127 of 135 people found the following review helpful
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 1999
While most "special edition" dvd's are usually less than special, Phantasm rises way above the rest. If you love the Phantasm series and you haven't got this dvd yet-GO GET IT!!!. The picture is superb, though it has a few (very few) glitches such as surface scracthes but all in all the picture quality is great. And the sound, my god it is perfect, Phantasm has never sounded so great. The real kicker is the extras. Included on this package are behind the scenes footage with commentary by Don Coscarelli and Reggie Bannister, a hilarious Fango Convention appearance by Angus Scrimm, a bizarre interview with Scrimm from Australia, a must hear disco version of the Phantasm theme, a full version of Bill Thornberry's "Sittin' Here at Midnight" (man, that guy can sing) and a whole lot more. Please I'm telling you for your own good, you must get this dvd now - today!!! You'll be glad you did, BOOOOYYY!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I think that Phantasm was a big surprise hit back in '79 for different reasons than why it has endured as a cult movie to this day.
Sure, the special effects haven't aged as well as some, but they were remarkable for a low-budget movie made only two years after Star Wars came out. At the time, Phantasm did not come across as a low budget movie at all and I think it shocked everybody. It's taken decades and many technical developments in SFX along the way to finally make this movie's technical limitations more glaringly obvious. At the time? There wasn't a 12-year old in the country who didn't think it was impressive.
Phantasm was bizarre enough and had enough shock moments to scare and thrill young viewers, and the killer silver balls were such a unique cinematic experience that nobody else has even tried to emulate them in a similar horror film.
But while Coscarelli was able to brilliantly evoke and convey his unique nightmare vision of the strange tall man, the mysterious silver balls, and grave-robbing interdimensional evil cloaked dwarves, what makes this film endure is what I believe is the human element.
As opposed to the shallow, vapid, teen slasher flicks to follow it, Phantasm's characters are allowed to develop into involving, three dimensional people. I believe that is what gives this movie some legs, and what has allowed for relevant Phantasm sequels (ii- iv). There is a unique, profound sadness in Mike Pearson's compulsive need to follow his big brother around after the deaths of both of their parents. And in the end, there is an even deeper sadness when the audience realizes that his big brother Jody has been dead all along as well. The characters are allowed to show and feel emotional depth-- sorrow, fear, anger, frustration. They aren't cardboard props to be slashed by the villain. They're intrepid, resourceful, and you can't help but like them and relate to them... especially when they're just sittin' on the porch strummin' the guitar and singing some tunes.
Phantasm's surrealness is only reinforced when it is made the backdrop of such normal human characters and behavior. Otherwise, cloaked dark dwarves and flying silver balls would seem quite random and stupid if put in the context of your typical teen slasher flick (another sorority/campfire bimbofest, anyone?). This is where most of the low-budget cookie-cutter horror films fail nowadays.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Phantasm (1979) is one of those films I wish I could unwatch, just so I could watch again for the first time, as this was one of a handful of movies that really creeped me out back when I first saw it. I can't even begin to tell you how much time my friends and I spent futilely debating the various aspects of the storyline, speculating on just what the hell was going on in this movie...written, produced, directed, photographed, and edited by Don Coscarelli (Kenny & Company, The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-tep), the film stars A. Michael Baldwin (Kenny & Company, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead) and Bill Thornbury (The Lost Empire, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead). Also appearing is Reggie Bannister (Phantasm II, Bubba Ho-tep), Kathy Lester (Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead), and Angus Scrimm (Subspecies, Munchie, Death to the Automatons), as the enigmatic Tall Man.
