Take Another Stab At Phantasm (1979)

This post is a part of the Take Another Stab series, where the horror films I hate get a chance at redemption through an openminded revisit. There will be blood. There will be spoilers.

What I remember first and foremost about Phantasm is that it’s incredibly boring. For a horror film that takes place in a cemetery, the desired effect leaves much to be…desired. Seriously, what kind of action goes on in a place like that without zombies, ghosts, demons, or homicidal teens? Oh, wait. That’s right. Vicious Ewoks and uncomfortable missionary on a gross tomb lid. The famous ball of pointy death was neat but I’d already seen its cousin in Tank Girl and didn’t think it was all that. Angus Scrimm, tall, lanky, and the meanest stink eye in the biz, did little to churn nightmares over in my mind. But by aesthetics alone, shouldn’t this be in my wheelhouse? Breaking into a mausoleum, running around in the dark, and disappearing dead bodies are all things I wiggle my eyebrows at now. Yet, the little version of me didn’t bat a single eyelash at this flick. I’ve never finished it without falling asleep. Is that bad? Am I a shit for not seeing how awesome this movie is? I’ve been going to horror conventions for almost ten years now and in that time, I’ve never heard a single negative utterance about Don Coscarelli’s masterpiece. The older crowds are almost protective of this franchise. I wonder if it spoke to children of the 70’s and 80’s in a way a 90’s baby couldn’t decipher. But that sounds like bullshit, even to me. My favorite horror film was made in the early 1970s and THAT I get. Rummaging through these hazy memories is creating some hype for this re-watch. I’m going to ignore the boring red flag and barrel on through with open eyes and an open heart. Heal me, Coscarelli. Help me see the terror of my ways.

About 1 hour and 29 minutes later

I didn’t expect the cinematography to smack me so quickly. The mausoleum is to die for and every single shot filmed in it was luscious to look upon. It checked all the boxes for “dream-like.” I was so into it for the first 30-45 minutes. The creepiness of The Tall Man picking up that casket was undeniable. The grunts of the Ewoks were understandably unnerving for Mike, the clingy little brother who needed his older sibling to care. I had completely forgotten about the fortune telling woman. Her role felt out of place but not totally unwelcome, as I enjoy a good “mystic” angle. I was engaged and committed to learning why the Tall Man was filled with yellow ick and what these halved-human things were. I was into it until it struck me. The BORE. I tried my damnedest to look past it, to power through, but I was fading fast. I pinpointed part of the issue, I think. It’s the score. It has an underlying drone that seems to never end, a drone that lulls me into sleep. It reminds me of the incessantness of giallo soundtracks that make my eardrums curdle. Blasphemous? Sure, bring it on. The best music you’ve ever heard? Unlikely. The pacing was another hurdle for me. It dragged and dragged without revealing enough new information. It felt over two hours long. I still don’t know what the Ewoks were, where they’re from, or how they’re made. I still don’t know the physics of The Orb or what world is through that portal or the Tall Man’s motivation. What’s his master plan? Why is he disguising himself as a busty blonde and killing dudes? To make his half-squats. But WHY? I’m content walking away from a story that leaves me with a question or two. I appreciate the mystique and the invitation to form my own interpretation, but this one left me with too many questions than I can make up answers for. Could it be that Phantasm is too strange for its own good? I can’t snub its creativity but I can knock off a few points for leaving us in the dark about these goings-on. I read that this story was inspired by a nightmare Don had when he was younger, one about a sphere chasing him around. That’s dope but I don’t think it reached fruition past that headspace. In dreams, you don’t need to make connections or understand characters or why they do things. Unfortunately, you need all those things in a movie.

There’s about 11 questions I have for this film and that’s not okay in my book. What really let me down was that ending. HE WAS DEAD THIS WHOLE TIME? Huh? Was it a dream? Did any of that wild shit actually happen? And the audience is supposed to be cool with Mike living with the ice cream man instead of his aunt? What of his SCHOOLING? The Tall Man breaking through the mirror and snatching up Mike could have been a true horror ending, but it ended up being a segue into a sequel. I prefer films that can stand up on their own but if there are answers in those sequels, sign me the fuck up. I honestly wanted to like Phantasm. I wanted this grand revelation as to what I had been missing out on. I wanted maturity to grace me with the know-how to digest this film. The only thing I’m left with is frustrated confusion and a nagging voice that tells me I think too much. I can say I’ve never seen anything like it. The visuals were its strongest hand but the rest? Shrug. What do you think? Am I being overly analytical or do I need to venture into the franchise further to better appreciate the origin?

Until next time, thanks for taking another stab with me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s