Thursday, October 6, 2011
A Frank Review of "Phantasm" (1979)
The Short Version? Death is not the end, by a damned far sight.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? The guys who appear in Phantasm movies.
Should I See It? Yes.
There is a consistent hype machine to insure we never forget the likes of Jason, Freddy, or Michael Myers. Hell, even Chucky gets play. Who ever talks about the Tall Man, though? Like Hellraiser, there's a quiet little sequel to the weird Phantasm series every so many years that balances the cerebral, visceral and surreal in a way not meant for mass consumption. I'd be surprised if one didn't inspire the other, and part of Phantasm's particular charm is that it's a might too obtuse, rural and oddly naïve to capitalize on its iconography the way the later Pinhead did for Clive Barker.
Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Mike Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) were already orphans trying to get by before a friend was murdered in the graveyard. Teenager Mike started noticing strange goings on in town, mostly revolving around a rather tall and creepy undertaker (Angus Scrimm.) Joined by their buddy Reggie Bannister, the brothers are drawn into the horrors of the mausoleum, including zombie Jawas and flying silver orbs. If that sounds peculiar, you don't know the half of it, which is why Phantasm remains a refreshing alternative franchise.
The acting is not spectacular, but it is sincere, giving the characters verisimilitude. The direction is solid, with some clever editing to revisit key moments without resorting to expository dialogue. While there are understandable reservations about Mike's initial cries of wolf, they aren't stretched out to the point of denial. Jody and Reggie accept that when things gets hairy, extreme actions might be necessary, and are taken. Point being, they're game, and that's always welcome in horror movies. There's a reason this is a cult classic, and you'll have to see it for yourself.
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