Directed by Don Coscarelli
Produced by D.A. Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli
Director of Photograpy Don Coscarelli
Music by Frey Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave
Cast: Micahel Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister
1979/88 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS 5.1
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
In the mid-1970s, horror films were in an unusual state. Overall, scary movies were very popular, thanks to huge hits such as THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN -- so horror had permeated popular culture. Yet, there was no dominating genre. The previously mentioned films had made supernatural movies, especially those dealing with religion, popular, but many Hammer-esque "old dark house" movies were being made. The impact of movies like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE could be felt in an increasing brutality in horror. And of course, the world was on the eve of the premiere of a little movie called HALLOWEEN. During this time, a young filmmaker named Don Coscarelli created a movie which was a culmination of all of these influences, and yet, played like nothing else which had come before. That movie was called PHANTASM.
As PHANTASM opens, a man is murdered in a graveyard. We then cut to the man's funeral, which is being attended by friends Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Jody's little brother Mike follow them to the funeral, and notices some peculiar things, such as a Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who lifts a casket by himself. Mike tries to convince Jody that something strange is happening at the mortuary, but Jody is skeptical. Mike decides to investigate the mortuary himself and a deviant mystery begins to unravel. As Mike, and eventually Jody and Reggie, begin to dig deeper, they find zombie dwarves, flying death machines, a portal to another world, and a Tall Man who commands them all. Can a 12-year old defeat a supernatural mastermind?
The word "classic" is thrown around way too much, but for my money, PHANTASM is a classic and a must-see for any horror fan. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I saw the movie when I was far too young to be seeing it, but it's had a lasting effect on me and I admire the movie to this day. (I was able to share the story of my initial viewing of the film with Don Coscarelli and he loved it.)
Borrowing bits and pieces from horror films, science-fiction, surrealism, and for lack of a better terms, nightmares, Coscarelli crafted an original movie that feels familiar and absolutely new at the same time. Admittedly, the story is a bit muddy at times, but PHANTASM succeeds in other ways. The film does an exemplary job of combining creepy ideas and disturbing images. In many ways, PHANTASM is a very episodic film, thusly, the movie plays as a series of memorable scenes. Fans (or "Phans") can probably list the classic pieces in the movie -- the hearse chase, the attack on the Volkswagen, the "don't fear" box, and of course, the sphere. Say what you will about the movie, but Don Coscarelli deserves kudos (or a straight-jacket) for the concept of a flying metal sphere which drills the blood out of its victims. Today, the ball is well-known, but when the film premiered, it was original, freaky, and down-right disturbing.
The movie also deserves praise for what is able to accomplish on such a limited budget. Shot for just $300,000, the movie is filled with multiple locations, special effects and stunts. The mausoleum set looks fantastic and it's shocking to learn that it was built in a warehouse. Some of the special effects may look hokey today (especially that bug thing in Mike's hair), but most are still effective. (By way of comparison, HALLOWEEN, which was made around the same time, was shot for about the same amount of money and features only real-world locales and no special effects.)
I've read some comments on-line from people (who I can only assume are 20 or younger) who don't like or appreciate PHANTASM. I really have trouble understanding this. Sure, the movie has a dated feel (Jody's bowler hat doesn't help), and again, some of the effects look cheesy, but the film is still filled wall-to-wall with dynamic visuals, creepy ideas, and a great score. In short, the balls-out craziness of PHANTASM has clearly influenced many movies which have come in its wake. Nearly 30 years later, the movie still stands as a landmark of horror.
PHANTASM rises from the grave onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This fact alone makes this DVD an improvement over the MGM release from 1999. The image looks pretty good, as the image is fairly sharp and clear. But, let's be honest, this is a low-budget movie which is 30 years old, so things aren't going to be perfect. There is a light sheen of grain on the image, but there are no overt defects from the source material. The colors look fairly good, but overall, things are slightly washed out. The image is somewhat dark at times, but the action is always visible. (I wonder if we are seeing the look that Coscarelli really wanted.) In short, a solid transfer. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both provide clear dialogue and sound effects which are well-balanced. These tracks were clearly made from the film's original mono track. Thus there isn't a lot of surround or subwoofer action. However, there are some nice stereo effects.
This new PHANTASM DVD from Anchor Bay contains several extras. They seem to have been culled from New Line's laserdisc release from the early 90s, MGM's DVD, and Anchor Bay's UK DVD release of the film. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY (which first appeared on the laserdisc) with Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, and Bill Thornbury. This is a great commentary, as the four share many interesting and often surprising anecdotes about the making of the film. Most of these deal with the challenges of making this ambitious movie with such limited resources. "Phantasmagoria" (36 minutes) (originally appeared in the Anchor Bay UK PHANTASM set) is a retrospective making of which contains comments from Coscarelli, Scrimm, producer Paul Pepperman, producer D.A. Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin, actress Kathy Lester, Bill Thornbury, and special sound effects Christopher L. Stone. These speakers talk about their work on the film and Coscarelli shares a great deal about where his ideas comes from. "PHANTASM: Behind the Scenes" (20 minutes) (this originally appeared on the laserdisc and the word "laserdisc" is edited here) is simply home movies from the set with commentary by Coscarelli and Bannister. We get to see how many of the stunts and effects were done. "PHANTASM: Actors Having a Ball" (5 minutes) features random comments from the players, but Pepperman does finally talk about the fact that the dwarves resemble the Jawas from STAR WARS. The DVD contains 6 DELETED SCENES which run about 8 minutes. (There is one scene on the UK release which isn't included here.) We get more of that damn bowler hat and a useless comedy scene. But, we also get an alternate ending and an allusion to another alternate ending. Coscarelli and Scrimm are interviewed on a local TV show from Miami in "1979 PHANTASM Interview" (28 minutes), where they talk about making the movie. Scrimm stars in a silly "1988 Fangoria TV Commercial" (1 minute). We get some home video of an "Angus Scrimm 1989 Convention Appearance" (10 minutes). The extras are rounded out by the TRAILERS for PHANTASM and PHANTASM III, and 3 TV SPOTS.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©
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