Phantasm is a low-budget cult classic horror movie produced in 1977 and released in 1979. It was 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 sadistic undertaker who turns the dead into dwarf zombies to do his bidding and take over the world. The Tall Man uses little flying silver balls (referred to as Sentinel Spheres by fans) that contain a lethal pair of spiked blades and a drill that destroys the victim's brain. This film was released on DVD by MGM in 1999 and then re-released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment on April 10th, 2007.
The film was originally rated X by the MPAA because of the famous silver sphere sequence, and because of the man urinating on the floor after falling down dead. Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin made a phone call in a favor to a friend on the board. Thanks to him, Phantasm was downgraded from the original dreaded X-rating to a more acceptable R. Champlin's positive review was quoted on the film's promotional posters.
This movie was number 25 on the cable channel Bravo's list of the "100 Scariest Movie Moments".
It was followed by four sequels, Phantasm II, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Phantasm IV: Oblivion, and in 2009, Phantasm V.
After the death of their parents, 24 year old musician Jody Pearson (Bill Thornbury
) is raising his 13 year old brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin
) in a small town plagued by the mysterious deaths of its citizens. Ice cream vendor Reggie (Reggie Bannister
), joins the brothers’ in their suspicions that the mortician, dubbed "The Tall Man
" is the one responsible for the deaths. Mike relays his fears to a fortune teller (Mary Ellen Shaw
) and her granddaughter (Terrie Kalbus
), about the possibility of Jody leaving town, and Mike in the care of his aunt along with the suspicions of 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 towards his final confrontation in the film with The Tall Man.
Mike is pursued by minions of the Tall Man, zombie dwarfs made from the bodies of the recently deceased, and tries to convince his brother of what is going on.
After convincing his brother and Reggie, they find a strange white room with containers in the mausoleum. There is also a gateway to another dimension or planet that Mike briefly enters where he sees the dwarfs that have hunted him through the movie being used as slaves. While trying to escape the Tall Man, Reggie is killed. Mike and Jody narrowly escape. They hatch a plan to lure the Tall Man into a local deserted mine shaft and trap him inside. After successfully doing so, Mike wakes with a start in his house, laying by the fireplace with Reggie sitting next to him.
Reggie explains that Mike was simply having a bad dream, something that was common since Jody died in a car crash. This implies that the entire movie has been a dream where in Mike was trying to prevent Jody from leaving (i.e. dying). We then see Mike go into his room where the Tall Man is waiting and hands pull Mike through his bedroom mirror.
In 1998 MGM re-released Phantasm on VHS to buy. The movie had a newly remastered Dolby stereo soundtrack. Also, after the movie the video featured 4 minutes of scenes cut from the movie. The cut fotage were two scenes:
- The first involved Mike entering a room with 2 coffins, one is open and a body is inside, the other is closed but Mike hears sounds from inside it and thinks it's Reggie. As he tries to open the coffin, Reggie enters the room. When Mike sees him and realizes that something unpleasant is in there, the two close the coffin together. Mike then tells Reggie that they need to find Jody.
- The second scene had Mike and Jody run into the Tall Man in the funeral home. Jody shoots the Tall Man several times with his shotgun but it has no effect on him. He then knocks Mike onto the floor and picks up Jody by the neck with one hand. Mike sees a fire extinguisher and remembers that the Tall Man reacted badly when he passed by Reggie's Ice Cream truck with its refrigerator open. Mike realizes the Tall Man can be hurt by the cold, so he takes out the fire extinguisher and blasts the Tall Man with it as he's about to kill Jody. The Tall Man withers in pain, suddenly he screams and his head explodes splattering yellow blood all over the walls.
These scenes were, inexplicably, absent from the subsequent DVD releases.
- Angus Scrimm...The Tall Man
- A. Michael Baldwin...Mike Pearson
- Bill Thornbury...Jody Pearson
- Reggie Bannister...Reggie
- Kathy Lester...Lady in Lavender
- Terrie Kalbus...Fortuneteller's Granddaughter
- Kenneth V. Jones...Caretaker
- Susan Harper...Susie
- Lynn Eastman...Sally
- David Arntzen...Toby
- Ralph Richmond...Bartender
- Bill Cone...Tommy
- Laura Mann...Double Lavender
- Mary Ellen Shaw...Fortuneteller
- Myrle Scotton...Maid
Awards and Nominations
- Don Coscarelli won the Special Jury Award in 1979, and the film was nominated the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in 1980.
- All of the deaths of the Tall Man throughout the series includes all of the dwarves, spheres, and gravers/henchmen that are seen in the films.
- The dwarves were played by children
- The mansion used for the exterior shots of the mausoleum was also seen in the James Bond film A View to a Kill
- The stone-looking interior of the Mausoleum was actually constructed of Plywood and Marble colored plastic contact paper
- The film's original running time was more than three hours, but writer/director Don Coscarelli decided that it was far too long for it to hold people's attention and made numerous cuts to the film.
- The Silver Sphere cost $1,100 to make out of the $300,000 used to make the film
- The filming equipment used for the film were rentals, and were rented on Fridays, and brought back on Mondays so the director could use it on the weekends, paying one day's rental on the equipment.
- The genesis of the story came to Don Coscarelli in a dream. One night, being in his late teens, he dreamed of fleeing down endlessly long marble corridors, pursued by a chrome sphere intent on penetrating his skull with a wicked needle. There was also a quite futuristic "sphere dispenser" out of which the orbs would emerge and begin chase.
- The director took the title "Phantasm" from the words of Edgar Allan Poe, which is a term frequently used by Poe in his writings
- The black box into which Mike sticks his hand in is based upon a scene from the book Dune by Frank Herbert.
- The soundbite "The funeral is about to begin, sir" was used by Black Metal band Marduk in their track 'Hearse', off the album 'World Funeral' (2003).