When this film came out the adverts featured a lot of Angus Scrimm clopping around in platforms and a mysterious and deadly flying orb that drilled human skulls for no apparent reason, and seemingly existed unattached to any human operator. And that’s all I could remember. Returning to the film fourty-one years later I kind of now realize why most of it slipped my mind.

First of all the film includes the first Dune references I recall seeing in films, this was a few years before the big Dune (1984) that I adored, and basically got universally panned. However Phantasm did Dune before Dune! In the sequence I’d entirely forgotten the young protagonist is set in front of an elderly, sunglasses-wearing lady (a fair replica of a Reverend Mother) and a younger woman urges him to stick his hand into an unmarked black box. He’s urged to not fear (Fear is the mind killer! They don’t quite say, but it’s implied). This little life lesson comes back later on in the film as the young hero is doing his best to avoid sundry inexplicable problems.

Aside from that Herbert reference the film includes so many asides and tangents that it’s a bit hard to hold onto a theme. The so-called Tall Man, an iconic image of the era’s horror movie industry, does indeed behave strikingly and is bound to lodge in your memory, as does the aforementioned cryptic flying killer orb, but, the car chases, “Jawas”, spooky synthesizer noises, actual guitar jams, Rolling Stones T-shirts and complete lack of anyone behaving with a modicum of self-preservation or terror at the creepy-ass phenomena they’re confronted with makes the film a failure in terms of being memorable. And hey, I’m no stickler for realism, but when a couple of lovely blonde lasses can’t even seem to keep their VW bug moving, nor the doors locked when they’re faced with terror, it gets a little difficult to care.

Mishmashes of lightly tethered together weirdness make up a lot of films (I did just sit through Lair of the White Worm after all), but this collection suffers from a substantial case of the WTFs. When the boys find their deceased brother has been basically transformed into a daredevil hearse-driving Jawa, their disappointing “oh well” reaction isn’t just lame, it’s ridiculous. No authorities take part in this film. At least in things like Wickerman or indeed Lair of the White Worm the authorities are corrupted as well, in this film we’re just left imagining police didn’t come to mind.

The film doesn’t dispense with the commonest of horror movie tropes, sex = death, as our Tall Man also doubles as a hot, knife-wielding killer vixen who sexes our young fellows and then apparently disembowels them. It made me want to know a bit more about the apparently everlasting Tall Man, who appears in aged photos looking exactly the same. Not quite sure why they opted to keep that creepy character almost a sideshow, but it did make a lasting impression on movie-going audiences of the day. And got them sequels!

What’s too bad is the lack of much of anything phantasmagorical. Yes the film could have done with more phantasm. Perhaps I’ll check the sequels for the lost residue!

Free On Prime, OK for date night after a couple of adult beverages!

One thought on “Phantasm (1979)

  1. Despite its many faults, I still think of Phantasm as one of the all time best. The Tall Man, literally and figuratively, stands above all the modern horror icons (Jason, Freddy, et al) in my view.

    Liked by 1 person

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