The Rube’s Review: Phantasm (1979)
When asked the question, “Who’s your favorite boogyman?” most quickly respond with either Freddy or Jason… good answers, but if you asked the same question 20 years ago it would habe been a tougher call. People forget that in the 80’s and 90’s there were a barrage of other baddies to choose from which, sadly, are just overlooked in this era of nanny-cam ghost stories. It’s kinda sad that Ghostface (Scream), Pinhead (Hellraiser), Chucky (Child’s Play), The D’jinn (Dreamaster), Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Rawhead Rex and even Hannibal Lecter rarely make that list… even though these movies tend to be more entertaining than a watching a Christmas sweater-wearing dream killer or a camp counselor slasher. Even The Rube, when I get asked, tend to quickly respond with Jason Voorhees, but when I have the chance to truly think about who my favorite boogeyman is I have to go with The Tall Man from the movie, PHANTASM.
This classic horror film, from the late 70’s, starts like most classic horror films from the time period with a couple of teens getting busy in the local cemetery (EWH!). As the two lovebirds finish, the “lady” stabs her 3-minute suitor (some jean jacket-wearing bearded dude) in the chest with a dagger. Turns out, the cheap harlot is actually an old man! First, Double EWH! Second, WHAT THE F*CK JUST HAPPENED?!
Days pass and the dead man’s friend (and fellow band members), Jody (his brother) and Reggie (his best friend) show up at the funeral. Jody takes a stroll through the mausoleum (to visit his parent’s tombs), while his little brother (Mike) is busy doing dirt bike donuts through the cemetery grounds. Mike’s bike stalls and both brothers hear a weird growling sound. Jody investigates the noise and is nearly scared to death by the funeral director… the same tall man from the previous scene. Jody, Reggie and a few others carry the coffin to its final resting place, but as Mike is snooping from the bushes the “Tall Man” picks up the 200+ pound casket (by himself) and puts it back in the hearse.
There’s more spookiness with an old fortuneteller and granddaughter group that Mike confides in about the Tall Man’s actions. They play the ol’ Box of Fear trick (see Dune’s “Fear is the Mind Killer” scene) on Mike and teaches him that fear is his own worst enemy. Later that night, Jody goes a’strolling in the cemetery with (yep, you guessed it) the same blonde b*tch from the beginning. But, before Joey gets off (and gets off’d), he’s saved by a hysterical Mike screaming and running for his life from a growling, cloaked monster. More f*cked up creepy shit happens involving the Tall Man, cloaked monsters, and mysterious flying chrome spheres… but yet nothing is really explained or revealed about who the Tall Man is, why he’s on a killing spree or what is he doing with all the dead bodies.
Growing up, this was my favorite movie as well as the scariest horror movie I had ever seen. Looking back I can understand why. Even though it deals with adult themes (tits and gore!), Phantasm’s story is mostly told through the eyes of the younger brother who clearly has abandonment issues, scary enough for any kid. First he’s worried about his remaining brother ditching him and leaving town, but later he’s fearing for his life as a creepy boogyman (Tall Man), growling Yoda-cloaked monsters and flying chrome spears (WTF?) start to haunt his every waking thought. Also, since Mike is clearly the hero of the movie and quite smart, it’s easy to idolize the character as an older brother/savior. This is a very scary movie and this sh*t gets REAL when Mike dodges a F*CK’N FLYING SPHERE OF DOOM that spikes itself to a handyman’s forehead and then drills his brains out with a stream of blood shooting out everywhere. HOLY SH*T!
Unfortunately, I was too young to see it when Phantasm first premired, but when it came out it was a big hit with audiences and even did bigger box-office numbers overseas. It had a lot to do with the film being overhyped as well as originally getting an X-Rating, but then after a re-editing of the first flying sphere scene, the film received it’s well-deserved R-Rating. Other than that, Phantasm does offer a good balance of horror and comic relief for levity’s sake. If you happen to enjoy this ghost story of sorts, I would also recommend it’s 1988’s sequel Phantasm II*. It’s set 10 years later and Reggie, along with a now grown-up Mike, are out for revenge and will do anything to stop the Tall Man’s wrath once and for all — making this a good double feature on your Halloween night!
10/10 F*CK’N FLYING CHROME SPHERES OF DOOM!
*SIDENOTE: As of 2012, there have been three Phantasm sequels (Phantasm II, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, Phantasm IV: Oblivion), each of which are more confusing than the other, but The Rube will admit… it’s just neat to watch more shinny spheres whizzing around killing people.
This article is part of the Countdown to Halloween blogathon, a month-long blogging marathon dedicated to honoring the Halloween season. For more information and a full list of participating sites, please visit www.countdowntohalloween.com.