One of the first movies I watched on home video was the original PHANTASM from MEDIA Home Entertainment. It was one of those early films that helped shaped the kind of palate I would develop for this genre. PHANTASM is one of the most original and influential of the films that came out during that “golden era” of horror in the 70’s and 80’s. The mixture of scares and offbeat humor, combined with some very creative scenes of violence and surrealism, make this film stand out above any other of its kind. The plot is absolutely crazy and one of the things I’ve always loved about the series is how each film continues upping the madness level. When I noticed the beautiful Aero theatre in Santa Monica was showing the trilogy plus a Q and A with the director and cast, it would have taken The Tall Man himself (and a few of those balls) to stop me from attending.
Writer and Director of all four of the PHANTASM films, Don Coscarelli was in attendance along with cast members from all three of the films shown. Angus (The Tall Man) Scrimm, Bill (Jody) Thornbury, Reggie (Reggie) Bannister, Mark (the undertaker who gets mutilated by the sphere in II) Major, Kathy (The Lady in Lavender whom still looks really hot after 30 years!) Lester and Gloria (Rocky from part III) Lynn Henry. Everyone shared stories about how much fun they had working on these films together. It seems like Coscarelli really creates a “family” feeling with all the people he’s collaborated with for so many years and they love him for it.
One of the most interesting topics to come up was that ROGER AVARY, after just winning an Oscar for his writing on PULP FICTION, wrote a script for what would have been the fourth PHANTASM movie. According to Coscarelli it was an epic “ultimate” series ender of a movie that would have cost way too much money. But the good news is, there’s talk about turning Avary’s script into a graphic novel so that PHANTASM fans can finally experience it. I’ll be picking that up for sure!
The first film is still the best one in the series with engaging characters and an absolutely bananas story that combines gothic horror with science fiction into a powerful social commentary on migrant working conditions. After all, The Tall Man is turning corpses into dwarves only to exploit them as slave labor on his planet.
Also, PHANTASM has the dubious distinction of being every muscle car, gear head, and Mopar enthusiasts favorite horror movie for one reason only. The black 1971 Plymouth Hemicuda featured in this and all subsequent PHANTASM films is considered to be the pinnacle of all american muscle cars and one of the most badass vehicles ever created. The fact that our hero Jody drives one, instantly makes him one really cool dude.
I have not seen PHANTASM II in a very long time. I guess that’s because it’s been long since unavailable on DVD in the U.S. and is finally being released tomorrow. Seeing it on a big screen with an audience full of PHANTASM freaks was absolutely amazing! While it lacks the same level of atmosphere, chills and originality of the first, it is still a classic over-the-top 80’s style sequel in every way with an emphasis on action and (thankfully) gore! The “flying sphere” sequences in this one are the best in the entire series and it’s thanks to the amazing work of a young Greg Nicotero. I totally love this movie!
I saw PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD back in 1994 when it came out and at the time was pretty unimpressed. It is the weakest in the series for sure, with even the straight to video PHANTASM IV being a much stronger sequel, but it’s still not without it’s charms. I liked the addition of the little boy (who violently executes a trio of looters like HOME ALONE mixed with DEATH WISH 3!) and the sassy urban badass known as Rocky (played with gusto by Gloria Lynn Henry) who bats a silver sphere out of the air with a pair of nunchucks! WOW!
When it was all finally over, I went home with a much greater appreciation for the PHANTASM series on a whole. It is an incredibly original and clever series of films that keeps adding to the mythology while upping the insanity and I’ll always be a huge phan. It was worth going just to hear Angus Scrimm shout, “BOYYYYYY!” before the films started inside the darkness of the Aero theatre. I had a “ball”!
Tags: aero theatre, american cinematheque, angus scrimm, bill thornbury, don coscarelli, gloria lynn henry, hemicuda, kathy lester, mark major, phantasm, phantasm II, phantasm III, phantasm trilogy, reggie bannister, roger avary