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Overall Rating

Awesome: 38.3%
Worth A Look48.94%
Just Average: 2.13%
Pretty Crappy: 6.38%
Sucks: 4.26%

2 reviews, 35 user ratings

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by Mel Valentin

"Puts the "cult" and the "classic" in "cult classic."
4 stars

In three decades as an independent filmmaker, Don Coscarelli ("Bubba Ho-Tep," "Beastmaster") has made nine films (three as sequels), a slim output by most standards, but given Coscarelli's genre specialization (i.e., horror), unsurprising. Coscarelli, however, didn't start out in horror. Coscarelli wrote and directed two little known, low-budget films, "Jim, the World's Greatest" and "Kenny & Company" that helped Coscarelli find funding for his third film (his first in the horror genre), "Phantasm," an idiosyncratic mix of supernatural horror, science fiction (some original, some derivative), and a dream-like structure matched by a dream-logic that's as unsettling and disturbing as anything you'll find in 70s or 80s genre filmmaking.

Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) appear at the Morningside Cemetery for the funeral of their friend and band mate, Tommy (Bill Cone). The mausoleum’s director (Angus Scrimm), a/k/a the Tall Man, ushers them quickly through the funeral. Jody's younger brother, Michael (Michael Baldwin), watches the funeral from a distance against his over-protective brother’s wishes (their parents died tragically two years earlier in an accident). Michael unexpectedly spots the Tall Man carrying Tommy’s five hundred pound coffin with minimal effort.

Curious, Michael decides to check out the funeral parlor/mausoleum at night, but his presence alerts the Tall Man and his acolytes, dwarves dressed in monk robes. A skeptical Jody goes to the mausoleum and barely escapes with his life. With Reggie helping, Jody tries several times to keep Michael out of harm's way. The closer they get to the truth hidden inside the mausoleum, the more they risk their lives. Michael, Jody, and Reggie must face off against the mausoleum's guardians, flying silver spheres that patrol the mausoleum (the double-bladed spheres are equipped with a deadly drill), the dwarves, and the seemingly indestructible Tall Man.

Just below the surface (and like any good horror film), Phantasm exploits fears of death, decay, the afterlife (or lack thereof), and, of course, mausoleums/funeral parlors, and makes them our worst nightmare. Coscarelli also layers in additional fears we experience as children, i.e., losing our parents or losing our brothers and/or sisters (through death or simply growing up and moving out). Coscarelli made Michael the viewpoint character, the character we identify with the most. Michael still mourns the life-altering loss of his parents, Jody is anxious to go back on the road (he’s a musician), and to make things worse, Michael has just discovered thetown’s most frightening secret.

As a character, Michael is pure wish fulfillment. What teenage boy sitting in a darkened movie theater in 1979 or thereabouts didn’t think Michael was the coolest thirteen year old kid to appear in a horror film that year or any other year? Michael may be only thirteen, but he can do whatever he wants and go wherever he wants, riding town on his motorcycle or driving Jody’s 1971 Plymouth Barracuda when he’s not under the hood making repairs. But hanging over all this freedom is the loss of Michael’s parents. It doubles the emotional weight that the confrontation with the Tall Man otherwise has. Unfortunately for Michael, Coscarelli takes this wish fulfillment to its logical conclusion, making his deepest fears real in a third-act plot turn that, minus the subtext, could be perceived as trite and clichéd (and not without merit).

But Phantasm is, first and foremost a horror film; moviegoers then and video watchers now, want gore with their horror and for a low-budget film made in 1979, Phantasm delivers, especially when the silver spheres make their appearance. The disgust or repulsion factor goes up a notch once we discover who or what is underneath the midget monks’ robes (borrowed shamelessly from George Lucas’ then hit, Star Wars IV: A New Hope), what function they serve (it’s not good), and what connection they have to the Tall Man. Coscarelli made the Tall Man even more menacing and alien by giving him yellow blood and making this severed appendages have an animated life of their own.

