Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Phantasm (1979)

Well Y'all, last night your good friend Spooky Pie sat herself down to enjoy some good old fashioned horror cinema. I decided on 'Phantasm'

A) Because it is streaming on Netflix
B) Because it was not only listed in Bravo's "Top 100 Scariest Movie moments", but the trailer also boasts "If this one doesn't scare you THEN YOU'RE ALREADY DEAD!!!"

Now I ask you, dears and darlings, how on earth could I resist all that? I couldn't, I'm not that strong willed. So on went 'Phantasm'.

Oh my God you guys, Oh my God. This shit is amazing like you don't even know. In my last review I expressed my desire to see a horror movie that I actually liked and boy did this live up to that. Even if it was all for the wrong reasons.

Phantasm has an interesting enough premise, a man named Jody is raising his 13 year old brother Mike after their parents died in a car accident. Quite frankly, they probably had it coming, because anyone who would name their son Jody is just plain cruel. But anyway, ANYWAY. We begin the film with a funeral, Jody's friend Tommy, who died in the movie's opening.

Why did he die? BECAUSE HE WAS HAVING SEX IN A GRAVEYARD! Everybody knows that you don't have sex in a graveyard, that lines you up to be the first one to fall in a horror movie. So yeah, I don't have any pity for you Tommy. That's neither here nor there, sorry you guys, I get a little caught up in the moment. Jody doesn't bring Mike to the funeral because after their parents' funeral "he didn't sleep for a week".

Unbeknown to Jody, Mike followed him on a motorcycle, why someone would let a 13 year old on a motorcycle, I don't know. I also can't say why no one noticed the kid haphazardly riding said motorcycle through the cemetery. Kids these days. Forgetting Mike and his disrespectful motorcycle riding habits, we go back to Jody wandering through the funeral home. And this is when we meet one of the most AMAZING characters in cinematic history, The Tall Man!

The Tall Man will be our villain for the night kids, so let's get good and used to him. He introduces himself by sneaking up behind Jody and bellowing "THE FUNERAL IS ABOUT TO BEGIN! ... SIR!!!", and quite likely making Jody need a new pair of pants.

Comedy gold.

During said funeral we are introduced to what will be one of the other key factors in the movie. Mike is unhealthily obsessed with his brother who has a girl's name. Not only has he followed Jody, but he then proceeds to hide in a shrub and watch his brother with binoculars. He stays in a bush creepily watching his brother, and then a bit longer, which is when he sees The Tall Man lift the coffin in to the hearse all by himself with no trouble at all. He's a spry old goat, The Tall Man. And this of course, because Mike is a 13 year old boy, and this is what they do, gets Mike completely obsessed with The Tall Man and the prospect that trouble's abrewin' up at the old Morningside Mortuary.

When Mike tells this to Jody, Jody is really way more upset that his brother has been stalking him, again. And reasonably so, this is also when we learn that Jody has been planning on leaving Mike with their aunt and moving far, far away from his little brother who seems to view him in a downright inappropriate fashion. Because we find out that Mike really does stalk Jody EVERYWHERE.

He follows Jody to a bar and watches him pick up a blond hussy (same hussy we saw in the beginning having the forbidden graveyard sex), and he follows them back to the graveyard (because apparently this is the only place the woman likes to get it on) and is perfectly happy to lie in a bush and watch this too. This was about the point that I thought that Mike was probably the creepiest part of the movie. But Mike at least pays for this act of perversion by being chased out of his hiding spot by a Jawa.

And poor, poor Jody-who-has-a-girl's-name. Because nothing spoils the mood quite like having your younger brother barrel past you at full tilt howling like a banshee. If you're not our fair lady Jody, however, it's completely hilarious.

This is pretty much the final straw for Jody, when he catches up to his sprinting pervert brother he basically balls him out. And can you blame him? I know I can't. He's pretty sure that Mike is just going on about this Tall Man B.S. to cover up the fact that he has a very "flowers in the attic" fixation going on.

Of course, this makes Mike feel the need to prove that he is not completely full of crap to his brother, so he wants to get cold hard evidence. This evidence, long story short, comes in the form of one of the The Tall Man's lopped off fingers which apparently bleeds mustard. Go figure.

