1979. Directed by Don Coscarelli.
Phantasm is one of the true cult horror classics of American cinema. Coscarelli was 22 when he made the film, using a meager budget and guerrilla film making tactics to produce one of the most unique films of the 70's.
Mike is a 13 year old orphan being raised by his older brother Jody, in a sleepy Oregon town that is plagued by a recent rash of killings. Mike begins to suspect The Tall Man, the ominous owner of the town's mortuary, as the culprit after witnessing several disturbing events. Mike begins to investigate, uncovering a portal to another dimension and learning the horrifying truth about what the bodies of the dead are being used for. Joined by the local ice cream man Reggie, Mike and Jody decide to put an end to The Tall Man's unspeakable agenda, encountering otherworldly technology and mind bending creatures from the beyond.
Phantasm is a film about nightmares and the surreal. There are many things that don't make outright sense and Coscarelli's hatchet editing is a boon in achieving the dreamlike atmosphere that is the central goal of the film. The story is disjointed and the acting is barely coherent to the point of deliberate absurdity, enriching the overwhelming sense that things are terribly awry. Coscarelli uses every possible tool in his repertoire to present a series of ideas rather than a tightly wound story and it's this truth that may underwhelm first time viewers. However, patience and a complete surrender to the fractured presentation will ultimately result in a viewing experience that sticks with you...like a festering wad of gum on your shoe.
Paul Pepperman's special effects are the highlight, with the iconic sphere device being the centerpiece. Coscarelli uses a moving camera to give the sphere's point of view as it stalks its victims in the white walled monastery. The device's extension of its user's persona is one of the many fascinating elements of the alien world presented in the final segment. Bizarre visuals, lethal machinery, and the true purpose of the corpses are some of Phantasm's many grizzly surprises. The violence, while cosmetic and cheesy has an unsettling quality that is right at home with the nightmarish ambiance. The camera refuses to shy away from the bloodshed, always lingering for a few precious seconds too long, denying any sort of reprieve once the story fully plunges into the cosmic rabbit hole.
Available now for digital rental, Phantasm is a prime example of low budget, experimental film making. Spawning four sequels, it created a franchise that would go on to dominate VHS shelves for years to come. One of the few movies that uses its copious flaws to an advantage, Phantasm has many things to offer an avid horror fan and even more things to decode with each viewing. Pure B Movie magic.