FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 9, 2007

Day 9- "Boy!"

Let's just get this out of the way: Phantasm (1979) really really scared me when I was a kid. There was no doubt I'd put it on my Willies List, but I wonder how someone seeing the film for the first time today might find it. Is it actually a scary movie, or is it simply that it fucked with my impressionable young mind? I'm not objective enough to tell the difference.

The plot is sort of simple: a group of young lads do battle with an evil mortuary attendant known only as The Tall Man. Phantasm is so much more than that, obviously (in fact, if you want to put on your magic analyzing hat, it's a film about fear of abandonment, loss, and death...but who's got time for that right now?), but the more you pick it apart, the less sense it seems to make. All I know is, from the weird purple-clad broad who transforms into The Tall Man to the dwarves scuttling around to the mustard-oozing finger that turns into a flying bug to the mortuary setting to the dwarf world to The Tall Man himself and of course to the ball, this film unsettles me like few others can- even as I simultaneously find the whole thing unbearably silly.

This is perhaps going to sound strange to anyone who's not...well, me...but Phantasm is like watching a Pink Floyd double LP unfold before my very eyes- particularly their album Ummagumma. More particularly, the track "Several Small Species of Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict". I can't tell you why, exactly, but that...err, song, if you want to call it that...left me completely fucking terrified whenever my parents listened to it. Terrified as in I would have to go sit outside until it was over. Terrified as in I still can't listen to it (and believe me, I've tried) without the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. As I said, I can't really pinpoint why that is; most likely, everyone's got his or her own Ummagumma, that innocuous thing that scars his or her brain. It's completely irrational.

And there's something about Phantasm that makes me feel that way, too, despite its ridiculousness.

Isn't that awesome??

In related news, Phantasm's Mike (Michael Baldwin) was the winner of the 1979 Nellie Oleson Looky-Likey Contest.


Adam Ross said...

Not to mention one of the creepiest ice cream men ever caught on film. Not to mention that said ice cream man can also lay down some fine acoustic chops whenever needed.

I love this movie and just recently watched the special features on the awesome new DVD. It's kind of a shame the best line got cut with one of its alternate endings: "You think you go to heaven when you die? You come to us!"

Also, this.

Goose said...

When I moved to my current small town america there was a billboard advertizing an antique store. The owner of the store looked just like the old man in Phantasm. You think the movie is creepy, you should try passing that billboard at night on your way home. It creeped me out for years.
I had to buy a copy of the movie to show all my friends who had never seen it. They agreed it was the same creepy guy.
It is still one of my favorite movies.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. My wife loves this movie, but I've always been "meh" about it. I guess I just don't get it...

PIPER said...

Good to see this on your list. It's making mine as well. I saw this when I was very young and it scared the hell out of me. This movie is pure evil. As bad ad that fly bug looked and as fake as Mike looked when he acting like it was flying out of control in his sweatshirt, it still scared.

A couple of scenes stick out to me. One where Mike picks up the postcard and its an old photo with the Tall Man and the Tall Man turns to look at him still makes me shiver.

Then there's the creeperfect scene (like what I did just there) where the Tall Man takes in the cold air from the ice cream machine.

Then there are the two metal bars that are a gateway into a whole other jawa world.

And of course I have always wanted to tape a shotgun shell on to the end of a hammer ever since I saw this movie.

Phantasm is a good example of how wrong most horror has gone. There are some things that just "are" without explanation. They are just creepy and we don't need to know why or how, we just need to be creeped.

Melizer said...

Now, I know for a fact that I watched this with my cousins when I was about 12 and I don't remember a thing about it except that it had something to do with a mortuary. I guess it didn't make much of an impression, but they were big fans. I don't know if I should watch it again? I think I'll just get to this one when I get to it.

And I'll have you know I paid 89 cents to download that Pink Floyd to see what scared you, and now what am I going to do with it? That isn't a song! Maybe I can use it for sound effects for trick-or-treaters that come to our door on Halloween :)

Stacie Ponder said...

"Phantasm is a good example of how wrong most horror has gone. There are some things that just "are" without explanation. They are just creepy and we don't need to know why or how, we just need to be creeped."

Exactly! Sometimes, it just works and the less thinking you do, the more it works. Phantasm is simply a creepy mind-fuck.

