Saturday, October 27, 2012
My Favorite Era: Phantasm (1979)
The film came out in 1979, one of the best years for the genre as it saw not only this but the release of Alien and the first issue of Fangoria. Using a cast of unknowns (Okay, he knew most of them from other films he had done), Coscarelli managed to create a movie with an almost dream-like atmosphere as Mike (Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury) try to figure out what the hell is going on as The Tall Man and his gang of robed dwarfs harvest the local cemetery.
Acting is about what you would expect with Scrimm and Bannister as Reggie, a guitar playing hippie who owns an ice cream truck standing out from the rest of the cast. Bannister is quite funny and laid back as the voice of reason and it's no shock he's since become something of a favorite amongst horror fans. As for Angus Scrimm, he turns in an utterly creepy performance along the lines of something Boris Karloff would have come up with. Appropriately since Karloff was a primary influence on the man's performance. The Tall Man has become an iconic figure of horror, right up there with Freddy and Jason.
The other great iconic thing from the film is the flying silver sphere. A very cool element of the film, this little ball of death and mayhem features in the best scene as it chases Mike around a mausoleum before embedding itself in the head of one of the Tall Man's goons. It drills in and proceeds to exsanguinate the poor schmuck, making for a very memorable moment in modern horror.
What really makes me love the film even today is the sheer surreal nature of it all. You're not exactly sure if Mike is dreaming all this or not, even a scene at the end where he wakes up is a bluff. Surreal horror is pretty hard to pull off but Don Coscarelli manages it on a level that would make Lucio Fulci nod in approval. It's a great little mind-screw of a movie and the sequels, for the most part are equally solid.
Phantasm is awesomely creepy, surprisingly smart and a little touching in places. It also achieves a very nice balance between creepiness and gross-out moments which makes for a fantastic viewing experience.