Double Impact! Presents ‘Phantasm’ (1979)

From the cinephiliac minds of Sailor Monsoon and Vincent Kane comes a new collaborative review series called Double Impact! For these opinion pieces, we watch a film, break it down and analyze it, and then for the hell of it, we like to pick a new cast if we were going to remake the film today. Through our convoluted thought process, neither one of us truly understands, we will definitively determine whether or not certain sacred cows are worthy of praise and alternatively if childhood favorites hold up or are better left in the past. The goal is to get you to rewatch old films you love, check out great stuff you haven’t and skip the overrated classics you’ve heard about but never got around to. This is a celebration of the stuff we love and a takedown of the shit we don’t. This is Double Impact!


SAILOR’S PICK


The Plot


The residents of a small town have begun dying under strange circumstances, leading young Mike (Michael Baldwin) to investigate. After discovering that the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), the town’s mortician, is killing and reanimating the dead as misshapen zombies, Mike seeks help from his older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and local ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Working together, they try to lure out and kill the Tall Man, all the while avoiding his minions and a deadly silver sphere.


The Discussion


Sailor: Of all the horror icons, this film, its director and star, are all along the most underrated.

Kane: In a just world, Don Coscarelli’s name would hold as much cache as a Sam Raimi or Stuart Gordon.

Sailor: Why do you think he and his work (and this film in particular) are so overlooked?

Kane: To be perfectly honest? I don’t know. He seems to be the only horror icon that’s still a cult director. He’s a legend among horror fans but he’s far from a household name and I guess a good portion of that comes down to the fact that the Phantasm series was just too weird to break into the mainstream.

Sailor: I have a half-assed theory on why that is.

Kane: Shoot.

Sailor: More than any other ingredient, the biggest factor on what becomes a horror staple and what doesn’t, are Halloween costumes. The Tall Man is great but it’s very hard to dress up like him for Halloween. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a Tall Man costume ever.

Kane: There are plenty of horror films without costumes though. Like Hereditary and It Follows and Hostel.

Sailor: True but a good chunk of them have Oscar-caliber talent involved. You’re either “elevated horror” or you’ve contributed a costume to the Halloween season. If not, you fall into that middle ground of popular but not iconic.

Sailor: And you and I both know Eli Roth is no horror icon. But man did the horror community really want him to be for about five minutes. Did you know that Fangoria put him into their hall of fame after just two movies?

Kane: No but that doesn’t surprise me. And you know my point!

Sailor: It’s not the greatest theory in the world but the big horror icons that I can think of are all easily recognizable. You dress like the Tall Man today, odds are, most people will think you’re an Amish Slenderman.

Kane: Herbert West is an icon and he just has a shirt and a tie.

Sailor: But he also has a syringe filled with bright green liquid. That’s instantly identifiable.

Kane: Yeah but the Tall Man has those silver death orbs.

Sailor: True. Again, not the best theory but I think it tracks, goddamn it!

Kane: Well, I have my own theory.

Sailor: Which is?

Kane: People are dumb.

Sailor: That’s not a theory, that’s a fact.

Kane: And because of this, the genius of Phantasm has been unjustly ignored for far too long.

Sailor: Agreed and I hope it holds up.

Sailor: I don’t remember a fucking thing about this movie other than the dream sequence and the ball death.

Kane: How long has it been since the last time you saw it?

Sailor: A decade? Maybe more.

Kane: Then it’s like a brand new film for you.

Sailor: The first one I ever saw was either 3 or 4 and I hated it. Whichever it was, bored me to fucking tears. But I saw it again about 5 years ago and I liked it a bit more.

Kane: The second one is the only good sequel from what I recall.

Sailor: The only one I wasn’t a fan of was the last one and that’s mostly due to the god awful CGI.

Kane: All I remember from part 4 is some long-ass African nipples.

Sailor: Why In the fuck is that a thing you remember?

Kane: Because it’s a pivotal moment in the film!

Kane: Plus, bewbs.

