Horror Education of the Week: ‘Phantasm’

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Phantasm is the twisted 1979 tale of Jody and his brother Mike, written, produced, and directed by Don Coscarelli. Jody and Mike’s parents have passed away and their lives revolve around Jody wanting to break free while Mike follows him everywhere he goes. After their friend Tommy passes away by an apparent suicide, they start to find that the local cemetery and mausoleum are a bit off.

Little do they know the undertaker is an alien that wants dead bodies so he can transform them to do his bidding.


I remember when Phantasm II was released in 1988. I had never had the pleasure of the original, and immediately ran to the video store to check it out. The result was me being left confused and terrified. If taken as a standalone film, I still can’t tell what in Phantasm is a dream and what is a reality (which is explained in the sequels).

The beauty of Phantasm is just that. It plays like a nightmare.

While the subject matter is confusing and surreal, its haunting nature can easily be broken down as well. Simply stated, the events in Phantasm are all a figment of Mike’s imagination.

Explanation for this is simple:

- Mike is a 13 year old boy that has lost his parents. This alone would cause turmoil in his life.

- If we take the ending into account with the additional loss of Jody, there is no doubt that Mike could easily create the happenings at Morningside cemetery in his head.

- Mike is trying to conquer his fear. As demonstrated with the hand in the box trick used by the fortune teller and her granddaughter, Mike must calmly come to terms with the fact that he is now alone.

- Mike’s ability to comprehend and accept what has happened to his entire family at his age would be a great struggle.

- His creation of the Tall Man, the Red Planet, the slaves and the infamous sphere could be a coping mechanism. A deflection of the truth.

- Perhaps he felt some sense of guilt or lack of purpose now in his life, and an adventure of fighting evil that has taken the bodies of his loved ones could be an attempt to lay them to rest permanently so to speak.

This above could all be very true, however, with as disconcerting Phantasm is, it could just be a giant clusterf*** of brain warping, terrifying imagery.

At least we can take these lessons from it:

- Don’t disrespect cemeteries: This means everything from riding your motorbike through them to banging next to a gravestone.

- Don’t get pissed off when your little brother (or sister) follows you everywhere – they may end up saving your life one day.

- Speaking of sex, don’t have it with random chicks you meet in bars – they may end up being dudes.

- If you think you see a robed midget zombie in a dark cemetery, don’t continuously look for robed midget zombies in dark cemeteries. They could be like undead alien dwarves or something.

- If given the opportunity, learn how to use a tuning fork.

- If you cut off an alien’s finger and stick it in a box, never open that box, it could transform in a psycho alien fly.

- And last, but not least, aliens have hollandaise sauce for blood.

 
  • XMarkX

    So, good. Such a fun movie.

  • WalkingDeadGuy

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the ‘Phantasm’ films, as a kid I remember not understanding everything I was seeing but loving it nonetheless. If only there was a box set here in the states; definitely need to revisit this twisted world soon.

    • LaurenTaylor

      Agreed. I haven’t seen watched the sequels for years!

  • Aaron Emery

    Yea, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched the sequels, but Phantasm is one of my favorites. It’s actually my main ‘go to’ when I have nothing to watch. I also have the theme for my ringtone (one of the best scores written in horror, in my opinion).

    • http://www.macstyran.com Mac Styran

      Then you will either love or hate my version, I guess:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePbtAnM3c7U

      Hope you enjoy it though.

      • Aaron Emery

        Very nice! Thanks for sharing, it’s definitely a powerful theme to begin with but you did it well.

  • SuperKilla

    Phantasm is a great horror film. I agree that the score is awesome, it is right up there with the score of “Halloween”.
    The sequels were great too but they don’t match the vibe of the original. The Tall Man is also just as scary as Jason, Freddy and all the rest of from that era.

  • djblack1313

    even though this movie isn’t one of my favorites it is without a doubt a really good movie! as SuperKilla mentions the score was excellent, the atmosphere was so freaking creepy and in some parts outright SCARY! also when that fucking spider bug thing crawls up the back of Mike’s hair….I FREAKS ME OUT!!! lol. also the movie sports one of the most iconic (IMO) things from any horror movie…the sphere thing as well as one of the most intimidating & wonderfully creepy/scary characters ever…Angus’s Tall Man (even though he’s supposed to be a gentle sweetheart in real life, from what i’ve heard).

    there’s 2 tv spots/trailers i saw as a kid that to this day stand out in my mind (they scared me so much at the time!) PHANTASM & PROPHECY. i like/love both movies. in PHANTASM the scenes of the spiked sphere flying around and in PROPHECY, the scenes of the camping kids/dad in their sleeping bags sleeping one second then being attacked by the creature and being bashed (while still in their sleeping bags!) against trees are forever emblazoned in my mind!

  • http://www.macstyran.com Mac Styran

    I seriously don’t understand why Phantasm isn’t right up there with all the other classics of horror cinema.

    Everybody seems to know Freddy, Jason, Michael and Ash, but when I ask people if they’ve heard of “The Tall Man”, “Reggie” or “Silver Spheres” … hardly any reaction.
    Most people faintly remember the spheres, but not much more.

    Pity.
    I own one of those Sphere-Box sets and I get asked a lot what weird christmas ornament that is … next to the Necronomicon and the Freddy glove … tz tz tz.

    Keep up with the horror education!
    (Although I guess you’re preaching to the converted…)

    And since it’s topical, a bit of shameless self-promotion again:
    my version of the Phantasm theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePbtAnM3c7U

    • LaurenTaylor

      THANKS! I will keep it up!

  • Goretorium

    A classic!

    -@Goretorium

  • PrestonXI

    Lauren – Another excellent assessment of a classic film! Phantasm is one of those movies I watched on cable in the late 80s or early 90s and only rediscovered a few years ago. Easily one of the most surreal and original horror films of all time and (as your expert analysis shows) there are many deeper layers beneath the surface should the viewer want to look for them. If only I could get away with showing this in my film class! I am afraid that the minds of the students might get turned into scrambled eggs if that we’re to happen…haha.

    • LaurenTaylor

      THANKS!

  • Melissa

    The Tall Man is the unstoppable force in horror and really pretty terrifying when you really think about it. He sneaks in towns undetected, takes peoples lives one by one and no one suspects a thing until it’s too late, he controls the dead, can take your mind, can transform in to other people, can shrink you down, can jump between dimensions, go to another planet, can do a time warp, he can haunt your dreams, he is strong, has telepathy, he also has telekinesis,has the spheres, can make monstrous things out of illusions and chopped off body parts, can control the soul after being unleashed, and so much more!We don’t even know what the tall man is. Is he an Alien, a demon, the devil, or perhaps something from another dimension? All we know is he is here mess our world up! I really don’t think any other horror villain would stand a chance!

    • LaurenTaylor

      Indeed!

  • Canucklehead

    Don Coscarelli is super talented (Bubba Ho Tep anyone?) and I cant wait for John Dies At The End

  • DJSeanMac

    Mike’s appearance at CHILLER confirmed Coscarelli is back at work on a fifth film. *crossing fingers*

  • Trixxxster

    Glad you decided to take this one on LT. That is how I’ve always explained this film to those who have never seen it; it’s like a half-remembered nightmare. Might I suggest Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse for a future installment? Keep up the good work!