filled with Chariots of the Gods-type hokum about aliens with a master plan for humanity; and the awkward score (think melancholy electric-piano solos) has an eerie closing-time vibe. The rudimentary cinematography and editing, also by multitasker Coscarelli, add a student-movie creakiness that gains power after a while, because it’s like the gruesome story oozes directly from Coscarelli’s young mind. The narrative concerns two brothers investigating mysterious goings-on at a funeral home, which is run by a pasty freak known as “The Tall Man” whose aides are scampering little people in brown robes. Phantasm is the sort of picture in which villains do creepy things in public and nobody notices except the heroes; I dig the moment when the Tall Man stops on a sidewalk and inhales car exhaust with an orgasmic look on his face, earning nary a bewildered glance except from the movie’s protagonist. Because the characters are ciphers, the flick’s real star is a prop—the flying, bladed metal ball that jams into people’s heads and drills until blood gushes out like water from a spigot. Unfortunately, it takes about 38 logy minutes to get to that high point, and the movie’s only 90 minutes long. Viewers with stamina are rewarded with a deranged third act, because the conspiracy the heroes discover is one of the most preposterous sci-fi concepts ever committed to film. FYI, Phantasm developed a cult following and spawned three undistinguished sequels, all made by the persistent Mr. Coscarelli.

Phantasm: FREAKY


Dr.Tomoculus said...

Have to leave comment - if you check some of Coscarelli's other work (especially Kenny & Company / Bubba Ho Tep) he has a centralised theme apparent, which seems to be about coping with death, with mortality. It's one of the major themes in "Kenny & Company" it's part of the main character's growing up process. That theme carries over into Phantasm (and a couple of its actors as well) --- it was a thing noticed a while back, and wondering why I liked Coscarelli's movies so much. There's something underneath them about grief/mortality/understanding death that carries over throughout his directorial career. There's more to his films with repeated viewings. Phantasm 4 is recommended, it ties up some of the things presented in Phantasm, and adds a couple more questions. Who is the Tall Man???? :)

Unknown said...

my favorite of all time,hands down. have the soundtrack ,one sheet etc. would LOVE to see this get a blu-ray release. the sequels were good too. just saw Coscarelli's latest,John dies at the end, got a kick out of Angus Scrimms little part.