Sailor: Even ones with extremely long nipples.

Kane: Don’t you be putting no words in my mouth!

Sailor: You nasty. You were that one kid in school who always spent their lunch breaks in the library, just so you could look at all the ugly ass titties in the National Geographic.

Kane: Well you were the kid eating out of the trash cans because your parents couldn’t afford no lunch money.

Sailor: Jokes on you bitch. I ate out of those trash cans because they had plenty of delicious scraps and because I’d save my money for video games and shit.

Kane: Yep, the joke is certainly on me and not the trash eater.

Sailor: Oh and by trash cans, I meant your mom.

Kane: You motherfucker.

Kane: So what did you think? Did it hold up or is it a product of its time?

Sailor: You mean your mom or….?

Kane: Bitch, hush.

Sailor: And I’m going to be a nitpicky asshole but I kind of don’t like how good this looks. I’m glad Abrams remastered it but this film feels like it should look like shit.

Sailor: I think certain horror films play better when they look worse.

Kane: Agreed.

Sailor: Like I have no desire to see a 4K restoration of Texas Chainsaw or Cannibal Holocaust.

Kane: Exactly. Some lose their atmosphere.

Sailor: And the atmosphere is 90% of a film like this. I love how weird this film is. It feels like a dream.

Kane: It feels like it was edited weird, which helps that dream-like feeling. Like to the point you don’t really know if it was on purpose or not.

Sailor: The editing feels erratic, like a child’s recollection of events. Some shit doesn’t make sense and that’s intentional.

Kane: Going back to your point about certain films looking like shit, do you think some horror movies would be as beloved if they had better acting?

Sailor: Gimme an example.

Kane: Like this?

Kane: Is Phantasm as cherished if it had better acting?

Sailor: As long as they didn’t recast the Tall Man, I think so. There’s nothing about the two leads that make this film great.

Sailor: I think certain movies work with amateur acting and some don’t.
The hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw is a great example. A better actor couldn’t have made that better. And this kid isn’t bad and I kind of like his wide eye nervousness but he easily could’ve been recast.

Kane: True.

Sailor: I don’t know anyone who thinks the acting is one of the highlights of the film.

Kane: No not at all but if it was, is it a cult hit, an upper-echelon horror movie like Exorcist or forgotten? You know what I mean?

Sailor: Gotcha. And it’s an interesting question. I guess it’s a case by case basis.
Hereditary would be worse if Collette wasn’t in it and I think this might’ve been more beloved if it had better actors. But maybe not. Maybe it’s those flaws that fans connect to. Nobody would want Raimi to go back and add CGI effects to The Evil Dead, no matter how great it was.

Kane: Very true and whoever did would need a swift kick to their lady parts.

Sailor: And speaking of effects, I’m going to be real with ya. I still don’t know how they did some of them in this.

Kane: The stream of blood or the flying ball?

Sailor: The drill into the face.

Kane: And you know however they did it, they did it for like five bucks.

Sailor: Everyone talks about the amazing score and Angus Scrimm and that nightmare scene and the overall tone but I don’t hear anyone mention its silly sense of humor. This film is funny.

Kane: Do you think it’s intentional?

Sailor: Yes. I think Don Coscarelli knew exactly what he was doing with every movie he made. Well, maybe not The Beastmaster but that wasn’t his fault.

Kane: My only criticism would be that I think it drags a bit.

Sailor: Yeah, it’s a bit slow but it’s a deliberate pace.

Sailor: Alright, are you ready for the casting choices?

Kane: Yes but I have no idea who to cast for this.

Kane: But you can’t pick the kid from Stranger Things.

Sailor: I’ve been thinking about it and I’m trying really hard not to pick a kid from IT.

Kane: The gay one or the one the gay one was in love with?

Sailor: I thought they were both gay?

Kane: No. Only the gay one was gay.

Kane: And the fat one was fat.

Sailor: That cleared that up and neither one of them. Or rather, any of them. I’m thinking about the sick one who was sick.

