I’m going to get this out of the way and just say it… I’m not a huge fan of death. Yeah, I might watch a lot of horror movies where people get their heads cut off of get limbs severed from their bodies, but I don’t really want that to happen to me anytime soon. I’m lucky in the fact that I’ve only had one person close to me die, but Mike and Jody Pearson aren’t so lucky. Just a short time after their parents are killed, one of their good friends is brutally murdered in a cemetery. After attending his funeral, Mike notices a suspicious man stealing their friend’s casket with his corpse still in it. He goes to investigate the man, but ends up finding something a lot more sinister than just a grave robber.
Mike and Jody notice that this man who stole the casket has a strange air about him. He’s extraordinarily tall, and he seems to sneak around the funeral parlor a lot. One night, Mike decides to break into the mortuary and check out what’s really going on. He sees the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and a the caretaker carrying out caskets. In the midst of his investigation, he’s caught by the caretaker who’s then dispatched quickly by a flying chrome sphere with large blades and a drill that drills into his skull. Mike is then chased through the mortuary by the Tall Man and as he’s trying to escape, he cuts off the man’s fingers with a knife and takes one home, but not before being chased by hooded figures who try to capture him as well.
When he gets home, he shows the finger to Jody, who hasn’t believed him up until this point. When Jody sees the finger is still moving, he realizes that his younger brother hasn’t been lying about the weird goings on after all. In fact, overnight the finger turns into a giant bug that attacks the brothers, and has to be stuffed down the garbage disposal. Mike realizes he isn’t dealing with just some normal creepy guy, and goes to investigate for himself. Now it’s up to Jody, Mike and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to stop the Tall Man and reclaim their town.
Phantasm seems to borrow a few ideas from a few obvious sources. One of the first similarities are these hooded figures that appear. They closely resemble Jawa’s from the Star Wars franchise. The movie was released in 1979, but appears to have been made in 1977 (at least according to the copyright date at the end of the film), which would date the release too close to Star Wars to actually be anything more than a coincidence. One of the other major things that I noticed was a scene involving Mike visiting a fortune teller. She tells him to put his hand in a “pain box” that he struggles to pull his hand out of until he overcomes his fear. If this sounds familiar, it’s because there’s something very similarly described in Frank Herbert’s book “Dune” and also appears in the famous David Lynch movie based on the book.
With those similarities aside, I have to admit that Phantasm is the first movie that actually freaked me out in a long time. The scene that had the biggest effect was the first appearance of the flying sphere, where it buries itself in the caretaker’s forehead, first draining his blood, and then causing him to piss his pants. Mike runs away only to be chased by both the Tall Man and, it marked the first appearance of the hooded dudes. I don’t know why, but the whole scene caught me off guard and it was one of those moments where I actually looked around to make sure I was alone in my room.
The whole plot of the film is something I found to be unsettling. Death is underlying theme of the film, and the Tall Man uses the dead bodies he took for transport to another place that isn’t ever described. The entire film feels surreal and dreamlike, especially once they find out what happens in a sealed room of the mortuary – which all ties into a shockingly surreal and dreamlike ending. There’s surprisingly not a of gore for this kind of movie, but when it does come into play, it’s used effectively.
I’d always been somewhat apprehensive to watch this movie, just remembering seeing clips of it on TV that terrified me when I was a kid. I’m really glad that I sat down and finally watched it, and while I realize that because this movie was so fun that the sequels are probably going to be a big let down, I’m still very anxious to watch those – so look forward to upcoming reviews of those films. Phantasm is a movie that all horror fans should watch, even today for some of the great special effects that were filmed on a smaller budget. Phantasm is a solid 4 oozy blooded dwarves out of 5.