The Video Nasties #75 – Phantasm (1979, Don Coscarelli)

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‘It was all in your mind.’

A few years ago, Phantasm was only really known by horror nerds like ourselves (don’t deny it, you’re reading a blog about the Video Nasties!). Then, in 2015, JJ Abrams announced that in his new Star Wars film there was to be a character named in homage to Phantasm, and that his company was remastering the original film for a cinema re-release. If ever a film deserved such attention, it’s Phantasm, the low budget independent horror film that could.

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Phantasm comes closer than most films to evoking the feeling of a waking dream. The plot almost immediately topples over into comic book absurdity and happily remains there for the next hour and a half; an intergalactic grave robber has come to a small American town and has become a funeral director. At night he shape-shifts into a woman so that he can have sex with and murder the local men, who he then crushes down to half their size so that they will fit into containers to be shipped back to his home planet through a space portal to become slaves.

Got that?

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It doesn’t matter. The story is incidental to the strange and chilling atmosphere of the film, the frequent exciting scenes and surprising imagery. It kinda feels like the whole thing was improvised by children, as each bizarre new twist reveals itself. It also deals with childhood fears like the loss of parents and abandonment, which would make Phantasm the perfect gateway horror film for young children if someone would just cut out the boobs and occasional gore shot.

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In fact, it’s hard to understand why this film made the Nasties, yet movies like Maniac and Sex Wish never did. I suppose it’s due to the main character being a child, though this kid can handle himself. If anything, he’s a role model! Well, apart from the sneaking about watching his brother have sex part. That’s a bit weird.

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Phantasm is highly recommended – I have nothing bad to say about it. It also features my favourite motivational speech in any film ever made, ever, courtesy of Reggie Bannister –

Okay, I see it, I see it all now. What we gotta do is we gotta snag that tall dude and stomp the shit out of him and we’ll find out what the hell is going on up there. Yeah, we’ll lay that sucker out FLAT and put a stake right through his goddam HEART!’

I’m with you, Reggie!

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