This classic 1979 film, written, directed, produced, and edited by Don Coscarelli, really defies the confined label of horror film; other elements combine to make this movie tick. It is indeed a very scary movie in parts, but it's also fantastical and thrilling in the mystery of the Tall Man.
After hiding in the bushes while his brothers attend a friend's funeral, orphaned thirteen-year-old Michael Pearson (Mike Baldwin) tries to figure out what is going on at the local cemetery with the menacing Tall Man. Part of the magic of this film, though the story is thin, is that at first Mike is the only one who sees what the Tall Man doing - like the scene where he picks up a coffin with a body inside all by himself. No one believes teenaged Mike, not his older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), nor lovable ice cream vendor and family friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister).
So Michael takes it upon himself to investigate the absolutely creepy mausoleum alone - at night (super scary!). Michael breaks in and starts wandering around when gnomes attack him and flying silver spheres that drill holes in your brain come after him. Of course, as he escapes, he manages to get some proof that nothing is what it seems at Morningside Heights and convinces Reggie and Jody he is telling the truth. All hell breaks loose as they fend off attacks by more of the gnomes and the Tall Man himself. There is meaning and symbolism in this film, and an eerie, surreal sense of isolation since the town which they inhabit has no people. Enhancing all this mood and atmosphere is the amazing score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave. The human element elevates Phantasm as well; the characters evolve into real people instead of being the usual vapid, generic, throwaway cast of teenagers that became the rage with slasher flicks.
Take my word on this: just pop in the DVD and enjoy this bizarre horror flick without trying to break down the plot. It's more fun that way, and the looseness of the story adds to the unpredictability. The DVD comes with some cool extras: ten minutes of deleted scenes, Commentary (Reggie Bannister, Don Coscarelli, Bill Thornbury, and Michael Baldwin), behind-the-scenes footage, promotional interviews, and a photo gallery. Overall, a classic '70s horror flick that is fun, scary, and atmospherically spooky. The minimal amount of gore only adds to the effectiveness of the total package. Even after nearly three decades, this film holds up surprisingly well to the crop of movies that followed in the '80s, '90s, and the 21st century.
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