AKA The Never Dead (Australia)
“…when you’re dealing with a movie with this many oddball ideas, and a director who’s not afraid to ‘go weird’ just because he wants to, your best bet is probably just to keep quiet, enjoy the ride, and then see how you feel once the whole crazy experience is over with.”–Scott Weinberg, Fearnet
DIRECTED BY: Don Coscarelli
PLOT: While secretly observing services for a deceased family friend, recently orphaned 13 year-old Mike witnesses an impossible feat performed by the funeral director known only as The Tall Man. Later, while following the older brother he adores to a tryst in a cemetery, he spoils the romantic ambiance when he tries to warn his brother of a dwarf-like creature he sees scurrying in the shadows. The Tall Man begins appearing in Mike’s nightmares, and he journeys alone to the isolated funeral home to gather evidence to support his belief that the mortician is responsible for the strange happenings in his New England town.
- The kernel of the idea for Phantasm came from a dream writer/director Coscarelli had in his late teens where he was “being pursued through a corridor by some kind of flying steel ball.”
- Coscarelli, only 23 years old when Phantasm began production, not only wrote and directed the film but also served as cinematographer and editor.
- The film originally received an “X” rating in the United States (a kiss of death at that time for anyone seeking wide theatrical distribution) due to the blood and violence in the silver sphere scene (and the shot of urine seeping out of the dead man’s pants leg). The scene is frightening and effective, but relatively tame by twenty-first century standards. According to a widely repeated anecdote, Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin, who liked the film, intervened with the MPAA to secure an “R” rating for Phantasm. Per co-producer Paul Pepperman, however, it was someone from the distribution company who convinced the ratings board to change their verdict. Champlin’s role was actually to recommend Universal pick the picture up for distribution.
- A scene where the Tall Man appears in Mike’s dream was selected as the 25th entry in Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.”
- The film cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to make, and eventually earned over $15 million.
- Phantasm spawned four sequels, all directed by Coscarelli. None were as well received or fondly remembered as the original. Coscarelli would eventually score an underground hit again with the bizarre horror/comedy Bubba Ho-Tep (2002).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without a doubt, the unexplained appearance of the flying sphere zooming through the sublimely creepy marble halls of the mausoleum.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Phantasm appears to be a standard horror film at first blush, but as it heedlessly races along from one fright to another, it becomes increasingly obvious that the plot is not resolving, or at least not resolving in any sensible way. It is also obvious that this scattershot plotting, which elevates atmosphere and psychological subtext by frustrating the literal sense, is a deliberate choice to “go weird” and not a result of incompetence.
Original trailer for Phantasm
COMMENTS: Mike wakes up to discover the Tall Man looming over the head of his bed like Continue reading 32. PHANTASM (1979)