Monday, August 8, 2016

Growing up With Muscle Cars and Flying Death Spheres, or Thoughts on Phantasm

Phantasm (1979), a sci-fi horror film set in a funeral home, doesn’t involve the best acting with a largely amateur cast, however the movie succeeds on the strength of the plot and the hauntingly surreal vision of Writer and Director Don Coscarelli, who would go on to bring you The Beastmaster (1982), John Dies at The End (2012) and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). A low budget and independent movie financed in part by the director’s father, Phantasm featured an inter-dimensional alien who, much like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) spent their time on earth trolling cemeteries and raising the dead.
Surreal and off-kilter the movie switches genres with Inception (2010)-level dreams within dreams, casting flying metallic death spheres that drill into your head along with hooded medieval-looking dwarves running around the mortuary that only add to the genre confusion.  The movie flips between horror and sci-fi, while remaining grounded in a traditionally gothic horror environment, the graveyard and funeral home, as opposed to say, Alien (1979), which features horror elements in the uniquely sci-fi setting of the space mining ship Nostromo.
Phantasm follows the story of Michael Baldwin as 13-year-old Mike, recently orphaned, and troubled, and drawn to the Morningside Mortuary like a real life Scooby Doo adventure but with terrifying results.  His older brother Jody played by Bill Thornbury helps in his investigations, once Mike, along with Jody’s best friend Reggie Bannister as Reggie.
The three most frightening elements of the film are those aforementioned flying silver death spheres, the eerie soundtrack reminiscent of John Carpenter by Fred Myrow and Malcom Seagrave, and the stellar and iconic performance as Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man.  Jebidiah Morningside when he was still among the living, The Tall Man is the mysterious and otherworldly undertaker who runs the mortuary while haunting Mike’s dreams and reality.  It’s interesting that Angus Scrimm’s portrayal of The Tall Man is largely accomplished with glares and a general air of creepy suspicion.  He doesn't need any makeup, the actor had a naturally-scary face and demeanor, as if he were born for the role he so fully personified.
Phantasm is hindered by a meandering yet affectionate plot that includes side-tracks showcasing Reggie Bannister’s 70’s folk guitar skills along with a Dune-inspired gom jabbar test (fear is the mind killer) from a blind psychic who only speaks through her grand-daughter.  Watch out for Mike’s car, he drives a sweet 1971 Plymouth black Barracuda.  Jody unfortunately, has an ice cream truck.
Phantasm would go on to inspire four sequels by Don Coscarelli: Phantasm II (1988) Phantasm III: Lord of The Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and Phantasm V. Ravager (2016), to be released later this year.  Regrettably, Angus Scrimm passed away during filming, but he leaves a terrifying legacy as The Tall Man.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4 volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hr diner with the best pie in town…