I’ve just recently re-watched the often maligned and underrated horror film series PHANTASM, seeing all four movies in order for the first time. I had previously seen the first two, the the latter sequels were new to me. For those of you who like your horror movies, but perhaps do not know too much about the films, they certainly are something very different to most other fear films.
Having in the past been a bigger fan of Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Halloween film series to name a few which continued on over several sequels and franchises, this series was one which I had never fully given my attention to while they were being released.
A long time back I did somehow firstly end up seeing I think the second Phantasm movie-why that before the first, I am not too sure, but I think a friend had the VHS-and just initially judged it to be a really confusing and unoriginal mess of a film, which brought down my expectations for a long time, having before seen the very iconic film posters featuring the deadly flying steel balls and the terrifying Tall Man.
For a long time, a then placed seeing the sequels and original quite low on my list of things to do, and it remained that way until only I think maybe three or four years back when I finally saw the original possibly on television. Then, I definitely had the opinion that it certainly was a very unique, strange and fascinating horror movie.
If you have seen it, you will know it to be a very unusual film, regularly confusing, dreamlike and irregular for a horror film in a number of ways. Yes, it is sometimes a bit goofy, plain weird, but viewed alongside other horror films of the past thirty or more years, Phantasm certainly was a very influential and original film.
It was not just simply a ‘horror film’. The director, Don Coscarelli created a personal film, which was very bold and creative for the very late seventies when it was released. It seemed to have possibly had a strong influence upon films including the Elm Street Wes Craven series, the Halloween films and many others. Initially it frustrated me as I watched, the narrative chopping around, sequences seeming to jump around, possibly dream or reality for the main characters. Very much like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, it should simply be taken as a thrilling experience firstly and then judge and debated much later.
The second Phantasm movie did seem to possibly try to mimic a number of popular bigger horror films around at the time it was released in the mid-to-late eighties which probably lowered the quality and originality though it was still a very fun and entertaining sequel. The first three movies at times do regularly seem to just throw in a good few sequences which aim to just add some crazed horror action, while lacking needed narrative logic but then the series does anchor itself in a strong dream/nightmare and otherworldly extra-dimensional atmosphere which can in ways always excuse this.
I remember thinking that even while not seeing all of the Phantasm movies until now, and before seeing any of them, the video posters and artwork was just so strong and powerful and promised so much in terms of terror and horror on screen, but at least with the the first two in some ways they let me down.
I think that I was possibly hoping for something, another epic and grand series similar to the Hellraiser movies which I also very much adore. While those were initially written and directed by creator Clive Barker,in his distinctive manner, the Phantasm series were impressively and very unusually repeatedly written and directed by Coscarelli, who had a very different but still focused vision in mind.
It can seem frustrating in at least the first two Phantasm movies, that very little is clearly revealed about the origins of the Tall Man, his helpers and the threat they pose. To some viewers that might just equally be pleasingly mysterious and bring them back, ready and waiting for answers next time but others who watch the films could very easily be so frustrated and hellishly confused very quickly.
By the third Phantasm movie, things do change quite a bit-the actual production levels and style of the movie has been brought up, as it was released at arguably a strong commercial height for mainstream horror, especially horror movies which featured clear strong iconic monsters or villains like the Tall Man himself.
Again, at times the plot goes a bit crazy, illogical and silly, while the actual sets, locations and special effects are the best yet in the series, at times genuinely very impressive and cool to witness. Possibly more logical than the second film, a bit funnier, and maybe better writing the third certainly also ends with a last half hour or so of very impressive plotting, finally revealing at least some answers to the continued mysteries of the series.
Finally we have the fourth movie sequel in the series, and it a number of ways it returns pleasingly to the stripped down mystery and atmosphere from the first film. I would say it even in ways definitely redeems the series, and is at times very thoughtfully plotted out. While for the first half hour or so it again follows on right after the previous sequel, it soon very impressively opens up, and challenges what we think we can expect and know about the world of Phantasm. If that is to be the very last movie in the series, then it is most certainly a very admirable final closing chapter.
While often neglected and ignored by many horror fans, viewed as cheap or derivative but as a whole surprisingly influential, entertaining and original this is a series which deserves to be seen by horror fans who like things a little different, unpredictable, weird and nutty.
The Phantasm, films may not always make clear sense, and may irritate or confuse, but they still scare and terrify as good as some of the other recent horror franchise series. Don’t just stick with Freddy, Jason, Pinhead or Jigsaw, look to see just how dangerous and mysterious the Tall Man can be.