That’s not to say "Phantasm" doesn’t have its share of cheap scares (it does), cheesy special effects (an egregiously awful insect, for example), or sub par acting (no argument there), but those flaws make "Phantasm" more appealing for genre fans. Sure, the nostalgia factor shouldn’t and can’t be discounted when discussing "Phantasm’s" various attributes or faults, at least not for those of us who were lucky enough to see "Phantasm" in 1979 as part of a double feature (the other film turned out to be far less memorable) or even on video in the early 80s one late night with the lights turned off and expectations kept in check. For them (actually us) revisiting "Phantasm" is the equivalent of remembering a long forgotten nightmare.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2555&reviewer=402
originally posted: 03/25/07 21:57:25
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User Comments

11/07/17 MORRIS CAMPBELL better than nightmare on elm street 5 stars
10/29/16 morris campbell im old school myself phantasm rocks avoid the sequels 4 stars
4/11/12 keith miron This horror film looks like a horror eposode of The Partridge Family 4 stars
10/12/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Classic surrelist-horror. Creepy, somtimes funny and bizzare! 5 stars
10/31/09 art ONLY FOR MANIAC"S! 1 stars
7/09/09 BattleFlag0013 Even Coscarelli doesn't know what it's about! 4 stars
5/01/07 Indrid Cold If this scares you, you're either 6 years old or you've never seen a movie before. 2 stars
5/27/05 Lord Haw Haw Unintentionally hilarious. Wouldn't frighten a chipmunk. 2 stars
10/27/04 anne haven't been able to get this flick out of my mind since 1980 4 stars
9/25/04 Samuel great film, very creepy. 5 stars
6/28/04 matt WOW.... 5 stars
5/19/04 John it works - eerie atmosphere and bizarre concept 4 stars
4/24/04 erich Great movie great plot; so so acting 4 stars
3/03/04 Naturezrevenge Fragmented,choppy incoherent flik with couple neat gore shots. 2 stars
1/17/04 Josh Standlee Bizzare, but I liked it anyway. 4 stars
12/31/03 Punk_Ass One great horror film. Almost traumatized me as a child. 5 stars
11/01/03 American Slasher Goddess Different kind of horror flick, if only the ending made more sense. 4 stars
7/02/03 Lush Boooyyyyyyyyyyy!!! 4 stars
6/22/03 Jack Sommersby Clunky but somewhat involving. Tauter direction and pacing would have helped. 3 stars
3/12/03 Butterball Cenobite frightening, imaginative low budget horror film; now considered a classic 4 stars
1/27/03 Thrash This movie is classic. Love it 4 ever!!! 5 stars
11/21/02 dead no way 1 stars
9/01/02 wayne gayle Very much like a fucked up nightmare. Film has a dream logic. One of my favs! 5 stars
6/23/02 Baal Very Cool. Worth Seeing! Nice sfx for a low budget production, too. 5 stars
6/03/02 Black Night the ultimate mind fuck 5 stars
5/20/02 F@rty Bl@st Designed to put a man down and keep him there. 5 stars
5/18/02 The Tall Man The best movie I ever made. 5 stars
5/16/02 DA MAN DA BEST! 5 stars
4/16/02 Film Dude Go see this. Right now. 5 stars
3/29/02 Jeff Howard-Lindsey One of the best movies! I like it as much as George A. Romero's "DEAD" films!! 5 stars
3/01/02 Alan Smithee Cheesy, but in the coolest way. 5 stars
2/18/02 Kyle Highly entertaining and frightening. 5 stars
1/26/02 Andrew Carden Not Perfect, but A Very Realistic and Emotional Thriller. 4 stars
8/01/01 Elgyn A modern horror classic. Very surreal and dream-like. 5 stars
6/28/01 King Jackass I can't believe nobody has rated this yet! FUCKING KICKS FUCKING ASS! 5 stars
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  28-Mar-1979 (R)
  DVD: 10-Apr-2007



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