Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Worst. Funeral. Ever.

I'm really thankful never to watch Phantasm as a child, because the amount of lost sleep I would have endured may have resulted in being held back a grade. Phantasm is a one-of-a-kind horror movie, seemingly springing from a brain storming session of what people are afraid of. It ends up feeling like a wax museum of horror frights, with a wide variety of spooky images that only occasionally relate to the plot. And yes, there is a plot -- run from the bad stuff. It's the kind of movie that couldn't be remade today: there's only one Tall Man, and most of the movie's charming creep-factor relies on mood..

It's a tribute to Coscarelli that it all comes together to work so well. A production light on story, heavy on special effects, yet with minimal budget. Some sleight-of-hand effects work well to mask what shortcoming Phantasm had in the cash department, and music by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave adds another uneasy element to the atmosphere. The music may be my favorite part of Phantasm, and one of the reasons it's so easy to turn on anytime -- has there ever been a more rocking horror score? What starts as eerie, slowly builds up to almost soft rock when the percussion kicks up later in the movie, providing a perfect backdrop to the Tall Man's pursuit.

From the beginning, Coscarelli gives you slight hints of what you're in for: a glimpse of a hooded dwarf scurrying behind a grave, the silent mystery of what lurks inside the mortuary and ... who is that Tall Man? Thankfully, there are few to no answers in Phantasm. It exists as a nightmare that goes in and out of actual dreams, never trying to explain whatever evil is at play in Morningside Cemetery: are there other Tall Man portals on our planet? Is it another dimension? Where does the mortuary go after it disappears? Almost every scene asks another question without an opportunity for an answer (the finger turns into a bug?), and Coscarelli keeps the scares coming so there's no reason to keep wondering.

The Tall Man has to be one of the best original monsters of the past few decades. What is it about him that works so well? He's not exactly tall or ugly -- he just has that walk and that hair, and that way of saying things: "You play a good game, boy. But the game is up -- it's time to die!" I think Phatasm is one of the few movies where I can picture a television series based on it: each week, a new hair-raising adventure for Mike and Reggie with the Tall Man. And every episode ends the same way -- with the Tall Man lunging at Mike through a mirror.



Thom said...

After reading this post I feel like watching this film again. I'm onboard for your Phantasm cable series, Adam. I did see this as a youth and it scared the Hallowe'en candy out of me. The experience has stuck with me though thankfully it didn't stunt my scholastic career. :) However, to this day I can't look at our garbage disposal without thinking about that fly-thing. One question: You say that the film couldn't be made today. Care to expand on that and tell us why it couldn't be made today?

Adam Ross said...

Thanks for the question Thom, what I meant to say was that it couldn't be "re-made" today like so many other horror films have. I just edited the post to reflect my thoughts on that.

I really didn't see any horror movies as a kid, the previews usually did enough damage: Night Breed, The Blob and simply the poster of Fright Night come to mind.

Piper said...


I feel as if you, like me, have recently rediscovered this movie thanks to the Willie List. And it didn't even make the list which is a complete shame.

I had almost completely buried this movie thanks to lots of therapy, but everything has come flooding back. And your quote on my Facebook page did not help anything.

I wrote on Stacie's blog that the great thing about Phantasm is that it's just creepy. It doesn't try to explain itself. It just creeps. And for some reason, that doesn't make it dumb or confusing. It makes it more creepy.

Coscarelli has done a pretty good job himself of trying to undo the the brilliance of the first, with loads of bad sequels that miss the mark every time. I remember how excited I was when they first sequel came out and I remember how disappointed I was when I saw it.

Adam Ross said...

I'm with you on what you said on Stacie's blog, Piper. That's one reason I had to watch it again, because you can't watch it like a normal movie. You can't expect everything to make sense or flow like a normal movie, just watch it like you would a haunted house ride.

I haven't seen any of the sequels, but I've talked to a couple people who are high on the Part II, though it's still unavailable on DVD in Region 1.