I feel as though some of the movies I’ve been watching have been too recent, so here’s one from before I was born: the bleak, surreal Phantasm. I saw it earlier on today to mitigate any nightmarish leftovers that might prevent me from getting to sleep tonight, though the fact that I ended up going to SpookyWorld probably rendered that sentiment useless.
This movie is aptly very trippy, dreamlike and sinister. I felt, though, that because I wasn’t part of its first-run audience, that I’m doing the film a disservice by reviewing it at all in the days of Hostel and Saw and Zombie Ass: Toilet of The Dead
(please don’t click that). It deals with both the rituals of death (funerals, embalming, etc) and how we process death, particularly through the eyes of an innocent boy. And there are some nudie make-out scenes in cemeteries, too.
Little orphan Mike (Michael Baldwin) sees the local undertaker, The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) stealing a used (i.e., corspe in it) coffin, and, after some spooky investigations in a mini mortuary, begins to suspect that he’s not what he seems, and tries to convince his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) of it. Along the way, there’s a bloody excellent theme in the score that made me stop whatever I was doing to focus my attention 100% on the movie.
But there are moments for me that dragged a bit, and I know that this is owing to my generation’s pathetic attention spans and nascent penchant for breakneck speed, vomit-inducing hyper-editing, rather than being able to fully appreciate the fear and palpable dread served up by long, eerie, beautifully-shot, one-shot scenes. In which not much happens until the catchy theme kicks in, and then you have to rewind the movie out of shame to make sure you didn’t miss any of the build-up. And then you miss it again.
There were some odd bits of over-the-top gore and some near sci-fi tinges that seemed weird to me now, but might have been seen as innovative or unusual back then. But despite my shortcomings as a moviewatcher, I though it was great, and I could see why it was so influential to future horror filmmakers.