Phantasm (1979)


“A teenage boy and his friends face off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man, who keeps a lethal arsenal of terrible weapons with him.” — IMDb

I knew from the very first scene that I would love this movie, and I was totally right. Mike (played by A. Michael Baldwin) is still processing through the grief of losing his parents. He lives alone with his older brother, Jody (played by Bill Thornbury), who is growing a bit weary at his clinging and neediness. When Mike goes against Jody’s request and spies on the funeral of a friend of theirs, he becomes suspicious of the undertaker — only known as the Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) — and what his motives really are. The rest of the movie unravels into delightful chaos — a bit disjointed at times, totally, but with some absolute gems, too.

It’s worth noting that the director, Don Coscarelli, not only wrote, directed, photographed, co-produced, AND edited this film, but he did so on a budget of around $300,000 (all privately funded). He was literally renting equipment just for the weekends, which dragged the filming process out to a full year. His father helped fund the movie, his mother designed some of the special effects and costumes, and the cast — unsurprisingly — was comprised of friends and aspiring professionals. They worked scene by scene and much of the script was improvised. But oh man, for what it lacks in cohesion and solid acting it makes up for in charm, creepiness, and some really awesome gore.

It’s an endearing story to begin with — two brothers just trying to make it through life alone after a tragic loss. Mike justifiably worried that Jody will leave him to retain some independence and freedom. And the naturally undeniable curiosity that comes from being a young teen — the only explanation for him busting a basement window at the funeral home to investigate further when most of us would have run for the hills after seeing the Tall Man.

The scene where Mike slams the hand of his pursuer in the heavy metal door and yellow blood comes spurting out… awesome. The fact that he makes sure to take that finger home to convince his skeptical brother that he is, in fact, seeing some crazy shit… even more awesome. And then you see the first glimpse of the Sentinels — the metallic orbs that latch onto your head and pump your blood out — and you’re a fan for life (if you’re anything like me, that is).

Ultimately, the Tall Man is one of the creepiest goddamn villains I’ve seen in anything. He’s just got this air about him that makes your blood run cold. I could relate deeply to the scene where Mike sees him out on the street and presses himself hard against the wall behind him in a vain effort to escape the mere sight of him from a distance. The fact that he is meant to represent death — and the morbid but honest idea that we can only escape it in our dreams — just makes him even more awesome.

Rating: 8/10 | Director: Don Coscarelli | Writer: Don Coscarelli | Music: Fred Myrow, Malcolm Seagrave | Starring: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm


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