#291 -- Phantasm (1979)

Director: Don Coscarelli
Rating: 4 / 5

I've heard things about Phantasm all my life. I knew that it has a pretty good cult following, and that a lot of people really dig it. Heck, one of my favorite bands mentions it in one of their biggest songs. So I knew that, at some point, I'd have to see it. I didn't know anything about it before - nothing at all - and I still don't know anything, really. I'm not really sure what to think of it, but I feel like that was kind of the point.

It follows a young boy named Michael. I'm not sure how old he was; he looked twelve, but he acted much older (and he drove a motorcycle), so I'm assuming he was somewhere in his teen years. His parents were dead, leaving him and his older brother, Jody, all alone. Instead of having his big bro take care of him, it seemed like Michael wanted nothing but to look after Jody. It was kind of annoying at first, because Michael followed Jody around wherever he went. It was like he was obsessed with him or something. To be fair, though, Michael said that Jody was leaving (to go where, I have no clue), so I guess he just wanted to make sure that he didn't lose him as well. And he ended up saving his life more than once because of this, so it becomes less annoying as the movie goes on. Anyways, Jody was at a funeral for someone who I assume was a friend, or maybe a cousin. This guy was killed by a woman (the same woman that almost killed Jody, if it hadn't been for Michael spying on them), but I think his death went in the books as suicide. Jody didn't want Michael at the funeral, since apparently their parents' funeral gave him nightmares. But, of course, Michael couldn't stay away from his big brother. He went to the funeral anyway, hid in some bushes, and watched everything through a pair of binoculars. While he was spying on the funeral, Michael saw something very strange: a tall, creepy man who could lift coffins all by himself. He took their friend/cousin's coffin away, to do things with his body that you'll learn later on. This Tall Man, after that, begins to follow Michael around for reasons unknown. I don't have a clue why he was so drawn to him, or exactly what his deal was, but it caused Michael and Jody a good bit of trouble. The Tall Man was a weird dude, for sure. Not only was he creepy looking, but he apparently felt no pain, bled yellow, and had fingers that turned into weird little langolier-like monsters when they were severed. That, and he had little munchkin slaves (dead bodies cut down to half their size and forced to do his bidding) that hid out in the funeral home and scared people away when need be. So, Michael, Jody, and their ice-cream-man friend Reggie set out to figure out just what the deal is, and to get rid of The Tall Man for good. Eventually, they end up in a back room of the funeral home, where the portal to The Tall Man's planet is. Yep, that's right, aliens.
The Tall Man!

I actually tried to watch this many years ago, and wasn't able to for whatever reason. This time wasn't very easy for me, either. This time, I watched it right after I got home from work at six in the morning. I kept falling asleep, then waking up and having to rewind it. This made the whole thing kind of hard to follow for me. I think a second viewing, later on when I'm not sleepy, would help me to understand things better. Maybe. No, I didn't really get it, but I think that's the point. I'm not supposed to get it. And that's kind of what I like about it. I know that there's this tall alien man who wanted to kill Michael and his brother. He had his little minions, and he did his thing, and who cares why he did it? I don't, not really. The movie was very fast-paced, with plenty of action sequences with exploding hearses, overturned ice cream trucks, and three foot zombies being all vicious. There was also a weird ball that could chase people around, and it had knife and drills and things attached to it, so it could do some pretty nasty things. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the sequels, to see just what the ball can do, because it didn't do very much at all here. There was really only one death scene and, even though it was pretty grisly, it left something to be desired. If these things could do such things to people, why the hell didn't they do them more often? Maybe the movie wanted to focus more on The Tall Man and his pursuit of Michael and Jody. Phantasm is definitely one weird movie, but hey, I like 'em that way. There were a couple of quirky moments that made it that much more likable too, like a rockin' guitar session with Jody and Reggie, and a very odd scene where Michael visits a grandmother/granddaughter fortune-telling duo. In reality, the scene was horrible. The girl couldn't act her way out of a box, and I seriously thought the grandmother was dead, until she started laughing when Michael left. It was an odd scene, but what happened in it later helped Michael out. And it was quirky, like I said. It didn't seem altogether necessary, but it worked with the rest of the story.

Did I understand everything that was happening all the time? No. Do I care? Sure don't. The entire movie felt like sort of a mythical tale, which means that, like I said, we're not meant to understand everything. In the end it raises the question of whether or not these things were actually happening, or whether they were all another nightmare brought on by Michael's witnessing a funeral. To me, the fact that it might have been a dream only cements the notion that I wasn't supposed to "get" it. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the fact that I didn't get it all the time. I don't know, I don't care. What I do know, now, is why Phantasm has received such a healthy following. It's a weird, quirky movie with characters you'll like and a story you won't ever forget.

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