As the film begins, we see a buxom blonde woman (Melons! Get your melons here! Two for a dollar!) and a dude named Tommy (nice mutton chops) getting some creepy loving in a graveyard in the middle of the night, and not long after the big finale (if you know what I mean), it's bye bye Tommy...Tommy literally gets it after getting it...how? You'll have to watch and see. Anyway, the following scenes involve Tommy's funeral, attended by his family and friends, including Jody (Thornbury) and Reggie (Bannister). Jody's younger brother Mike (Baldwin) isn't in attendance, as the thinking was he's too young, and still suffering from the loss of Jody and Mike's parents two years earlier...but Mike's around, hiding in the bushes, spying on the proceedings with a pair of binoculars (seems Mike is deathly afraid Jody will pick up and leave, so he follows him nearly everywhere). After the ceremony ends and the mourners leave, Mike watches as the Tall Man, who works at the cemetery and oversaw the service, proceed to lift the 500 plus pound casket out of the ground, by himself, place it in the hearse, and drive off....well, that was odd. After various events (including a visit to a fortune teller and spying on Jody during a romantic interlude, which was kinda creepy in itself), Mike returns to Morningside Cemetery under the cloak of night to investigate further...after breaking into the funeral parlor, Mike gets caught by a caretaker, but not for long as the man suffers a nasty workplace accident involving a flying silver sphere, complete with blades and a drill bit (better call OSHA)...man, the human head sure has a lot of blood...Mike flees, but pursuit isn't far behind as the Tall Man appears, along with some evil Oompa Loompas dressed in brown cloaks. Something hideously evil is going on at Morningside Cemetery, something involving the recently dead...oh, did I mention Jody and Mike's parents are interred there?
Severed fingers, a nasty, mutant fly, murderous dwarfs, deadly flying spheres (where does he get those wonderful toys?), hearses, guns, a muscle car, coffins, dead bodies, a graveyard at night, a creepy mausoleum...this is a weird and wild trip, one where the fun is more in the ride itself than in getting to the destination...which is good as the first time you see the movie, it probably won't make a whole lot of sense. Initially the film does play off like a series of loosely related events, but, if given a chance (along with a couple more viewings), elements of the story do fall into place, and even make sense...or you could just listen to the commentary track and understand a lot more than I did the first time I saw the film. Regardless, Coscarelli pulled off quite a feat here, as normally I find this type of movie annoying, as it essentially presents a whole lot of questions, many left unanswered by the end. The difference here is that the characters are engaging, the sequences well paced and exciting, and the overall material just so very bizarre, all for a budget of about $300,000. Sometimes there are instances where things happen for no other reason that because it's in the script, I'd recommend just going along with the story, as you'll have a lot more fun that way. The story may seem to drag a bit in the beginning, but sit tight as it kicks into gear about 35 minutes in...the performances, while not highly professional, do feel realistic in the sense that the actors are regular people, easily identifiable to the average viewer, and this goes a long way towards mitigating any inadequacies. The most memorable performance for me was Angus Scrimm, and the enigmatic Tall Man. If you saw this film as a little kid, you probably had creepy nightmares about his menacing character. One other aspect worth mentioning is the original music by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, proving the value of an appropriately haunting and memorable score. On this particular DVD version, Scrimm performs an introductory segment which lasts a couple of minutes, and the man seems to not age aged at all, except, perhaps for the fact he's sporting a wicked comb over. I think Scrimm's probably done all right for himself, milking every ounce of juice from his character he could over the years (more power to you, brother). All in all, this is a wicked fun film, and required viewing for fanatics of creepy horror/fantasy films. If I learned anything from this movie, it's the following;
1. You don't aim a gun at a man unless you intend to shoot him.
2. You don't shoot a man unless you intend to kill him.
3. Warning shots are bullsh*t.
4. Never mess around with a transdimensional tuning fork.
The widescreen (1.85:1) presentation on this DVD looks really sharp and clean, and includes a newly mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the original mono version is also available), which is great for those of us who've only ever seen it in the past on VHS or broadcast TV. There are a ton of extras on this special edition DVD, including a commentary track with director Don Coscarelli and stars A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Reggie Bannister, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, a 1979 interview with Coscarelli and Scrimm, an original theatrical trailer, three televisions spots, radio spots, behind the scenes footage (19:58), a still gallery featuring pictures and promotional materials, a goofy Australian TV promo (3:42), a 1995 recording of "Sittin' Here at Midnight" by Bill Thornbury, a disco version of the Phantasm theme, Fangoria convention footage (featuring Scrimm), a Fangoria TV commercial, and an informational insert booklet...whew! This film was followed by three sequels, including Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998).
