Most helpful positive review
127 of 135 people found the following review helpful
Dark dreams are made of this...
on May 25, 2004
If good films are like waking dreams, then good horror films are like waking nightmares. Few can match the power of Phantasm in this regard. Masquerading as a B-shocker, it gradually develops a kind psychological depth shared only by the best in the genre - films like The Exorcist and Silence of the Lambs.
To begin with, the story is frankly outrageous: after the death of a close friend, two brothers (Mike and Jody, played by Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury) discover some strange things about the Morningside Funeral Home where their friend - and their parents, who died two years earlier - are interred. It seems the dour funeral director (a character known only as The Tall Man, indelibly rendered by Angus Scrimm) is not quite human. He's able to lift fully occupied coffins by himself, as the younger Mike secretly observes; he bleeds yellow blood; he has a strange reaction to cold; and he is aided by small silver spheres that roam the halls of the mausoleum, doing unspeakably gruesome things to intruders. It seems his main activity, though, involves a novel use of the corpses of the dearly departed - a use we learn in the striking left-turn the film takes in the third act.
Somehow, what could have been a very silly film takes on an unnerving, Lynchian kind of surreality, thanks in large measure to a well-developed subtext about abandonment, isolation, despair, and guilt. These are the anxieties that drive nightmares, and - despite the frequent humor throughout - writer/director Don Coscerelli infuses the proceedings with a poignant sense of sadness and dread. Like Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, or Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Phantasm isn't just a scary film; it has the authentic texture of a dark, disturbing dream.
And this, in a film where a major sequence involves a large, obviously rubber insect flown around on a fishing line! It could have been a real Ed Wood moment, but instead, we buy into it somehow. Amazing.
In The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm has created a classic horror film villain, in the Frankenstein's monster/Dracula/Wolfman/Mummy sense, rather in than the Freddy/Jason tradition. There is no sense of irony in his conception or performance. No camp. No winking, wisecracking, or self-aware irony. Just a powerful, implacable, evil presence.
Reggie Bannister rounds out the cast as a musician/ice cream vendor (!) who assists the brothers in their quest to rid the world (or at least their town) of the evil that has descended.
The performances (a couple of minor characters notwithstanding) are remarkably skilled, walking that fine line between believability and exaggeration virtually demanded by the genre.
The DVD is crisp and well produced. There is a delightful introduction by The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, to get things rolling. There is a good deal of supplemental material to be found on the disc, and a thorough commentary track by Coscarelli, Scrimm, Baldwin, and Thornbury.
All told, an excellent addition to any horror fan's collection.