Kane: He wouldn’t be bad. He even looks like him.

Sailor: I thought he was great

Sailor: I also don’t know any kid actors.

Kane: Who did you want for the Tall Man again?

Sailor: Christopher Heyerdahl.

Sailor: He was super creepy on Hell on Wheels. He’s also super tall and…

Kane: He’s in The Twilight Saga!!

Sailor: Oh Goddamn it.

Kane: Too late. It’s locked in.

Sailor: Fine.

Kane: Who’s directing?

Sailor: The guys who did The Void?

Kane: Oooo I like them.

Kane: I was going to say Fede Alvarez to direct but he has already done a remake of a classic.

Sailor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the older brother?

Kane: What about Alex Wolfe?

Sailor: You like him more than Johnson?

Kane: I’m just shooting out options!

Sailor: Reggie seems to be the hardest one to recast.

Kane: Agreed.

Sailor: It’s very hard to find someone in their 30s that looks like they’re in their late 40s.

Kane: And Balding.

Sailor: Elijah Wood? He likes doing weird shit.

Kane: Ain’t against it.

Kane: Michael Cera? I can see him as an ice cream truck driver.

Sailor: Boy, you need to stop drilling cuz ya done struck oil.


The Cast


Director(s): Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski (The Void)

Michael: Jack Dylan Grazer (IT, Shazam!)

Jody: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Reggie: Michael Cera (Superbad, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World)

The Tall Man: Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels, The Twilight Saga)


Final Thoughts


Sailor: Horror films starring kids are literally a dime a dozen. There’s almost no horror film that doesn’t have at least one kid running around but there’s not many that accurately depict what it’s like to be a kid.

This film as all the hallmarks of a stone-cold classic. It spawned four sequels, that span nearly 40 years, has the iconic Tall Man and his instantly recognizable flying death spheres, and even has little Star Wars looking ghouls. With all this iconic shit, why has it always felt like an outlier, even amongst horror fans? It’s never the first horror franchise you’ll think of when rattling them all of nor is it listed as part of the 70’s heavy hitters like The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

Phantasm lives all alone in its own little bubble and that couldn’t be more appropriate to the theme and tone of this film. Teenagers have always felt out of place in this world. They feel as though no one listens to them and they’re unsure about their place in this world. Now add a towering undertaker that may or may not be a diabolical ghoul to the mix and you got yourself a horror film with built-in drama.

Take all of the horror elements: the villain, his weapons, his minions, the otherworldly element. Add in the drama of real-life teenage angst. Mix with one of the greatest horror scores ever made and top it off with the nightmare feel of a David Lynch film and you have a perfect horror cocktail.

Kane: This is one of the most original and creative horror films there is out there. Don Coscarelli gives us his unique vision of horror with an iconic villain in the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), flying spheres of death and destruction, and a relationship between brothers that we can all connect with. When seemingly every horror director was trying to come up with their own take on the slasher, Coscarelli delivered something out of the box. The film starts off pretty normal, then delves into one nightmarish sequence after another that just keeps getting weirder and weirder. It’s a coming of age story where the two brothers find out their local mortuary is more than what it seems. The malevolent Tall Man turns the dead into hooded dwarf zombies to be sent to his planet as slaves. Yea, it’s out there.


Impact Rating


Sailor: B+

Kane: B+


After Impact


What is your history with the franchise? When did you first see this and the sequels?

I saw this when I was like 8 and then saw all the sequels when they were available to rent. I loved all of them as a kid. Them damn spheres were my favorite.

My favorite part was the midgets.

Of course, they were and you know you can’t say that anymore.

Since when? I didn’t see that posted anywhere.

Since always and where the hell would it be posted for you to see!?

The internet.

It stopped being acceptable looooooong before the internet was a thing.

Exactly.

Exactly what??

You said it wasn’t posted on the internet because it predates the internet and if it wasn’t posted on the internet, how could I have seen it?

You’re impossible.