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Phantasm (Blu-ray/DVD)

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Phantasm

PhantasmStarring Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury

Directed by Don Coscarelli

Distributed by Well Go USA


There is no horror series as ambitious and enigmatic as Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Beginning with the original Phantasm in 1979, the series has spawned four sequels – the most recent, Phantasm: Ravager, seeing release just this year – and yet phans will agree we are no closer to answers now than we were nearly 40 years ago. Odds are Coscarelli never planned for such a long, confounding journey when he undertook the job of writing, shooting, editing, co-producing, and directing his first horror feature. It was only meant to be an auspicious stepping stone into the greater world of Hollywood; instead, it became his legacy. Unlike the films of horror’s A-list icons – Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface – the Phantasm films can be watched ad nauseum and scrutinized with extreme care, yet the events unfolding still won’t be any clearer. It rewards with each viewing because it is a great film and it challenges audiences to think long after the credits have stopped. What is real? What is illusory? That is the true genius of Phantasm.

After the death of their friend Tommy (Bill Cone), longtime buds Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) meet at the Morningside mortuary to attend his funeral, while Jody’s kid brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) spies on the services from afar. While inside Jody has a brief, bizarre encounter with the mortician, who is eventually referred to as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Mike, meanwhile, catches a glimpse of this Tall Man picking up Tommy’s casket, unaided, and loading it into his hearse. Chilling as this Tall Man is, Mike’s has a bigger concern: Jody leaving town. Mike and Jody’s parents were killed in a car wreck years ago, and with all the bad memories surrounding the town Jody would just as soon up and leave, ditching Mike in the process. And this terrifies Mike. He sees a town psychic who assuages his anxiety, reminding him that the real killer is fear itself. Mike needs to be brave.

Some clandestine investigative work by Mike reveals that the Tall Man has sinister plans for their small town, though what those plans are no one is ever sure. A late night trip to the mortuary nearly gets Mike killed as a flying sphere, equipped with razor-sharp prongs and a drill, chases him down before burying itself in the head of a character whose only purpose is to show off the sphere’s abilities. Mike is confronted by the Tall Man and escapes, taking with him a piece of still-moving severed finger he chopped off the Tall Man’s hand during his flight. Armed with this evidence he is able to convince both Jody and Reggie that something evil is happening at the mortuary and the three of them are the only ones who can do anything to stop it.

The success of Phantasm can be attributed to one word: mystery. Just when it seems like the story is progressing linearly Coscarelli throws a wrench into the mix that causes viewers to question nearly everything they have just seen. There isn’t much doubt the Tall Man is real, since, you know, we have sequels, but what pieces of Mike’s story are authentic and what came straight from his imagination? And even if viewers are able to ascertain the fate of Mike, Jody, and Reggie then what of the Tall Man and his endless horde of minions? An all-too-brief visit to the Tall Man’s home planet produces a modicum of answers that, again, only raise more questions. Phantasm plays with fantastical elements constantly, giving viewers just enough information to maintain interest while consistently keeping them behind the ball (sure, pun intended). I’m of the opinion that the success here is part long term planning – the film shot for over a year – and part happy accidents – actors were often given pages at a time; Reggie Bannister says he never received an actual, complete script.

Although none of the lead actors are particularly great, they work well as a trio. Individually, limitations are apparent. Reggie fares the best, probably because in reality he isn’t too far removed from that laidback dude who just wants to get his work done so he can get back to cranking out tunes on the guitar. Bill Thornbury is mostly one-note as Jody, whose primary interest throughout the film is figuring out a way to leave town. Even once Mike comes to him with evidence of evil deeds, one gets the sense that Jody is willing to help him out simply to end the mystery and then move on. So, most of the acting onus is placed on Mike and, well… “A” for effort? I’ve always thought Mike was the weak link in the series, truth be told, although he actually did a wonderful job in the second film…

Mystery and that fear of the unknown are what drive Phantasm, not jump scares. Questions are raised and almost-but-not-quite answers are given. Because Coscarelli didn’t wrap everything up in a neat package by end credit time, nor does he really answer lingering questions left by further sequels, the mystery of the Tall Man and his ultimate purpose remains unanswered – and the series, especially the first entry, is all the better for it.

Phans have been clamoring for years to get Phantasm on Blu-ray and now, thanks to a shiny new 4K remaster courtesy of JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, it’s here from… Well Go USA? I guess Scream Factory and Arrow don’t have such deep pockets… Honestly, it doesn’t matter who got the rights because the transfer work was already done and it is indeed spectacular. The 1.78:1 1080p image is a revelation. Period. Anyone familiar with previous home video releases will immediately recognize the level of care and consideration that has clearly gone into making this 37-year-old picture shine. Color saturation, fine detail, contrast, black levels… everything across the board is as meticulously restored as possible. Coscarelli even went the extra mile and made some very minor revisionist changes, like removing wires on the spheres. The video quality speaks for itself, right from the first frame.

Similarly, the new English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track is superb. Purists and the surround-sound challenged can opt for either the original mono track or a 2.0 stereo offering but the multi-channel track is the clear winner on all fronts. Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrove’s perfectly chilling score sounds tremendous in lossless, soaring at all the right moments and completely captivating at every cue. Dialogue is perfectly prioritized and comes through clear and free from hiss. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

Now, here’s where the issue with Well Go releasing this comes into play: bonus features. Where a company like Scream Factory or Arrow would have collected all previous bonus features in one tidy package, Well Go has included a few legacy features along with exactly one new supplement that gets little mileage.

The audio commentary track, featuring director & writer Don Coscarelli, Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, and Bill Thornbury returns here.

“Graveyard Carz” – A shop that customizes cars remakes the old ’71 Hemicuda for an audience composed of Coscarelli and Baldwin. Meh.

“Interview from 1979 with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm” – Taken from footage on an old talk show, this is a cool chat with the guys right around the film’s release.

Several deleted scenes, along with a “1979 Phantasm Trailer” and the film’s remastered trailer are also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Restoration
  • Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and cast members Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, & Bill Thornbury
  • Graveyard Cars
  • Interviews from 1979 with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm
  • Deleted Scenes

BUY IT NOW!

  • Phantasm
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.47 (15 votes)

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