Coffin Corner: PHANTASM: REMASTERED

Welcome to The Coffin Corner! Every week, Ian West will be delving into some of the best and latest Blu-ray releases, as well as focusing on the brilliant labels that keep the home video market alive and well! 

In the early to mid 90's I was an expert at sneaking around my Dad’s VHS collection. It’s how I discovered so many awesome movies, many of which are still in my viewing rotation to this day. We would spend a lot of time amassing that collection, always making copies of rentals (that moment you realize if you put tape over copyguard, you could record anything!), and recording anything worthwhile on cable. This gave us a MASSIVE home library, with tons of titles in almost every genre. Growing up, my parents were pretty flippin’ awesome, even at a young age they’d let me watch anything as long as I stayed out of trouble, so I’d often watch whatever title sounded crazy, or what box art sold me, usually going in blind to whatever it was. One day I was snooping around the sea of VHS tapes (which we still have), and I came across a movie I’d never seen on our shelves before: in big block letters read the word, “PHANTASM”, and the ominous looking man on the cover immediately caught my attention. I was sold, my mind was made up, I knew what I’d be watching that night.

“If this one doesn’t scare you… you’re already dead!”

Phantasm is the story of 13-year-old Mike (Michael Baldwin), who has recently lost his parents, and is being taken care of by his older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), who has come back home after the family tragedy. Mike really looks up to Jody, always following him around and with a constant worry that he’s going to move on and leave him behind. When a mutual friend mysteriously dies, Jody and his loyal friend, Reggie (a balding, ponytail wearing, guitar playing, ice cream truck driver played by Reggie Bannister) attend the funeral, with Mike following them to Morningside cemetery in secret.

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This is where Mike’s life changes forever: when he witnesses an ominous figure, The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), an otherworldly funeral director, as he single-handedly lifts a casket into the back of a hearse. Mike soon becomes convinced that The Tall Man may be responsible for his parent's death, and the other mysterious deaths that keep happening around town. As his speculation grows, he fears that he and his older brother might be next.

Determined to find out some answers, along with proof to convince his doubtful brother, Mike returns to Morningside cemetery under cover of darkness and breaks into the mortuary. There, he comes face-to-face with the insidious Tall Man, his hooded dwarf minions, and the sentry style silver spheres that. patrol the ominous halls of the mortuary. After barely managing to escape, Mike makes Jody a believer, and with the loyal Reggie in tow, they set out to discover what the Tall Man has planned and stop it any way they can!

Over the years, Phantasm has grown from a cult movie to a horror classic, spawning four sequels, a highly memorable villain in the Tall Man, and a lovable hero in Reggie Bannister. Coscarelli’s writing here is unique and so much of the out there plot is filled with dreamlike nuances that I can’t think of another classic genre film from that era that can compete with its surreal wonders. But, despite its almost otherworldly strangeness, Phantasm works in its own weird little way, fully utilizing its spooky atmosphere and creepy soundtrack. Coscarelli and crew really achieve so much on such a small budget, from its freakish horde of Jawa-like hooded dwarves, to the iconic, silver spheres that patrol Morningside’s hallways. For me, one of Phantasm’s best attributes is its likable characters: they are highly believable, everyday people with who display endearing moments of humanity, such as Jody and Reggie jamming out on guitar. The film has a lot of heart, something even budgetary constraints couldn’t mess with.

I was the perfect age to watch Phantasm, probably a couple years younger than our main character, Mike. I kept asking myself why he lived with his brother and it dawned on me that his parents were dead, and my first lesson in mortality was around the corner. My comprehensions of death up to that point were non-existent, and around this time a death in my family pinpointed the moment I realized once you’re gone, that’s it—you don’t come back. You can imagine the hefty effect that all had on me as a 10-year-old. I was already a fan of movies like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but Phantasm was different: this spooky little creepshow drove my young imagination wild with crazy thoughts of different dimensions, flying spheres of death, and balding heroes who drive ice cream trucks. What a fascinating film.

The new remastered Blu-ray was released by Well Go USA and it looks amazing. Many of us have waited years for a pristine HD presentation and now we finally have it. J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot oversaw a meticulous 4K restoration of this cult classic, and the results are almost sure to please anyone who is a fan. The disc is light on special features and most of them are transferred over from previous releases, but the amazing transfer, sound, and packaging (the new artwork is INCREDIBLE) more than makes up for it. There is also a DVD set available featuring all the films, but if you're looking for the classic original, than your search stops here!

A worthy addition to any collection!