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“Phantasm”: A Mesmerizing Mortuary Mystery

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

The night of Halloween, I watched “Phantasm” for the first time. Directed by Don Conscarelli, this science-fiction horror classic from 1979 is one of the weirdest, strangest and most fun movies I have ever seen. Without further ado, let's jump into this surreal haunting masterpiece of a film.

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“Phantasm” follows Mike Pearson and his older brother, Jody. One night, their friend Tommy is killed in the local cemetery under mysterious circumstances. Mike, while hiding in the bushes outside the local funeral parlor, then witnesses a strange, tall man single-handedly lift a coffin into a hearse. Mike also has a habit of following Jody around everywhere he goes, and when watching Jody and his girlfriend have a good time in the same cemetery where Tommy was killed, he’s suddenly attacked by a beast and is forced to flee.

Jody hears Mike scream and runs after him. Mike tries to explain the attack, but Jody doesn’t believe him. Jody then turns and goes back to the cemetery after telling Mike to go home. His girlfriend, who stayed behind, has vanished. Jody thinks his girlfriend has bailed on him, but something doesn’t add up. Something weird is happening behind the gates of Morningside Cemetery.

My thoughts throughout this film were along the lines of “Huh?”, “What is happening?” and “Hold on a sec…” Every single time I thought I knew where the film was going, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was. It is a real mind-bender of a movie and by the end of it, the viewer will be left with more questions than answers. Angus Scrimm steals the show as the main villain, the scowling, gray-haired, tall man. He has a terrifying and eerie aura that shines through in his performance. I mean, his name is Angus Scrimm; he was born to play a horror villain.

Phantasm keeps audiences guessing with plenty of twists and turns. It has a fantastic, dreamlike musical score. That, coupled with creative out of the box practical effects and set design, turns the movie into something not too different from an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Micheal Baldwin does a great job as Mike. Mike’s bravery, resourcefulness and skill with building contraptions makes him a rarity when it comes to child characters in horror films. At the same time though, his fear and vulnerability make him human in a way many will be able to relate to. I am one of many who has been nervous about an older brother moving away in the past. Family is something we’ll always want to keep close and at our side, so the threat of a loved one being taken away is enough to make us uneasy, and that’s perfectly fine. Fear is a normal emotion, after all. Nobody wants to think about what may lie ahead in a future where they might be alone.

This movie is beautiful and it spawned several sequels, the last and latest of which came out in 2016; incidentally the same year Angus Scrimm passed away. He defined the “tall man” character to the point that nobody could replace him after he was gone, so best to end the series there.

Go check out Phantasm. It's downright hypnotizing allure and odd grace makes it a must-watch in my book.


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