Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Phantasm (Film Review)

It’s confusing to think that a lot of the world seems to have forgotten this film. It was just a cult classic from the very late 70s but looking at it you get the feeling that it should be much better remembered than it actually is. Highlander, Beastmaster, Evil Dead, it’s a film which is quite easily on par with them had has that same sort of aged charm. Also gore. Lots of gore.
Phantasm’s story is part horror, part mystery and revolves around two orphaned brothers. The younger of the two, Mike, goes against his brother’s wishes and watches a friend’s funeral from afar and witnesses the mysterious undertaker known only as the Tall Man easily lifting a coffin. Eventually following him inside the town’s mausoleum he is witness to an extremely grisly murder as the result of a flying sphere and begins to realise there’s more to the Tall Man than first seems.
The film’s real strength is that it is very dreamlike, and blurs the lines of reality while setting up a mystery which keeps leaving you curious to see how it ends. It’s hard to describe exactly how it goes about this but the cinemtography and the atmosphere it creates helps keep your attention throughout. Even when it does start to go off of the deep end and feature some ridiculous things which remove a lot of the tension and feeling behind the film. Usually the result of one or two eyebrow raising effects choices like when a dismembered part of the Tall Man comes to life.
Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often. Instead the film relies upon two things for its scares: The Tall Man himself, who has very few lines but is played in an extremely creepy manner by the actor, and his Jawa attack squad. That latter one is nowhere near as dumb as it sounds when you actually watch the film; it’s just what you’ll instantly think of when first watching it. The best scenes with them are usually when they’re shown as little as possible and director Don Coscarelli seemed to realise that when making it. The more effective minions the Tall Man employs is a number of flying metal spheres which even the dated effects don’t diminish their gorily glorious menace. Trust me; you’ll see for yourself if you watch the film.
The heroes are also written as fairly likable characters, flawed ones definitely and with a few moments of awkward acting but nothing which really makes you want to see them die. They’re flawed to be sure but the fact the film actually tries to give you reasons to see them live puts it above a lot of others which come to mind. Looking at you Friday the 13th sequels.
If there is one thing which really does drag it down, it’s the ending. Like Lost it seems like most of the film was focused upon raising questions and spinning enough ideas to keep you entertained as the ending just seems ill conceived. It manages to feel both like two clichéd conclusions at the same time, as if it were both saying “it was all a dream” and pulling that last second “the killer comes back” thing which was popular in the 70s and 80s. It really just diminishes the entire film and feels like it was added it the very last second. Even if you were fine with the logical leaps in the rest of the film this bit will still have you stop and wonder what the hell just happened.
While Phantasm looks on paper like a film which would be the worst kind of low budget bargain bin title its tone, bouts of sheer insanity and originality are what makes it worth watching. Even with a botched conclusion the rest of the film definitely holds up well and is vastly superior to the swarms of unoriginal slasher serials which dominated its era’s genre. In the end does it make a lick of sense? Not in the slightest but that does nothing to diminish the fun of watching it.
Definitely a worthwhile cult classic you might want to look up if you’re a horror fan.

Phantasm and all related characters and media are owned by New Breed Productions.

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