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Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.
This week Anchor Bay is re-releasing Phantasm IV: Oblivion, the final chapter in the saga pitting Jody, Mike, and Reggie against the mysterious Tall Man. Somehow, the Phantasm films have generally remained above the critical scorn fired at most horror sequels; it’s quite possible that this is due to the fact that the reins have remained firmly in the hands of series creator Don Coscarelli, who has acted as producer, writer, and director on every Phantasm film since the 1979 original .
The strange story of a weird (and really tall) undertaker who transforms people into dwarves to do his bidding on an unnamed planet in another dimension is, to put it mildly, not to everyone’s tastes. Phantasm doesn’t make much sense and it doesn’t try to; if anything, it’s a jumbled bunch of set pieces that seem pulled straight from an LSD-riddled fever dream — and yet it all works. The film is supremely creepy and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm in the role he was obviously born to play) has gone on to rightfully earn his place amongst the genre’s most iconic villains. In an effort to convert any doubters out there over to the “Phantasm rules!” side of the fence, I figured I’d make a list of some of the most awesome awesomeness in the film. No, no, please — seeing you waving that giant “Phantasm #1″ foam finger around later will be thanks enough.
Ten Reasons Why Phantasm Rules
1. Jody locks his little brother Mike in his bedroom to keep him
out of harm’s way. When Jody leaves the house to investigate the
mortuary, Mike gets his MacGyver on and busts himself out of
the room by taping a shotgun shell to a hammer and using the device to
blast a hole in the door. I never would have thought of that — I would
have just sat there on my bed, probably thinking about kittens. Then
again, even if I did think of it, I probably wouldn’t have had any
hammers or shotgun shells sitting around in my room.
2. Yeah, I said “mortuary.” Phantasm is largely set in a mortuary. That’s prime horror real estate, folks — heck, even Mary Poppins would qualify as a horror movie if she used her umbrella to float down into a mortuary. Ooh, then it could be called Scary Poppins! Quick, someone get me Hollywood on the phone!
The Tall Man has an alter ego, the Lady in Lavender, which he uses to
seduce young men he wants to kill. Imagine, you’re having it off with
the near-mute sexy blonde when she suddenly transforms into a
creepy-looking old dude.
4. The leading men of Phantasm
aren’t the chiseled, fresh-faced type you’re liable to see in a fright
flick produced today. Nope, in this movie, the hero is a
balding-yet-ponytailed ice cream man who wields a mean acoustic guitar.
Hey, it was the ’70s.
5. Don Coscarelli has given the audience
plenty of thematic gristle to chew on, like death and abandonment.
Mike’s battle with the Tall Man can be interpreted as a fantasy in
which he battles death itself as a way of coping with the loss of his
parents and older brother Jody. Or, you know, you can just shut off
your brain and get creeped out by the whole affair; it’s up to you how
many layers of meaning you’ll unravel.
boasts more transdimensional dwarves than any other film series to
date! These little robe-clad dudes are all the eerier because they
didn’t start out as dwarves — they were regular people who got
squished down all extra-dense style so they can endure the harsh
conditions on the barren planet where they’ll act as the Tall Man’s
slave labor force.
7. “Excuse me, I believe you’ve got your
finger in my mustard…” Yes, I’m talking about that finger…you know,
the one Mike lops off the Tall Man and keeps in a little decorative
box. Rather than blood, the severed finger oozes something not unlike
French’s Yellow and then it turns into a giant killer fly that can only
be defeated by the whirring blades of a garbage disposal. Don’t you
just hate it when that happens?
8. No discussion of Phantasm
would be complete without mentioning the balls… err, I mean the
Sentinel Spheres, as they’ve come to be called. I’m talking about the
metallic balls the Tall Man sends zipping around the mortuary to
dispatch with any Nosy Nellies poking around. If the sphere catches up
with you, it’ll impale your forehead and drill into your brain… and
trust me, the sphere will catch up with you. That’s what they do.
“You think you go to heaven when you die? You come to us.” That’s a
fantastic, massively chill-inducing quote from one of the film’s
alternate endings. Now, if the Tall Man uttered it whilst standing in
an ice cream sundae factory, surrounded by kittens and video games, it
wouldn’t be such a threatening statement. But no! The Tall Man insists
that when we die we go to some dry-ass barren planet under a relentless
red sky to labor away for all eternity… and that’s after we’ve been
transformed into evil dwarves!
10. Ah yes, the Tall Man.
He’s…tall. And supernaturally strong. And supernaturally evil. And
supernaturally old. And he hates you! Seriously, the dude never smiles,
despite the fact that he runs a successful mortuary/funeral home and
he’s got a transdimensional workforce that’s thousands strong — a
workforce he doesn’t even pay! You’d think The Tall Man would relax a
little and enjoy some of his accomplishments…hmm. Maybe that’s what his stints as the Lady in Lavender are really all about. Wow, I’ve unraveled yet another layer of meaning in Phantasm!
A fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.