THE NEVER DEAD
Phantasm is filled with surreal offbeat images the killer sphere that drills into victims heads and sprays the entire contents of their brains out behind it; the sinister figure of the Tall Man who is always shot striding along in slow-motion to the accompaniment of huge booming drumbeats; his finger that continues to wiggle after being amputated and then mutates into a malevolent insect; hands exploding out of walls and graves to grab people and so on. There is even a scene with a psychic who makes the young hero overcome his fear by placing his hand inside a pain-inducing box that Coscarelli has stolen wholesale from Frank Herberts Dune (1965). Coscarelli creates a funereal world that hovers somewhere on the twilight edge of reality. Notedly, the film sets itself in a distorted version of reality there are almost no daylight scenes and the few we get are always shot with threatening overtones of grey skies. Apart from the principals, a bartender and some people at the funeral, there are almost no other characters in the film.
The explanation for everything something about people being killed and then shrunken for use as slave labour in another higher gravity dimension is delightfully preposterous and comes nowhere near offering any reason for half the goings-on. It is, as the title suggests, a phantasm a figment of the imagination or an illusion and you can only appreciate Phantasm not as coherent narrative but as a film that seems to operate on the logic of a dream. (Even then, the it was all a dream ending and the twist then offered on that makes no sense in terms of the internal logic the film establishes). Indeed, Don Coscarelli says that the film originally came to him in a recurrent dream one wherein he was being pursued by the silver spheres. The same surreal incursions and underminings of dream and reality was conducted a few years later with Wes Cravens A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which more than likely drew some influence from Phantasm.
There were four sequels:- Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III/Phantasm: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: OblIVion (1998) and Phantasm: Ravager (2016). Don Coscarelli wrote-directed the first three and wrote-produced the last. Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister appear in all four; Michael Baldwin was replaced by James Le Gros in Phantasm II but returned to the part in the subsequent sequels. Coscarellis other films of genre interest are the sword and sorcery film The Beastmaster (1982); Survival Quest (1988), a weak teenage wilderness brutality film; Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), featuring a middle-aging Elvis and JFK tackling a mummy in a retirement home, which is arguably Coscarellis best film; and the mind-bendingly hilarious John Dies at the End (2012).
Angus Scrimm has gone onto become a genre favourite as a result of his part as The Tall Man and makes regular appearances in low-budget productions including the likes of Jim Wynorskis spoof Transylvania Twist (1990), Subspecies (1991) where he plays the vampire king, Mindwarp (1992), Vampirella (1996) and Wishmaster (1997).