Now, the Phantasm series as a whole gets some very different observations depending on who you talk to. Fans of the series will talk about the great dream logic that translates from each movie to the next. They’ll talk about the excellent genre moments such as the introduction of the quad-barreled shotgun and all of the rather silly and fun moments that have defined Don Coscarelli’s intricate series. Then there are the detractors who will earnestly point out that for every one question that is answered in one of the sequels, there are thirty NEW and impossible to answer questions tacked onto things. Even though I think that both sides are right in different ways, the overall tone of fun is what makes the Phantasm movies a roaring success. Only in a series like this could you get away with getting little people to play zombies resurrected from beyond the grave at one-fourth their original size – and somehow do it in a manner that comes off as creepy and not just ridiculous. Go figure.
It seems that now since his great success with Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli is finally getting some of the credit he truly deserves. He contributed what was considered to be the best entry into Showtime’s Masters of Horror series which was called Incident On and Off a Mountain Road and helped finally throw Bruce Campbell into a really great role without Sam Raimi. Although he has unfortunately left the Bubba Ho-Tep series, we could still be looking at a resurgence in this man’s career. However, horror fans are still waiting for him to complete his original, his baby, the Phantasm series. Until then, the best we can do is try to persuade as many people to absorb these films as we can. The first entry into the series, as is often the occasion, is the best and most remarkable to be sure. With this film we see a burgeoning Coscarelli playing with things such as genre and delving into the world of science fiction and horror with ease. The dream logic that the series has become well known for starts here, as we drift in and out of dream states and we see this horror unfold almost in a stream of consciousness. There are so many great and yet utterly bizarre moments, such as the brief glimpse we see of the Tall Man’s home planet as well as the incredibly strange ending that still confuses audiences to this day.
Although a film shot on a sometimes obvious budget, with an assortment of filmmakers probably not all that experienced (and this is the late seventies; not every Joe had the ability to practice making his own films in his backyard like nowadays) – the film still looks and holds up extraordinarily well. There are moments of obvious vision on the part of the director (that scene where the Tall Man is walking down the main street in front of Reggie and the ice cream truck is and always will be a defining moment in cinematic history) and it’s in those moments where you truly get to see how unique a film this was and still is. Where Phantasm shines most, and that is all of the films and even Coscarelli himself, is in the storytelling. Simple, effective and with as many trinkets thrown in to make it as amusing as possible. The Phantasm series on the outside looking in may seem like a really cool flick where giant balls fly around and drill into people’s heads (and that it may be as well), but what actually makes it a classic is it’s ability to do two things: tell a interesting story in an unusual way – and draw outlandish, hilarious and all around amusing three dimensional characters. With that kind of filmmaking at work, what more could you possibly need?