(Release Date: March 28, 1979)
Ah, well, I was only four and a half when the first one hurled itself to indie success back in 1979, and because the popularity grew (in a Cult sort of way) slowly over the years, it's no surprise that this little movie has gained a big following, not to mention three sequels.
Phantasm is a unique horror film from the mind of writer/ director/ producer Don Coscarelli. It's a horror film that follows no predictable formula and breaks with a great deal of traditions like a former Catholic Atheist. It's not surprising that this isn't grabbing the big followings that the Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees crowds do, because Phantasm, after all, is a cult classic, best viewed as a Midnight Movie with the audience participating in laughs screams and admonishments of "DON'T GO IN THERE!" However, it's also easy to see why the fans of this film that there are, swear by this film... for the exact same reasons!
Phantasm is the story of an androgynous youth named Mike Pearson (Michael Baldwin, whose only clue to sexual identity is from the villain's constant reference to him as "B O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y!") This B O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y begins to suspect foul play at the local funeral home that claimed his parents, his brother's Primary Kemosabe, and any number of horny singles in the greater metropolitan Whereeverthehell area.
What Michael finds is a demented Funeral Director (Angus Scrimm, identified only as "The Tall Man") who leads a gaggle of evil henchmen, undead Jawas and beautiful topless women in Lavender Dresses (while they're wearing them) intent on harvesting the dead for their own nefarious needs. If that's not enough to keep your blood curdling like milk during the Alta Dena Dairy Fire, The Tall Man also employs a flying robotic sphere equipped with twin blades, drills and devices to suck out the brains of its victims. Usually the WB Thursday Night TV Line-Up does this trick for us, but I'm easy!
There is a lot of this movie that is surprising and startling, even after all these years! "The Ball" is every bit as unique as Jason's Hockey Mask, Freddy's claws, Leatherface's chainsaw, or Michael's Shatner impression. That's all not to even mention how menacing the veteran Angus Scrimm is when he wants to be. All around this is scary fun.
But it works much better in a theatre full of screaming fans filling the auditorium with energy and electricity, as seen in Matinee, Scream 2, Popcorn and World's Biggest Gang Bang. Taken on its own merits, there are more holes in this movie's plot than there are in a day's offering from a Bagel Shoppe! Between bad edits, occasionally silly special effects, dialogue as cheesy as Chester Cheetah's favorite Snack, Gregory Benford Moments to beat the band and at least one scene ripped off verbatim from Frank Herbert's Dune Phantasm isn't quite The Godfather! Is that what old Don Coscarelli intended, though? Of course not! He's made a scary, fun little movie, and it wasn't his last, either! The appreciation of the horror and schlock fans out there is immeasurable... the movie itself, though, is just not that good when watched as a movie on its own. Let's face it though... how many among us really want to see, oh, say The Rocky Horror Picture Show alone and without a dressed up toast-throwing, TP Hurling, Commentary Shouting gaggle of Yahoos? Not this critic, no Sir!
I've recently been reminded by a well known director that movies of the age that spawned Phantasm were made and meant to be seen once, maybe twice if they were really good. This was before VCRs (or rather, before the prevalence of Movies on VCR Tape), and eons before the BOOM of DVD! If a director was really lucky, a few movie houses might agree to a re-release and some old fans might come back in for a gander at an old classic. In this "Ownership Society" everyone and his brother possesses more DVDs than they do minutes of sanity in a day! Therefore anyone and their brother can sit back and nitpick every low budget moment in any low budget indie in full digital surround with digital picture-in-picture and extra features to truly drag a dog through the mud. Does that mean we should grade all these movies on a curve? Well, no, I mean, look at The Evil Dead... however, let's try and capture that Zeitgeist in a paper cup before wiping our asses with Phantasm, folks!
Two and One Half Stars out of Five for Don Coscarelli's cheap and cheesy, but undeniably classic Phantasm! "Fun" horror movies didn't start with Scream, Dimension just wants you to think they did. If you take your midget zombies with a grain of salt, you might just find something to appreciate here. If not, check your pulse, you may be dead! See you in the next reel (and I'll have a chromium cue-ball sticking out of my forehead when I do)!
Phantasm (1979) reviewed by
J.C. Maçek III
who is solely responsible for his reviews and for his desire to see a match up between "The Ball" and "The Box" from Hellraiser!
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