Directed by Don Coscarelli
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Phantasm: The delusion of a disordered mind. A phantom. A ghost.
That’s the definition given to the title of this 1979 horror masterpiece, and to that I’d like to add: One hell of a scary film. Speaking as a horror fan, I have to make this confession — I am jaded. It takes a lot to frighten me, and I can name the few films that have done so by counting on one hand. Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm is on that small list and with good reason.
There is just some otherworldly magic associated with this set of films. Some type of captured and bottled lightning that keeps the viewer locked in place during even the weakest entries of the franchise. The world of Phantasm is a universe in and of itself, painted with rich characters and a disturbing premise that asks the ever thought-provoking question — What happens to us when we die? If you listen to The Tall Man, we don’t go to Heaven. We go to him.
Death is a subject that has frightened and compelled us all for years. It can be argued that mankind’s greatest fear is death itself. That’s one of the keys to this series’ success! Phantasm not only explores that phobia but shoves it right down our throats. To further make things interesting, the Phantasm tales (beginning of course with this one) are told in a blurry fashion, meaning there is no line separating our reality from that of The Tall Man’s. As a result, the film experience ends up feeling as surreal as an out-of-body experience. Coscarelli makes a point of not spoon-feeding us this pound of flesh, so a lot is left up to the audience in terms of what they think is really happening. The world of Phantasm is vast in its mystery and rife with fan speculation. I’m sure people will be talking about it for many years to come.
So! What do you do if you’re Anchor Bay and you land the rights to put out your own edition of this groundbreaking film? The answer for them was simple: Release the best package possible. The good news is? They have truly done so. The bad? Some things got lost in the shuffle along the way. Before we get into the what’s what of the supplemental material, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with the video and audio transfers themselves.
While the old MGM disc looked really good, I can assure you that you haven’t seen anything until you’ve watched this completely remastered edition. The best part? It’s enhanced for 16×9 televisions so those with widescreen HD TVs can finally kiss goodbye the old black bars and enjoy a screen full of the twisted and macabre. Things look very impressive, even at 480p. While the enhanced imagery is a feast for the eyes, the remastered 5.1 DTS soundtrack will also keep your ears very happy. Honestly, Phantasm has never looked or sounded better. That alone should be enough to warrant this purchase, but I’m guessing the real selling point here will be the DVD extras, so without further ado…
There’s no denying the previous MGM release of this film was fucking packing. In the interest of whether or not you should double dip for this release, I feel it’s important to mention the differences and similarities between the two packages. Seemingly everything you could have wanted as a fan was present on the MGM disc (represented in one fashion or another), and thankfully most of that material makes the jump to this new edition without a hitch except for the following:
Honestly, out of all the exclusions listed above, the only one that bothers me is the missing deleted scene because it was some truly creepy stuff. Still, in a recent interview with Don Coscarelli that I did, he stated that his original cut of Phantasm ran about three hours long. Don has all that footage so who knows, maybe one day we’ll get to see everything in a future DVD release. For now, let’s get back to talking about this one.
So, we’ve discussed what didn’t make the cut, now let’s concentrate on what did. From the original release we find the return of the audio commentary with Coscarelli, Baldwin, Thornbury, and Scrimm, (as stated) most of the deleted scenes, twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes home movie footage featuring commentary from Coscarelli and Bannister, the theatrical trailer, three TV spots, a Fangoria Magazine TV commercial, footage of Angus Scrimm (who delivers some truly funny schizo moments) while addressing the crowd at a 1989 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors, and a thirty-minute television interview with Don and Angus from 1979. Like I said — fucking packing!
Besides the newly remastered audio and video, is there anything else to be found here that’s new? Of course! We’re talking about Anchor Bay here, people! When it comes to delivering the classics, they’re horror’s best friend! If there was one thing that the MGM disc was sorely lacking it was a featurette on the making of the film. Thanks to Anchor Bay, fans will want no more as first up we have a thirty-five minute featurette entitled Phantasmagoria. Here we’re given a clear picture of the events leading up to this milestone of a movie. Everything is traced from the film’s humble beginning to its eventual cult status. For instance, Coscarelli had made two films prior to Phantasm, a little football flick named Jim, the World’s Greatest and Kenny and Company. After watching the latter at a theatre, Don was inspired to make a horror film due to the audience reaction to a quick jump scare that had the theatre rolicking. This, my friends, is probably the only jump scare in history that I am actually thankful for. While this history lesson is certainly a great view, the most interesting nugget of info to be found here is a detailed discussion of some of Phantasm‘s alternate endings. Even though these weren’t filmed, just their mention should do a lot to keep fans talking about their theories and what if’s. Good stuff!
Topping things off we have another featurette entitled Phantasm: Actors Having a Ball. Clocking in at a run time of only four and a half minutes, what we get here is an unabridged look at some of the interviews conducted to make the Phantasmagoria featurette. Viewers will further hear from four of the participants as they discuss: some extra dirt on that famous dress courtesy of the lady in lavender herself, Kathy Lester; A. Michael Baldwin on the horrors of growing up; a new performance from Bill Thornbury of “Sittin’ Here at Midnight”; and most interesting, a discussion of the great dwarf/jawa controversy with co-producer Paul Pepperman. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s still a lot of fun.
This, the second disc in the exclusive line of Anchor Bay Collection DVDs, is every bit as much of a gem as their first release, Re-Animator (review here). Whether or not you double dip remains up to you, but from this fan’s standpoint, this edition is a must have. Just bear this in mind … Coscarelli closes out the Phantasmagoria featurette by saying, “There will be more Phantasms in the future.” Considering the wealth of material that’s out there, including an hour and a half of deleted footage, I’m fairly certain that some time down the road we may also be getting another edition of this, the original film. Still, at least for right now, it gets no sweeter.
Audio commentary with Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Angus Scrimm
Phantasmagoria making-of featurette
Phantasm: Behind-the-Scenes featurette
Phantasm: The Actors Having a Ball featurette
Phantasm 1979 TV interview
Fangoria Magazine TV commercial
Angus Scrimm convention appearance
5 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
Discuss Phantasm in our forums!