Phantasm: Remastered Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister
  • Director: Don Coscarelli
  • Disc Format: Color, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: December 6, 2016
  • Run Time: 89 minutes

        Easily one of the strangest horror movies ever made, Phantasm has a little bit of everything crammed into one movie. The 1979 cult classic is a rare sci-fi horror film made on a low budget. There are moments of gore (primarily involving the sphere weapon), a dark sense of humor, erratic and purposefully disorienting editing, and even a bit of unexpected realism (a victim urinating during his death scene is still shocking today). This movie is far from a masterpiece, but there are undeniable moments of genius in here, and this remastered version presents them in startling clarity.

        Don Coscarelli’s bizarre vision begins as confusingly as it ends, with the basic story involving a pair of brothers, an ice-cream truck driver, and a mortician that they suspect is responsible for a series of deaths in the small California town. Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is a 13-year-old worried that his 24-year-old brother (Bill Thornbury), and his official guardian, is considering leaving town without him. These concerns are quickly dispatched after Mike witnesses the town mortician, who he simply calls The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), lifting a coffin on his own. In an attempt to investigate the strange occurrences at the cemetery, Mike accidentally draws the attention of The Tall Man and his evil minions. 

        The cemetery is crawling with small creatures cloaked in hooded coats but this is just the beginning of the oddities to be discovered. The Tall Man also has the ability to dispatch spherical weapons, when his finger is dismembered it remains active and alive, and eventually Mike discovers a portal to another world within the walls of the mortuary. This is all presented in a way that makes reality feel dream-like, and by the end of the film I am always left scratching my head and wondering what really occurred within the narrative.

        Meticulously restored by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, Phantasm has never looked better, at least not in my lifetime. There is absolutely no static on the image, so that all of the bizarre details can be admired in complete clarity. Occasionally this works as a double-edged sword, showing the faults in the low budget filmmaking as well as the accomplishments. But this is part of the enjoyment of Phantasm; it was filmed economically, with a certain degree of creativity becoming a part of the film’s charms. Many of the horror franchises that followed Phantasm were predictable and formulaic, following a pattern that is easy to discern. Even with the distance of decades, Phantasm is marvelously erratic. The new Blu-ray release also features a new 5.1 Surround Sound mix, which is particularly adept at increasing the creepiness of the dwarf-like creatures.

        The new remastered Blu-ray release also comes with a DVD copy of the film, and an assortment of new and archival special features. There are interviews from 1979 with writer/director Coscarelli, as well as actor who played the iconic villain, Angus Scrimm. New features include an episode of the television show “Graveyard Carz,” in which they restore a ’71 Pymouth ‘Cuda, the car heavily featured in the film. The audio commentary for the film includes Coscarelli, Baldwin, Scrimm, and Thornbury. There are also a handful of deleted scenes and a trailer gallery.

Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance:  8/10
Special Features: 7/10

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