Day 22: Phantasm (1979)

Director: Don Cascarelli

Starring: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm

Runtime: 89 minutes

While we’re on the subject of bizarre films about inter-dimensional travelers, we might as well talk about Phantasm. This gem cult classic has perhaps gotten even less attention than Hellraiser, with even less gloss and artistic posturing. Don Cascarelli, who by the way apparently not only directed, but wrote, produced, and did the cinematography and editing for the film, seems to have one purpose: be as surreal and outlandish as possible.

I wouldn’t even know where to start with trying to talk about the political and social implications of this film, although I’m sure you could say something about xenophobia (does every film about invaders—whether from another planet or dimension—reflect anxiety about foreigners?), or the backlash of conservative religious and cultural values of 70s films, since it deals with the taboo of tampering with dead bodies (and some have argued for the rise of religious-oriented horror of the era like The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Wicker Man).

I won’t even try to attempt plot summary either. Figures and images are more important: two brothers, one in his twenties, another in his early teens; Reggie, an ice cream vendor with long hair and a guitar; floating mechanized balls that slice people’s heads off; mutated dwarves; and a tall, ghoulish-looking undertaker known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who is harvesting dead bodies to reanimate as slaves; and a white room that opens up into some hellish alternate dimension.

Not sure what else I can say…the plot, acting (except for Scrimm), and artistic value here aren’t well developed, but for sheer surreal tone and bizarre imagery, the infamous head-slicing scene with the sphere (which almost cost the film an X rating), and hearing Angus Scrimm shout “Boooy!!!” make this film worth it.

The Tall Man

The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) adds some class to the film.


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