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Horror Education of the Week: ‘Phantasm’

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.



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