Phantasm – 2 out of 5
I was a young boy when I first saw Phantasm with my dad but it never left an impression on me. It didn’t frighten me nor did it interest me. Many years later after my father passed away I inherited his massive VHS tape collection (and his collection was super big, it’s no surprise where I got my movie obsession from) and I decided to check this out again. Similar to last time, it left absolutely no impression on me and I never went any further with the franchise. However, now that a fifth film has been added to the series and since it is October and I tend to focus on horror movies during this month, I made the Phantasm set of films a priority and decided to revisit this film yet again. I don’t think I ever truly realized how crummy this movie is…but I also never realized that it’s crummy on a fun level.
After the death of their parents, older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) must now take care of his younger brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). However, one day while at the graveyard, Mike notices a tall man (Angus Scrimm) lift a casket with one arm and is worried some shifty nonsense is going down. Mike is already in a fragile state as he is paranoid Jody will abandon him and this paranoia feeds into an investigation of the Tall Man. Soon he learns that he’s an otherworldly creature that has come to our realm to reanimate the dead and use them as slave labor on his world (because why not?) but learning this has painted a target on his back and the Tall Man and his minions won’t let anyone get in their way.
|I am leaving this screencap here without context and without comment.|
So…yeah…this movie is really dumb. From a story telling perspective, it’s really hard to take seriously. From a technical/filmmaking perspective, it’s beyond amateur. Finally, from a narrative and plot structure perspective, it is hard to watch. Phantasm is poorly acted and the construction of the story is even worse. Putting aside that the whole story was a dream (the film came out in 1979, the official Spoiler Alert that came with it spoiled), the narrative makes no sense. The film clumsily falls from one scene to the next and doesn’t care about whether the plot makes sense or if there’s any semblance of continuity (and, boy howdy, does this film have a lot of continuity errors). The story itself somehow can’t manage to develop and express itself without the characters literally having to say the plot points out loud.
|That hair is probably absorbing all the information |
around and that's how he figured out all the plot points.
|Magic old lady? That's totes adorbs. Strong tall man? That dude is up to something.|
Like so many low budget horror films, the acting in this film is not good. The actors give odd reactions to everything they see and their delivery of lines are wooden. Granted, I will say that A Michael Baldwin isn’t too shabby as Mike and Angus Scrimm is fairly decent as the Tall Man (when you get to see him do something beyond just running after someone) but, for the most part, the acting isn’t even serviceable. Thornbury as Jody just looks bored all the time, Kathy Lester (the woman who plays the female form that the Tall Man takes in order to lure more victims to his cause) looks lost, and Reggie Bannister—the actor who plays Jody’s friend—really can’t figure out what level to bring to every emotion he is delivering, it’s freaking weird to watch him react to literally everything in this film. Sometimes he’s going overboard for something that needs subtlety and somethings he barely reacting to things that need a little bit of importance.
|That's a bar they came out of...bars are known for having curtains in their windows.|
|"No, my blood! I need that to live!"|
The final odd and strangely amusing thing about this film is the Tall Man himself. I already mention that, despite his very meager amount of screen time, Angus Scrimm is fairly good as the character. He has a presence that can’t be denied and, while he’s not really scary or creepy (or even something I would consider a threat if I ran into in a dark alley), he has an aura about him that works for being a horror film antagonist (to an extent). However, that being said, the character is a complete scattershot of ideas with no real central core keeping all these elements together—beyond the fact he’s a being from another world. He seems to have some sort of mental powers, there’s those chrome orbs that help him protect his operation (but don’t seem to be programmed to identify friend or foe) and if you cut his fingers off the removed appendages will turn into a weird fly puppet. Even years after I first saw the film, I can’t believe that this element was actually a part of the character’s mythology. The Tall Man somehow went on to be a horror icon despite the fact he is a bit of an odd duck and not very threatening. He feels like the creation of a toddler who is just making up character traits and powers on the spot.
|He's a grown man in a little boy's room. That's scary for reasons the film didn't anticipate.|
Okay, as stupid as I think this movie is I have to admit it’s kinda fun. There’s nothing about it that makes it a good movie and that’s what essentially makes it a good movie. Revisiting Phantasm I realized that this cult classic is one of those “so bad, it’s good” films and that the fact it is a prime example of sloppy filmmaking with a laughable story and an antagonist that is a strange collection of eccentricities is what makes it entertaining to sit through and have fun with. Granted, I’m riffing on it like I’m trapped in the Satellite of Love and laughing at how bad it is slapped together but I’m still genuinely having fun with it. The film is never bad enough where teasing it becomes a chore and the only way to make it bearable but, instead, it’s just the right level of bad that its accidental goofiness becomes the joyous part of experiencing it. Now, will I ever revisit this one again? Probably when I have some friends over for a riffing night; however, that won’t be for a bit because now I have to go and check out the second one for the first time ever.