arthouse

[Movie Review] Phantasm (1979) ★★★★★

Mike in the mausoleum with the Tall Man in Phantasm 1979

Phantasm is wondrously weird coming of age tale that mixes pure nightmare horror with a big heart.


Phantasm is a supernatural fantasy coming of age horror film that obtained a well-deserved cult status. Although this film is made with a very low budget, or maybe just because of it, Don Coscarelli created a highly imaginative and creative film with a very original storyline.

It’s a well-crafted story with weird surreal images, a creepy iconic villain and a brave kid with a loving brother. But it also addresses a grave theme that centers around the kid. This film radiates passion for filmmaking and is the absolute proof that telling a story only takes a very creative person with perseverance. 


Plot

Thirteen year old Mike lives with his older brother Jody a musician, after their parents died. Since the death of his parents Mike is troubled by nightmares and he’s afraid that Jody will leave him for his music. But when Jody’s friend Tommy strangely dies at the cemetery, Mike sees something very odd at his funeral, a very Tall Man who carries a heavy coffin all by himself and he also sees some weird creatures running around the graveyard. 

When he finally investigates the mausoleum and is seen by the Tall Man and the strange creatures, he escapes and tells Jody all about it. Together with Reggie, Jody’s friend they will find out the truth of what is happening at the cemetery. 


Why you should watch it

It’s a very fairytale-like coming of age story that centers around Mike, his observations, his investigations and his fears. The more Mike is drawn into this strange adventure, the more the story develops into a very weird but enthralling tale. The fine line between reality and surreal happenings is very playful and brings on twists and bizarre discoveries. 

The main theme in the film is Mike’s fear of being abandoned. First by his parents and now he fears that Jody might leave him. It’s also a childhood fear, growing up, to have to do everything by himself, to be alone and he has to face his fears to overcome them.

So he has to face the Tall Man and the contents of his parents coffins. Both fears represent different things, things that have already happened, and things that might come true. These confrontations with death and the Tall Man are very nightmare-like and surreal.

This surreal vibe of the film increases when they find out what the Tall Man hides in his mausoleum and what he does with the corpses. It is surreal horror and nightmare fuel that aggravates Mike’s own nightmares, but molding it into an adventure that he embarks on with the loving and caring help of Jody and Reggie, which makes him brave and builds his confidence. 

Especially endearing about this film is the special bond between Mike and Jody. Jody immediately believes Mike’s strange tale and deeply cares for him and keeps him save. But Reggie’s friendship is also very important though more at the background. The scene where he is chased in his ice cream truck is very exciting and you suddenly realize how important and nice Reggie really is.  

The special effects are despite the low budget very effective and well-made to create a weird dimension and weird creatures. The coloring and set design create contrasts and a surreal atmosphere in both worlds. The art decoration of the mausoleum is just creepy enough but also realistic and oozes death and doom and a foreboding atmosphere.

The Tall Man himself, a highly elusive figure, is very creepy and scary just by the look of him. Finally the small creatures are too weird and when you finally find out what there are they become even creepier. Add to this, fitting music that varies from jazz to organ music and pop music and the surreal creative vibe is complete. 

Fun fact about this film is that Don Coscarelli wanted to film the book Something Wicked This Way Comes written by Ray Bradbury. Also a heartwarming coming of age story about loss and hope and growing up, getting older. Father Charles and his son Will have to take it up with an evil carnival and Mr. Dark, who wants their souls. Their relationship is very endearing and loving and together they defeat evil. But when he didn’t get the rights for that story, he made his own story. Lucky for us, otherwise the world was the poorer for it. Now we have two great surrealistic horror fantasy coming of age stories that are both original and creative and both deliver a heartwarming message. 


My favorite part

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but you can’t ignore the flying orb. It’s unusual in the least, but it is definitely a showstopper. Not only the creativity behind it and the crude humor, resulting in the most rememberable scene of the film, but the cinematography, the way the orb is shot is excellent. The damage it causes and especially how, is outright horrormazing, but also the shot taken from the orb’s flying perspective is almost too much. It’s so great and daring and that’s half the fun of a selfmade film with low budget, you get to experiment and come up with the most quaint and odd things. 

Although it might be an impressive scene, the film has a lot more to offer than just over the top campy horror. It’s heartwarming with a heartbreaking ending. It’s fun, adventurous and creepy. Phantasm is a wonderful film, that is entertaining, adventurous, fun and strange, but has a sting at the end that will leave you shocked, so beware. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★★☆

Surreal factor: ★★★★☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

Phantasm is directed and written by Don Coscarelli. It stars A. Michael Baldwin (Mike), Bill Thornbury (Jody), Reggie Bannister (Reggie), Kathy Lester (Lady in Lavender),  Terrie Kalbus (Fortune-teller’s granddaughter) and Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man).

Duration: 89 minutes. Music by: Fred Myrow, Malcolm Seagrave. Cinematography: Don Coscarelli. Edited by: Don Coscarelli. Produced by: Don Coscarelli. Production company: New Breed Productions. Distributed by: AVCO Embassy Pictures.


Check the trailer below


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