2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979) – REVIEW
TITLE: PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979 / 2016)
DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY: Don Coscarelli
CAST: Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury
STORY: A grieving boy and his older brother come face-to-face with an evil Funeral director named ‘The Tall Man’ and all hell breaks loose.
REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):
This brilliant low-budget cult horror film from 1979 was made independently for around $300,000 by then twentysomething Don Coscarelli. It has subsequently been lovingly remastered by J.J. Abrams production company Bad Robot and comes back to the screens in a glistening, shiny and bloody new print. Director Coscarelli introduced this screening and seeing it at the Central Picturehouse in Piccadilly was certainly a wonderful experience for this horror fan!
Where do you start with a bizarre story such as this? Well, firstly Phantasm is a great example of ideas and imagination being worth more than any big Hollywood budget. It’s the reason the film is held in such high regard by horror film fans. Indeed, if you can conjure up a series of iconic images, empathetic characters and scary moments and manage to tell a half-decent story then you have got a great chance to create a memorable experience for a cinema-going audience.
The film opens with a grisly murder and then a funeral, before we are introduced to thirteen-year-old Mike and his older brother Jody. The brothers are grieving for the recent loss of their parents but remain close. Mike hangs out at the graveyard and then becomes suspicious of the funeral director when he incredibly picks up a heavy coffin on his own. Mike manages to convince Jody and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a local ice-cream man, to investigate further and they are drawn into a series of insane and life-threatening situations.
The narrative seemingly linear jumps from one surreal set-piece to another and contains memorable images and characters such as: ‘The Tall Man’ portrayed menacingly by Angus Scrimm; the silver killing spheres; the murderous yellow-blooded dwarves; and the inter-dimensional portal which leads to a strange slave-planet. These are all unforgettable and the stuff of bloody death and nightmares. While the plot lacks clarity at times it moves at some pace and the combination of small town life mixed with insane killing devices and crazed creatures creates a wholly memorable mix.
Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Overall, super-positive Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and science-fiction and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.