phantasm | don coscarelli | a. michael baldwin | bill thornbury | reggie bannister | alien | aliens | sci-fi | sci fi | united states | cult film | creature | creatures | monster | monsters | insect | animal attack | kathy lester | terrie kalbus | kennth v. jones
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli
Starring: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury and Reggie Bannister
This was a film that it actually took me awhile to finally see. I remember when the third film in the series came out and I watched it, not having any idea about the previous two. While in college I finally got the chance to see this original film and then again when it came to my local theater on 4K. The official synopsis is a teenage boy and his friends face off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who keeps a lethal arsenal of terrible weapons with him.
We kick off with a man and a woman having sex in a graveyard. He is Tommy (Bill Cone) and the woman is Kathy Lester. There’s something not quite right about her and she kills him.
At the funeral, a couple of guys meet up. One of them is Jody (Bill Thornbury) and the other is Reggie (Reggie Bannister). We learn that Jody’s parents had passed away a couple of years ago and funerals creep him out. He goes inside to pay his respects to his parents before the funeral actually begins. His younger brother, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) was not brought along because the funeral for his parents really tore him up and gave him nightmares. Mike does show up and spies from the bushes.
Mike sees the Tall Man lift the heavy casket and body out of the grave by himself. He also hears and sees something small scurrying around him. He does what he can to convince his brother of what he is seeing, but he doesn’t believe. Jody is worrying that Mike is going to revert back to how he was right after their parents passed away. That is until Mike goes up to the funeral parlor and brings back real evidence to prove there is something not quite right going on.
This film is actually quite intriguing. I tried to go as vague as I could, because I don’t really want to spoil anything for it. I do feel that this is a film that you really need to experience regardless though. As I said earlier, I had seen the third film before ever seeing this one and it still doesn’t ruin the film. Something though about this one is that it really was made as a stand alone film. It did leave itself open for a sequel, which at this time we know it is now a series that it could be.
I will admit that this is a film that deserved sequels. An issue I have with this film is that writer/director Don Coscarelli never really explains what is going on. I can usually be a fan of that in some cases. This one though I do think that a little bit more is needed and a lot of that comes from the fact that he sucked me into the story. The Tall Man and his small minions are so creepy and interesting that I really want to know more about them. We get a glimpse of what could be going on in this film and that just makes me want to know more.
Going from here, I do have to say that the feel of this film is amazing. It has such a nightmare quality to it. What makes this interesting is that this film was done on a microbudget. Coscarelli had to ask a lot of people to help fund this and it took quite awhile to complete. I think some things were probably too difficult to film so it helps enhance that nightmare feel and I dug it. It also does create some convenience issues as well for the film. I do think a reveal near the end does hurt the film a bit as well.
The feel is also helped by the editing. It has a tight running time of just less than 90 minutes and I think that is fitting. This is one that I would have liked maybe a little bit more as there are so many things that are left unexplored. I would say that the budget issues might have been why, but this series never really fully explains anything and a lot are left open for theories. It really isn’t fair to hold what later films don’t do, but since it isn’t explained here it is relevant evidence. Something else is this film does well at showing us something early on and then harkening back to it as well. It gets a little bit too in the face, which I thought could be toned down, but I still like doing that.
As for the acting, it is quite surprising that it is people that Coscarelli knew, but I think it actually works out fine. Baldwin is interesting that he never listens and he is quite inquisitive. He really drives the story and I thought his portrayal was fine. Thornbury I also thought was perfectly fine as well. The only issue I have with his character is he doesn’t believe his brother, but then all of a sudden sees one thing and is onboard completely. The evidence doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but it doesn’t ruin the film. He is also telling his brother to stay home when he investigates, but I do think this gets a bit repetitive, especially when bad things happen when they split up. Bannister in this film is fine. He doesn’t get much screen time, but I thought he was fun. Scrimm was great as the villain. He just has an angry, menacing look and the size to go along with it. The thought the rest of the cast did just fine as well.
The effects for the film were also good. Things were done practically, which I really love to see. There’s not much in the way of human blood. They did make the Tall Man have this bright yellowish color, which makes sense and I liked it. There’s an evil fly that doesn’t look great. That did make me laugh though. I will say that the silver spheres are introduced in this film and they are a staple of this franchise. I thought how they moved was quite impressive. The film was also shot very well and I had no issues there.
Some thing I had to touch on during this review would the score. I would have to say that would be the strongest part of the film. It gives the film such a creepy feel and I love it. It builds tension and it actually helped to get my anxiety going. This would be a score I would come back to for sure when writing. The main theme is used a lot and its one of my favorites.
Now with that said, this film is quite impressive for what Coscarelli had to work with. I thought the story was interesting and it had me wanting more. I do think that it does stay a little bit too vague for my liking. It does have a nightmarish feel to it, which is aided by the score of the film. That is my favorite aspect. The acting isn’t great, but it definitely fits the film. It is edited pretty well and does move at a good pace. The effects for what they had to work with were also good. It is does have its flaws, but I still find this to be a good movie and worth a viewing for sure.
My Rating: 9 out of 10