But this is enough to get Jody on team "The Tall Man is out to get us".

The rest of the movie generally involves the brothers, along with Jody's completely inept balding friend Reggie, setting out to investigate and stop whatever happenings are going down up at the old Mortuary. Mike gets chased around by The Tall Man, a lot, which is sad, because you would think that a 13 year old kid could outrun a man who is clearly at least 100. It's like not being able to outrun a (Classic) Romero zombie, really, you should be ashamed of yourself. And there are more cloaked Jawa/midget minions that wreck havoc on the trio.

Unfortunately, the ending of the film fell a bit flat for me. It was like the ending of Dallas had a baby with the ending of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the child came out a bit ... touched. Ending aside, this film had some AMAZING merits to it. Before I get into the (wrong)reasons I adored it, I'm going to point out some of the things that made it a good, proper horror movie.

From the get-go it adheres to a sort of canon set up by horror films before it, that doing a set of really stupid things will get you into trouble, or dead.
1. Don't have sex in a graveyard (well, don't have sex in a horror movie, really)
2. Don't go into the creepy old house alone, at night
3. If you think it's dead, don't go back and nudge it. It's not going to be dead. Always follow Rule #2 of Zombieland, double tap.
People violate these things left and right within Phantasm, and they are punished accordingly, though some more harshly then others.

Also, atmospherically, this movie is fairly awe inspiring. There is really clever use of lighting, some intense Krueger-esque nightmare sequences, and the soundtrack is lovely. It's the same sort of amazing, subtle score that is akin to the one in 'Suspiria'.

Furthermore, it is a pretty fresh take on a horror movie, despite the cliche aspects. And considering how many themes in the horror genre get done to death, that is saying something.

But here's the deal kids. None of those intellectual reasons are responsible for my love of this movie.

In short, it is a completely underrated Comedy Masterpiece. Yes, yes, I know, it's not supposed to be funny. I am aware that many people have sited sequences in the film, most notably the nightmares, as being some of the most terrifying ever. But you guys, you guys, The Tall Man.

I want to write sonnets and love songs about the hysterical tour de force that is Angus Scrimm's Tall Man. Obviously, he is supposed to be "larger than life" and a caricature, and this is supposed to be part of the appeal of why he is "terrifying". But in over exaggerating the man they made him into the best cartoon character in ages. So many scenes that were meant to be dramatic were just .... well... funny.

Take, for instance, the (apparently) iconic scene in which Mike is bumbling around Downtown in broad daylight, and is horrified to see The Tall Man strolling down the street across from him. I'm more than a little sure that I was supposed to be relating to Mike's look of "Oh no! He's out here in front of God and everyone! He's so scary". Yeah, not so much. I laughed so hard I was in tears.

The way The Thin Man galumphs down the street like a hybrid of Jack Skellington and Mr. Burns on acid, and then pauses in the mists of the ice cream truck to have his "herbal essence" commercial before slapping away is perhaps one of the most hysterical things I have seen in ages.

You cannot, in all honesty, tell me that isn't hilarious. I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't rewind that scene and watch it like five times.

Oh Angus Scrimm, shine on you crazy diamond.

Phantasm, despite its pitfalls and message that "Old people are out to kill you, and all children are a liability", is definitely worth the watch. Worth more than watch, I would say. I, in fact, now feel the need to own this masterpiece. If for no other reason than so that then next time I have a really shit day I can pop this gem into the DVD player and laugh until I sob.


  1. You're right, these kids had it coming. Great review.

  2. That is great movie! I actually saw the actor who played the tall man at the Fright Night horror convention in Louisville,KY in 2008.
    I am obsessed with Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments! I watch it every year around Halloween. My birthday is on Halloween and I have to say it's the best birthday ever!

  3. Great movie. Sequels highly recommended.

  4. Great review of a great movie.

  5. @Sarah it is hard to have sympathy whilst watching a horror movie when people *CLEARLY* do things you shouldn't in a horror movie.

    @blueskygirl totally jealous. Not only because it's totally sweet that your birthday is on Halloween, but because you've actually SEEN my new hero, The Tall Man.

    @Aylmer thanks for letting me know! I am definitely interested in seeing the rest of the series after seeing this one.

    @Jinx Thank you dear! And thank you for following my humble blog!