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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day 281: Phantasm

Choose Your Own Drug-Induced Fever-Dream Adventure

Horror movies are all about taking risks. More than any other movie genre, horror needs to take risks in order to to grab the audience and make an impression. Action movies don't need to take risks. A few explosions here, and few car chases there, and you're all set. The same could be said for comedies. Make a few good jokes and you've got yourself a movie. Horror constantly needs to think outside the box with it's stories, it's characters, and it's effects. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. That's why it's called “risk taking”. When it does work, though, it's a thing of beauty.

Phantasm is a 1979 supernatural horror movie starring Michael Baldwin (Eight Is Enough, Phantasm II) as Mike Pearson and Angus Scrimm (I Sell The Dead, Alias) as The Tall Man. Following the death of his parents, Mike is raised by his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury, Secrets Of Midland Heights, Phantasm III) in their small, unnamed town. During a funeral, Mike spies the owner of the funeral home, the Tall Man, easily lifting a casket by himself. Mike reaches out to an old fortune teller, relaying his fears of his older brother leaving him and of the Tall Man. The old woman tells him to place his hand in a black box which grips him tightly. Frightened, he desperately tries to get it off, but cannot. She tells him that there is nothing to fear and the box loosens. Mike begins investigating the Tall Man, sneaking into the mausoleum where he keeps dead bodies. The mausoleum is patrolled by a flying silver sphere that has razor-sharp blades protruding out of it. Mike is grabbed by a man, but dodges the sphere and escapes. It is not until Mike is attacked by the Tall Man's minions, hooded dwarves, that he is able to convince Jody that they are in real danger. The Tall Man pursues them, even attacking them in their dreams. They discover that one of the minions is, in fact, one of Jody's recently-deceased friends, only shrunk down in size. Along with their friend Reggie, the boys head to the mausoleum where they discover a white room filled with containers and a strange gateway. What is the truth behind the Tall Man and the gateway and will they be able to stop him in time?

"Oh, man. Someone else peed in my bed while I was sleeping!"

Unique is one of the best ways to describe Phantasm. I mean that in a good way, not in a “has a nice personality” sort of way. The story is very imaginative and unlike anything I have seen in the past. A super-powered undertaker from another world is turning dead people into dwarf slaves? Oh, and he has some killer flying ball with spikes coming out of it? Yeah, that's a new one. Writer/Producer/Director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, The Beastmaster) crafts an exciting and strange horror movie, throwing in all sorts of cool and different ideas. Phantasm is one of those movies where you legitimately have no idea what is going to happen next. Ultimately, that's a good thing, but there are some things that just kind of happen out of nowhere. The biggest example is the flying sphere. Admittedly, it's a very cool idea that looks good on screen and also for a particularly gruesome death scene. The problem is that it is pretty random in regards to the rest of the movie. It doesn't feature as prominently as it does in the various sequels, so it's not that big of a deal, but I couldn't get over the complete randomness of this thing. Despite some of the silliness of the movie, it still manages to be entertaining.

The atmosphere is what really makes Phantasm so enjoyable. The movie is dark and creepy with flashes of action and terror. The imagery is great and stays with you long after the movie has ended. The movie has a few great lines which have actually be used as samples by a lot of metal bands, including Prophyria and Municipal Waste. When most people think of great horror music, the point to John Carpenter and the music from Halloween. I feel that the music in Phantasm is on par with the music from Halloween. Perhaps it's even better with it's mixture of synth, guitars, and drums, giving the movie a scary, yet steady feel. The movie has a quick pace with some good action and violence. The acting is good and the movie manages to avoid the usual trap of making a young character incredibly annoying or stupid. Angus Scrimm's imposing figure fits perfectly with the character of the Tall Man. One thing in about the movie that I noticed is that there really isn't a female character in the movie. Sure there are a few females in the movie, but none with a lot of screen time or important roles. I mean, there isn't even a real love interest in the movie.

"How's the weather up there, Shaq?"

Phantasm is a fun and scary horror movie that pushes the boundaries of weirdness. The story is certainly unique and a breath of fresh air before the horror genre was inundated in the early 80's with mundane slasher films. Part science-fiction, part adventure, and part action movie, Phantasm has plenty of shocks and scares with a few scenes of gore to keep the audience at the edge of their seats. The directing and acting are good and managed to make sense out of a strange story. Some may find it difficult to follow the story as it grows progressives weirder towards the end. The movie takes a lot of risks, but you should be willing to take a risk and watch it.


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