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If you don't mind asking yourself "What the hell is going on?" during a horror film, you just might enjoy Don Coscarelli's Phantasm, now remastered and as crazy as ever. The story is highly disjointed, but Phantasm actually works because it creates enough mood and suspense to support the stop-start narrative. Fans of the series, which now includes five films, are familiar with the Tall Man and the deadly, flying spheres, and this first film is probably the most bizarre. This was only Coscarelli's third feature film, and the director's now-trademark knack for presenting bizarre, memorable imagery amid dark humor and terror is on full display here. Phantasm feels like a hazy nightmare, and effectively transports viewers inside the confusion and terror as experienced by its two sibling protagonists, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury) Pearson.
The film opens on a young man (Bill Cone) and woman fooling around in a graveyard outside a huge funeral home. Soon, the man is dead at the hands of the mysterious Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester), and images of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) flash across the screen. Later, Mike and Jody attend the funeral of this man, who was one of Jody's friends. The brothers are suffering from the recent death of their parents, and Mike fears Jody will leave him with relatives and skip town. Mike observes the Tall Man lift a coffin into a hearse without assistance, and discovers something is amiss at the funeral home, as bodies are not where they should be. He is haunted by nightmarish visions involving the Tall Man and a seemingly alternate dimension, and sinister, cloaked figures soon begin attacking locals. Mike convinces Jody that the Tall Man is behind these events, and the pair is quickly entangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
I remember watching portions of Phantasm in the early ‘90s and being entranced in its bizarre, frightening web. Sure, this movie makes little logical sense and is more a collection of images than a cohesive story, but this style works surprisingly well. This is an extremely ambitious little chiller, and I do admire Coscarelli for swinging for the rafters, even when the hits do not quite land. If anything, Phantasm may frustrate viewers that must have an easily digestible story. You may argue that Coscarelli throws in scenes capriciously, but the director seems to have a good grasp of what he is trying to accomplish. When he does not, he admits it in various interviews and commentaries for this movie. Consider this a rare ‘70s arthouse horror film. Most compelling is the film's young protagonist, and it is hard not to see glimpses of Phantasm in recent hits Stranger Things and Super 8.
The Tall Man is now one of horror's most recognizable villains, and Scrimm's tall, lanky figure makes quite an impression. The ending is either perfect or perfectly annoying, depending on whom you ask. It does not bother me, and does nothing to negate the frightening trip that precedes it. Mike is a likeable lead, as is Jody once he gets on board with the investigation. The Fred Myrow score fits the material well, and there are more than enough stark images to impress. J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company participated in releasing this new, remastered version of Phantasm, and the results are spectacular. This new Blu-ray release is highly recommended for horror fans.
The film was remastered in 4K from the original negative for a limited theatrical re-release, and this new Blu-ray offers a wonderful 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from that remaster. Sharpness and clarity are absolutely superb, and I was shocked at how gorgeous this low-budget film looks in HD. Colors are vivid and nicely saturated, without a hint of bleeding. Fine-object detail is strong, and the hints of softness are inherent in the original source. The grain appears mostly lifelike, with only a hint of minor post-production reduction in spots. Black levels are inky, and black crush is not a major issue. Print damage is very minimal, and skin tones are mostly accurate, with only a hint of blush. The only other issue I spotted was some light compression artifacts, mostly in nighttime scenes. Unfortunately, Well Go USA only used a single-layer Blu-ray disc, and this may have been alleviated on a 50GB disc.
The Blu-ray offers a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and, although they are lossy, you can also choose a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo or Dolby Digital mono mix to replicate the original theatrical experience. Any problems of hiss, distortion or crackling are completely absent from these tracks. The HD mix offers some good surround action, particularly when the spheres whiz about the sound field. Dialogue is crisp and nicely balanced with effects and the score, which is given some nice LFE support. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray and DVD and is packed in a standard case with striking artwork. The initial pressing includes an awesome, holofoil slipcover with slight texture. This is one of most handsome slipcovers of 2016. The disc is lacking in extras, sadly, and fans will want to hold onto their previous Special Edition. You do get a Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and actors A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury, which is at least two decades old at this point. The Graveyard Carz Episode (11:24/HD) sees the restoration of the film's hero car. You also get a 1979 Interview with Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm (27:58/SD); Deleted Scenes (9:59 total/SD); the 1979 Trailer (2:13/SD); and the Remaster Trailer (1:56/HD). In an interesting authoring choice, all the extras play in a reel if you select the first entry on that page.
Bizarre and memorable, Phantasm finally hits Blu-ray with a 4K remaster. Well Go USA's Blu-ray offers excellent picture and sound and a few supplements. Fans of Don Coscarelli's classic horror film will no doubt want to add this to their shelves. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.