director Don Coscarelli
Phantasm, Don Coscarelli’s independently-produced, late-1970’s horror film is one of those movies that lodged in my brain as a kid. Lodged in my brain like a flying silver ball with prongs, perhaps.
As I’ve been noting of late, as a kid watching the horror films of the late 1970’s-early 1980’s, I really didn’t have any idea that they weren’t all coming from more or less the same place. I would never have known that Phantasm was the work of a writer/producer/director/editor/et al., a much more unique and personally specific vision, of a man named Don Coscarelli. Or that it was actually Coscarelli’s first horror film. In the same vein that I had no idea that My Bloody Valentine (1981) was a Canadian production, not part of a more cohesive movie production schema.
The fact is, Phantasm stuck out. The flying ball with prongs. The “Tall Man” undertaker villain. The weird cloaked midget minions. The portal to another dimension. The finger that turns into a weird fly. The fact that none of this stuff actually gets explained enough to really have an articulatable narrative.
Since moving from weird phenom into cult classic, Phantasm‘s freaky dream logic, imagery, and overall surrealism makes it stand further out in the crowd of horror films of its era. A far less cynical vision, albeit quite pessimistic and frightening, it really is the kind of nightmare that I was apt to have as a preteen or teen.
In recent years, Coscarelli has made some more comic fare, no less weird, but with tongue and cheek melded together: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and John Dies at the End (2012). He made The Beastmaster in 1982 (which may well merit a revisit as well), and three other Phantasm movies in later years, eventually direct-to-video.
But Phantasm stands out. It weird, inventive, unique, bizarre, creepy. All very fine things in a horror film of any time. Very fine things in a very fine, weird, independent horror film. A classic.