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, and melizer, remind me to avoid your house on Halloween! :D

Amanda By Night said...

I just re-watched this movie earlier this year, in daylight, and it still chilled me to the bone. It's just an excellent experience. It's like piper said, some things just are.

Love, love, LOVE IT!

That Nelly Olson thing is hee-larious btw!

Joseph Emmerth said...

What made it so creepy is that it was without precedent; a truly original work. I remember sitting around a bar years back in one of those endless debates about the best horror movie of all time. Halloween, TCM, the Thing, we went back and forth, until my friend Mike said "Phantasm". When we asked why, he said:

"Two words: Transdimensional Dwarves, dude."

I don't think anyone pointed out that he used three words:)

AndrewKach said...

"We're as hot as love."

I'm so glad you mentioned this movie... it's so underrated. It's one of the best horror movies that no one's ever heard of. I can't think of too many movies with such thick atmosphere. Plus, it's such a product of its time (to me, that's a plus). Angus Scrim. Reggie Bannister. What more could you want?

Anonymous said...

I've got the ball. You know - the shiny limited edition ball with all four Phantasm movies inside it. Yes - I realise that adds nothing of worth to the discussion. I just like mentioning it.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this at the drive-in back in 1979 (or was it in 1980? Gosh it sucks getting old) and remembering that it scared the hell out of my 9 (or 10) year old self.

I still find really tall people kinda creepy.

So I wanted to thank you Stacie for bringing up my childhood trauma. Don't ever stop. XXX OOO

Jack said...

I love this entire series and see they are suppose to be doing another sequel!

Anonymous said...

You are brilliant - I thought I was the only one that thought Mike looked like Nellie Olsen!!

irish431962 said...

i don't know if i became desensitized over my 47 years or what, but not much scares me these days in the way of horror movies. GROSSES ME OUT? YEAH! there are STILL TO THIS DAY, TWO movies that are my "go watch & creep me out, make me look around corners,look over my shoulder when walking alone;terrify the hell out of me"! the 1st is Play Misty For Me. the other is Phantasm. i can watch this movie over & over again! thanx for the review!

Riccardo said...

I saw this yesterday for the first time at an age slightly older than your current age, Stacie, and yes, it was very creepy. Not really scary, but the graveyard bed and assorted other nastiness *would* have scared me when I was younger, I'm sure. What I'm impressed by is how I keep thinking about it, even 24 hours later. Lots of it was downright silly and the ending was, like, "did they really just do that?" But I can't find fault because it ultimately makes perfect sense and even the silliness fits right in, in retrospect. I'm trying not to give spoilers because I am *so* glad I knew nothing going in, other than that there's a tall guy in it. Don't visit IMDB before you watch, I went afterwards and even comments not marked "spoiler" reveal too much. Maybe its under-the-radar reputation is an advantage to keeping new viewers off guard. Anybody else think it's interesting that the older brother is the exact same age as the writer/director when he made the movie?

Word verification: repersat -- The Grim Reaper's Satellite OF DOOM!!!

dementia13 said...

The night of my high school graduation, I got trashed at my cousin's house, and this was on cable. I hated it, thought it was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen, despite that the flying ball thing had looked terrifying in commercials. I was disappointed, but gave it another chance 20 years later, when I saw that reputable horror reviewers liked it. Maybe that nonsensical element made it the wrong movie for a wasted brain, because it does have a lot of things going for it, and I like it a lot now. I don't know about terrifying, though: maybe it just has to hit you the right way. Even my 9-year-old daughter, Baby13, watched this without getting too scared, though she liked it, and immediately demanded to watch one of the sequels.

Anyone else notice how much that second-to-last screenshot looks like it was ripped off from Equinox? There's a part near the end of that movie where somebody slips through a dimensional door into a red world just like that one, IIRC complete with a line of marching hooded people/things.

cutey pie said...

in my opinion mike is hot,,,,,, well only in the first one sigh if only i was in his era back then :( <3

Unknown said...

mike is a hottie in the first movie i love him

Guest said...

I recently purchase the Remastered Digital Copy and researched it and I also wondered if Michael was related to the actress who played Nellie Olson on Little House on the Prairie.