Phantasm – USA, 1979

‘If this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead!’

Phantasm is a 1979 American horror feature film directed, written, photographed, co-produced, and edited by Don Coscarelli. It introduced the Tall Man (who was portrayed in the film and its sequels by Angus Scrimm), a supernatural and malevolent undertaker who turns the dead into dwarf zombies to do his bidding and take over the world.

Plot:

After the death of his parents and brother, 24-year-old musician Jody Pearson is raising his thirteen year-old brother Mike in a small town disturbed by the mysterious deaths of its citizens. Reggie, a family man and ice cream vendor, joins the brothers in their suspicions that the local mortician, dubbed the Tall Man, is responsible for the deaths.

Mike relays his fears to a fortune teller and her granddaughter about the possibility of Jody departing and leaving him in the care of his aunt, along with his suspicions about the Tall Man. Mike is shown a small black box and told to put his hand into it.

After the box grips his hand, Mike is told not to be afraid and as the panic subsides, the box relaxes its grip. The notion of fear itself as the killer is established and is what propels Mike toward his final confrontation with the Tall Man.

Mike is pursued by minions of the Tall Man, alien dwarves (which are kept in a small room that houses a gateway device between the two worlds), who are made from the bodies of the recently deceased, and tries to convince his brother of what is happening…

Reviews:

“Creepy, unpredictable nightmare fashioned on a shoestring by young, independent producer-writer-director Don Coscarelli contains enough wildly imaginative twists and inventions for a dozen horror movies, but not enough logic for one. The plot and sensibility could have come straight from a Roadrunner cartoon, with about as much attention paid to the laws of physics.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide

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“The plot makes even less sense in the film, which is a minefield of false turns, silly ideas and illogical scare scenes. Coscarelli is capable of ludicrous weirdness […] and gets a lot out of his principal location, a spacious mausoleum. Phantasm is stolen by Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, a loping Karloffian undertaker…” Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies

“Coscarelli’s only concern is to shock us into our early tombstones. A pleasing supernatural thriller. Just lean back into your casket and enjoy.” John Stanley, Creature Features

Cast and characters:

  • A. Michael Baldwin … Mike (as Michael Baldwin)
  • Bill Thornbury … Jody
  • Reggie Bannister … Reggie
  • Kathy Lester … Lady in Lavender
  • Terrie Kalbus … Fortuneteller’s Granddaughter
  • Kenneth V. Jones … Caretaker (as Ken Jones)
  • Susan Harper … Girlfriend
  • Lynn Eastman-Rossi … Sally (as Lynn Eastman)
  • David Arntzen … Toby
  • Ralph Richmond … Bartender
  • Bill Cone … Tommy
  • Laura Mann … Double Lavender
  • Mary Ellen Shaw … Fortuneteller
  • Myrtle Scotton … Maid
  • Angus Scrimm … The Tall Man

Trivia:

In some territories, the film was released as The Never Dead.

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PHANTASM re May 2 1980

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