HORRORFEST: Phantasm (1979)

And it begins.  I’m starting off Horrorfest with this low-budget cult horror flick from the 70’s. Phantasm has some interesting ideas, but its nonsensical plot and slow pace in the beginning prevent it from being considered great.

The film begins with some blonde broad getting banged in a cemetery.  Alright, I’m definitely okay with that.  Next thing you know, the girl stabs the guy with a dagger.  Sweet! So fast-forward to the dude’s funeral, and we’re introduced to all of the main characters.  Jody and Mike, who are brothers, notice strange hooded dwarf creatures (Jawas anyone?) scuttling around behind graves.  Mike stays after the procession is finished and catches the mortician, referred to as the Tall Man, lifting Tommy’s coffin by himself into the back of a hearse.  The investigation of who this man is and what he’s doing with the bodies takes up the bulk of the rest of the film, where we learn that aliens are turning dead bodies into slaves.  Hmm….

I may not be a huge fan of the movie, but this scene was incredible.

I was honestly underwhelmed for most of the film.  For one, the body count here is much lower than I expected.  I can’t recall the number exactly, but something like 3 or 4 people die in this movie. And only one of those death scenes are particularly enjoyable.  That being said, the scene in question was definitely satisfying.  Those silver orbs that fly around the morgue were the creepiest things about the film, and watching a torrent of blood shoot out of a man’s skull was definitely the highlight for me.

The alien creatures are cool at best and downright stupid at other times.  Watching them lurk around in the shadows creates a small amount of tension I suppose, but there just isn’t anything particularly menacing about them.  I’ve seen a lot of appreciation for the Tall Man, who seems to be one of the iconic horror figures of the era.  Sorry, but I don’t get it.  He’s just some lanky old dude that has yellow blood.  He doesn’t run around slaughtering people in a grotesque fashion, and there certainly isn’t anything particularly creepy about him.  My main problem with the movie boils down to the fact that so much of what I love about horror films is the horrific antagonists and chilling atmosphere.  I found that Phantasm doesn’t have much of either, which made it tough for me to really appreciate this one.

It’s not scary, but it’s worth a watch. Phantasm lacks in many areas, but there’s a certain low budget charm and an admirable vision here that should definitely be appreciated by fans of the genre.  I applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something different by blending genre, but the final product feels incomplete to me.


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