By the way, I had an opportunity to trade a few emails with co-producer Paul Pepperman after he contacted me about my review for Kenny & Company (1976), and I asked him when we might see a domestic DVD release of the 2nd and 3rd movies in this series...he couldn't really tell me, but he did mention a newly created special edition set featuring all the films, soon to be released in the UK. Perhaps (hopefully) a similar set will be released in the U.S.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
It goes without saying that Don Coscarelli's original Phantasm still has that cerebral effect on the viewer that few horror films can have. Watching it now only solidifies the fact that Phantasm is undoubtedly one of the best horror films to come out of the late 70's. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury star as brothers who inadvertantly come across the demonic practices of a mysterious mortician dubbed the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), and the terrifying happenings that begin to follow them after their discovery. For those who haven't seen any of the four Phantasm films, I won't divulge any more storywise, but I will say that this movie manages to pack in enough surprises, shocks, and metaphor that you'll marvel at how this film isn't always mentioned in the same breath as many other iconic horror features. Despite the three sequels that would follow, all of which crafted by Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep) as well, the original Phantasm still remains the very best. Thanks to Anchor Bay, Phantasm lives on DVD once again as the celebrated DVD publisher of classic and cult horror films packs this single disc with an assortment of extras. There is a great commentary track from Coscarelli, Baldwin, Thornbury, and Scrimm; as well as a half hour long documentary, and a bombardment of deleted scenes, as well as trailers for this film and Phantasm III (which was released on DVD by Anchor Bay at the same time as this edition), which only begs to question when Phantasm II will see the light of day on DVD again. All in all, saying that the original Phantasm is a must own for horror buffs is saying it lightly.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2009
PHANTASM has fared pretty well on home video over the years with 3 VHS editions that I am aware of, 3 laserdisc issues and so far two (region 1) DVD releases (where's the bluray?). This latest version from Anchor Bay is the first time we have gotten an anamorphic release and it sure is nice to have it. Anchor Bay generally does an amazing job at putting together all sorts of cool extras and animated menus for their releases and they do a fairly good job here. The anamorphic transfer on this DVD does not seem to me to be the same print used for the MGM and laserdisc releases. I think this transfer looks a little more grainy and the color a little more off than the previous DVD. It looks okay but it isn't remarkable in any way. I suppose this could be because I'm now watching on a large HD screen and flaws are more apparent than before. It is difficult to compare this print accurately with the previous non-anamorphic ones. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack sounds the same as the previous releases and it is quite good however this new DVD DOES NOT include the original mono soundtrack that was provided on the MGM release. There are a couple of new extras exclusive to this Anchor Bay edition. There is a short version of the PHANTASMAGORIA documentary and some interview segments called ACTORS HAVING A BALL. Those are the only features that are exclusive to this release. The commentary track is the same one I have been listening too since the collectors edition LaserDisc. Strangely, there are things MISSING from this Anchor Bay DVD that were on the LaserDisc and MGM DVD. There are ten minutes of deleted scenes on the MGM and only 8 minutes here (2 deleted scenes are missing). Angus Scrimm in australia doing his tall man schtick is not included on this release. The Coscarelli/Scrimm TV interview is here though, as are cleaned up versions fo the trailers and TV ads. There are NO radio spots included on this one, also gone is the Angus Scrimm introduction to the film (an especially sad ommission by Anchor Bay). The stills gallery is not included and neither is the complete version of "Sittin Here At Midnight" by Bill Thornbury, or the "Disco Phantasm" music tracks. We do get the Fangoria convention footage. One big improvment is the restoration of the original poster art for the front cover. This is also a two sided DVD cover in a transparent keepcase that has cool inside cover photography and a disc that looks like a silver sphere. This is a far from a definitive video release of PHANTASM but the anamorphic transfer makes this the best edition we have gotten so far. And by the way, I think PHANTASM is the greatest horror film ever made.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 1999
