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Saturday, 1 September 2007

Phantasm (1979) Don Coscarelli

Of all the great horror series of the 70s, 80s and beyond, I've seen at least the original of almost all of them and usually many of the sequels too. There aren't too many exceptions but Phantasm, currently in the process of becoming a five film series, is one of them. What's more Phantasm has retained a lot more cult respect over the years than series like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and their ilk. Only the Evil Dead films have kept the same level of respect, it seems, with a few originals like Hellraiser, Hallowe'en and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still holding shocks. It's also a Don Coscarelli movie, and with Bubba Ho-Tep becoming a fast favourite of ours here at Chaos Central, it's definitely time to check out Phantasm.

First impressions are that the acting is pretty terrible but it looks very cool. There's what seems like a sacrificial murder during sex in a graveyard, a very strange kid with connection issues who sees things and a strangely calm young girl who has what looks like a psychic Ozzy Osbourne for a grandmother. The caretaker of Morningside Cemetery where the murder occurred is a bizarrely powerful man who looks freaky and moves even freakier. The film looks awesome too, very low budget but inventively cool, and that's even before the famous flying metal ball which is wicked, and hooded dwarfs and the severed finger bugs and the rest of it.

The actors are all nobodies, pretty much, and many of them only really appeared in Don Coscarelli movies. The lead is Michael Baldwin as young Mike Pearson, and his seven films include five Phantasms and six Coscarellis, the only exception being Vice Girls, which he wrote. He even has a novel behind him, and I'm guessing his wasn't a celebrity name on a ghostwritten book. His elder brother Jody is Bill Thornbury, who looks like a cross between Harrison Ford and Christopher Lambert, and he has only three Phantasms to his credit along with two other films. The only one with any level of prolificity to his name is Reggie Bannister, who plays ponytailed Reggie, the ice cream truck driver who becomes their third hand, and he's appeared in what looks like everything Coscarelli made except The Beastmaster.

Well beyond the obvious low budget, this is an inventive story given an inventive treatment. I'm really happy I finally caught up with it after all these years, I can see a whole bunch of films who took some solid influences from it and I'm really looking forward to the sequels. It's a real textbook example of how you can do a lot without a lot of money. It sits well with a handful of great low budget movies, like Bad Taste and Trancers that transcend any level of expectation they could justifiably have generated. Very cool.

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