Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Kathy Lester, Terrie Kalbus, Ken Jones, Susan Harper, Lynn Eastman, David Arntzen, Ralph Richmond, Bill Cone, Laura Mann, Mary Ellen Shaw, Myrtle Scotton
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 88
Date: 01/01/1979

Phantasm (1979)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ball & Slain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For some reason, this cult classic has never really garnered the love attributed to other classics of 1970s horror, like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and Halloween -- perhaps because its heroes/victims are all men instead of the traditional women.

Young teen Mike (Michael Baldwin) lives with his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) after the deaths of their parents. Mike constantly worries that Jody, who was once a touring musician, will take off without him (he even visits a medium to assuage his fears). Jody's friend Reg (Reggie Bannister), a musician/ice cream man, occasionally stops by to jam. Mike begins visiting the local graveyard and sees odd things, such as the tall mortician (the appropriately-named Angus Scrimm) single-handedly lifting a coffin into a hearse, little hooded creatures (resembling demonic Jawas) running around, and a silver ball that flies through the air, attaches itself to people's faces and sprays their blood everywhere.

Writer/director Don Coscarelli made this with very little money but with plenty of imagination (the 30 year-old visual effects still look great). He keeps raising the stakes without ever fully explaining how or why these weird things happen. It's more curious than it is scary, but very much worth looking for. Coscarelli made three sequels as well as The Beastmaster (1982) and Bubba Ho-Tep (2003). See also: Phantasm III (1994).

Anchor Bay re-released Phantasm in a 2007 special edition DVD loaded with commentary tracks, interviews, trailers, featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. The transfer is a bit fuzzy, but I suspect the source material didn't leave much room for improvement. The movie received a theatrical re-release in 2016. The subsequent Blu-ray edition from Well Go USA seems to have all the same extras, but the picture and sound is much improved. It also includes a bonus DVD, and a few bonus trailers.

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