Phantasm was a great film in VHS. It is even better in the DVD format. This is perhaps one of the greatest surprises of the year in DVD. Not only is the film great, but also the commentary and the behind the scenes footage add so much to the entire package! I especially appreciate the digital re-master of the original! The 5.1 Dolby Surround is incredible, especially with the benefit of a good subwoofer! The purists can even listen to the fantastic original score. This film is testimony that a person with vision and imagination, in this case Don Coscarelli and crew, can accomplish a great deal on a small budget. I have seen all the Phantasm installments and believe this one belongs in every fans video library. For the real fan of Phantasm it should be noted that one of the deleted scenes of the Tall Man's, Angus Scrimm's, dialogue was included in the fantastic sequel Phantasm II. He says in the latter case to the Priest "You think when you die you go to heaven, you come to us!" This film is a study in surrealism. There are a few elements of very dark humor. The sequels are technically superior, but on a budget of approximately $300,000 they accomplished wonders. They all worked as a team and a very unique film was born. I suppose the Tall Man represents on one level a person's fear of death, but as can be seen in Phantasm IV: Oblivion there is a lot that is still unanswered in this saga. Angus Scrimm's character of the Tall Man is possibly one of horror film's most sinister if not the most intriguing concepts to date. If you haven't viewed any Phantasm film, this one is worth the price! As the old TV ad goes "if this one doesn't scare you your're probably dead." This is one sci-fi/horror classic, I don't that will leave an impression on you as it has me since seeing it in 1979. The girl in purple is waiting, as is the Tall Man. If you are a fan visit the official Phantasm website at for all the latest.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2004
this movie is very scary and entertaining. it is so out there and weird it makes you want to watch it over and over again. there are some parts that are so scary that they stick with you and(good luck trying to go to sleep) you're f**ked for the rest of the night. there are also parts that are so entertaining and just terrific that you just laugh out loud, not from humor, but just because you are having so much fun. though i was skeptical upon renting it, i used my free rental card on this and i am really glad i did. i have watched it once, am about to go watch it again, and plan on either buying it now or getting it for christmas. the ending is actually one of the best i have ever seen, and look out for a tall man who doesn't say much, except for(...).
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2008
At Morningside cemetery, bodies have been disappearing and a young punk named Michael suspects the local mortician could be behind all this ever since he witnessed the old man lift a 500 pound coffin which no other human being by himself would ever do. Now the show has begun as more murders start happening in town involving zombie dwarfs and flying spheres that can drill and drain your brain, Michael's brother Jody and family friend Reggie who happens to be an Ice-Cream man joins him to stop this interdimensional menace for good.
Very surreal and unsual sci-fi horror fantasy that has become an instant horror fan favorite among the years since it was released and spawn three sequels with more coming soon, made the Tall-Man with his spheres icons of the genre much like Freddy, Michael, Leatherface or Jason. The special effects for it's time are cheap but good in these days of CGI and it's truly one of the best of it's kind ever! a true classic that should be seen especially it's sequels.
A must own for fans of horror and sci-fi.
There was originally a previous special edition DVD from MGM but the Anchor Bay one has crisp picture and superb sound with extras like trailer, TV Spots, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, TV interview, Fangoria commercial, Angus Scrimm convetion appearence, actors having a ball featurette and even a trailer for Phantasm III.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2002
This is a gem from 1979, an absolute joyful expression of one filmmaker's vision. Don Coscarelli wrote, produced, directed and edited this bizarre tale which combines alien worlds, aliens, body snatching, fortune telling, Jawas, car chases and buddy-movie antics all into one. There are bizarre moving postcards, flying silver spheres that drain your blood, a threatening tall man (Angus Scrimm), femme fatales, a Tubular Bells-inspired score, and more. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury are perfect as the brothers (Mike and Jody) who investigate the macabre events at Morningside Mortuary (the same house was the setting for Burnt Offerings) and a find a sinister "Tall Man" who seems to be crushing dead humans and using them for slaves on an alien world. Phantasm's plot is a mish-mosh of various standard horror film trappings, but is so engaging, thanks to the winning leads, that you don't care. And the surprises are many. This is a cult favorite and one of the most inventive and notable horror films of its time. Ignore the sequels.