For the next 31 days, we here at Adamantium Bullet will be reviewing one horror flick a day leading up to Halloween. Each one will be horrific, terrifying, chilling, pulse-pounding, or flat-out awful. All endured in honor of the season. Expect SPOILERS. Welcome to Adamantium Bullet’s 31 DAYS OF HORROR.
PLOT: Two brothers (Bill Thornbury, A. Michael Baldwin) and a local ice cream man (Reggie Bannister) discover that their local mortuary hides a legion of hooded killer dwarf creatures, a flying drill-ball, and the demonic mortician known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who enslaves the souls of the damned.
BODY COUNT: 10, but since this is PHANTASM, the BODY COUNT is going to be all over the place. Some characters die and then come back later, others die and come back in the sequels, one dies and we find out later he was replaced, and damn near everybody who dies comes back as a pissed-off Jawa/Minion/Dwarf. It’s all very confusing, but here goes: The Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester) stabs both Tommy (Bill Cone) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) in the chest, but only Tommy actually dies, while Reggie appears to die and then comes back via the power of the unexpected “It was all a dream …or was it?” twist ending.
The Fortune Teller’s Granddaughter (Terrie Kalbus) dies off-screen. Maybe. Reggie says in the finale that he saved a bunch of girls off-screen, so one of those girls could’ve been her, but, since the audience doesn’t get to see his heroism, were counting the granddaughter in the BODY COUNT. Jody (Bill Thornbury) shoots a Jawa/Minion/Dwarf four times, and another is impaled on a tree branch. The Silver Sphere is shot dead after sucking The Caretaker’s (Ken Jones) brains out. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) dies in an explosion, and, later, comes back only to fall down a mine shaft, but neither of these incidents actually kill him …or do they? Later installments in the phran-chise reveal there are multiple Tall Men …so maybe these are kills if you incorporate info gleaned from the entire mythos? Maybe?? We don’t know. We’re just counting on-screen kills. Lastly, Jody dies off-screen in a car accident, and Michael is presumed dead (until the sequel) after Jawa/Minion/Dwarves pull him into a mirror.
MOST MEMORABLE KILL: The Silver Sphere drilling into the head of The Caretaker and spitting his brains out is one of the most iconic horror kills ever. There’s no way we’re not giving it MOST MEMORABLE KILL.
NAKEDNESS: Five seconds of toplessness from Kathy Lester and a brief bit of skin from Bill Thornbury.
SIGNATURE MOMENT: There are so many SIGNATURE MOMENTS in PHANTASM that is a little hard just to choose one. So, that said, we are not going to choose just one. Here’s a shortlist of the signature stuff: Everything the The Tall Man does, everything the Lady in Lavender does, everything the the Silver Sphere does, the scary-as-f*ck Jawa/Minion/Dwarves, the ’71 Plymouth Barracuda made to look like a Hemi Cuda, Reggie, Morningside Cemetery, the Mausoleum/Mortuary, the Fortune Teller and her DUNE box trick, Jody’s speech (“Now, remember: you don't aim a gun at a man unless you intend to shoot him. And, you don't shoot a man unless you intend to kill him. No warning shots. Hey, you listening to me? No warning shots. Warning shots are bullshit. You shoot to kill, or you don't shoot at all.”), Michael spying on the Tall Man, the score, the direction. Honestly, the whole damn movie is a SIGNATURE MOMENT. Horror films don’t get more memorable than PHANTASM.
IDIOT MOMENT: Michael isn’t exactly the smartest horror hero ever. He investigates Morningside at night, when he should be doing that sh*t during the day. Yes, during the day means he would be more visible, but who in their right mind goes to check out a spooky funeral home alone in the middle of the night? Ugh. When working on the Cuda, he stays underneath it when the Jawa/Minion/Dwarves are clearly about to drop it on him. UGH. Lastly, he doesn’t call the cops or tell anyone other than Jody and Reg about The Tall Man. In a situation like this, you’re gonna need more back-up than your guitar-playing “Hey man, just be cool” brother and the local ice cream guy. You need the cops. You need the Army. You need the cops, the Army, the Marines, not the Navy, maybe the Air Force, and an exorcist!
“WTF?!?” MOMENT: The iconic Silver Sphere is only on-screen for about a minute.
USELESS KNOWLEDGE: The genesis of the story came to Don Coscarelli in a dream. One night, being in his late teens, he dreamed of fleeing down endlessly long marble corridors, pursued by a chrome sphere intent on penetrating his skull with a wicked needle. There was also a quite futuristic "sphere dispenser" out of which the orbs would emerge and begin chase.
> Don Coscarelli rented all of the filming equipment used to make this movie, always on Fridays so he could use it all weekend and return it on Mondays, all the while only actually having to pay one day's rental on the equipment.
> Although being very tall, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, Angus Scrimm wore suits several sizes smaller and boots with lifts inside that added 3 inches to his height.
> The mansion used for the exterior shots of the mausoleum was also seen BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and A VIEW TO A KILL (1985).
> Don Coscarelli took the title "Phantasm" from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It is a term frequently used by Poe in his writings.
> The "ball" scenes were simple special effects. The sphere was thrown from behind the camera by a baseball pitcher and then the shot was printed in reverse. The ball attaching itself to the man's head was filmed by sticking it on his head, then pulling it off, and printing the shot in reverse.
> This film's original running time was more than three hours, but writer/ director Don Coscarelli decided that that was far too long for it to hold people's attention and made numerous cuts to the film. Some of the unused footage was located in the late 1990s and became the framework for PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION. The rest of the footage is believed to be lost.
> The coffin that Mike sees the Tall Man lift by himself and shove back into the hearse was made out of balsa wood, empty, and had a rope on the side facing away from the camera to make it easier to handle. The rope can be briefly seen as the Tall Man lifts up the coffin.
> The 1971 Plymouth Barracuda was chosen because Don Coscarelli remembered a guy in high school had one, and was a little envious of him. A Barracuda was made to look like the Hemi 'Cuda. Though in one scene you can see the designation of 440-6 on the hood. Indicating the car had a 440, with a "six pack" (3 two-barrel carburetors).Bill Thornbury then took the car to a friend of his and had it custom striped so it felt like it was really his car. The true purpose of the car was so the brothers Mike and Jody could have a means of bonding. In fact, A. Michael Baldwin learned to drive in that car, he was only 14 at the time! After the movie was finished, the car was sold, and to this day nobody is sure what really happened to it. As a result the black Hemi 'Cuda became just as much of a hallmark to the series as the chrome spheres.
> The song Ace of Spades (1980) by Motorhead was released the year after PHANTASM and is reported to have its origins in the film. At a New York screening of the movie Lemmy was heard to have muttered that Mike's head looked like the ace of spades and then spent much of the rest of the film writing out the lyrics in a notepad. He used the pencil that had been given to him earlier that day by David Soul.
> The idea to create the film came about when Reggie Bannister approached Don Coscarelli with the idea to adapt Ray Bradbury's novel, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, which was to star A. Michael Baldwin and Dan McCann from Coscarell’s previous film KENNY & COMPANY. However, the two learned that very week that Bradbury had sold the novel's rights to Disney, and so Coscarelli sought an idea for a similar type of project.
> J.J. Abrams, co-writer and director of STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS, revealed in an interview published in Entertainment Weekly that he came up with the name of the Captain Phasma character after seeing its chrome design: "It reminded me of the ball in Phantasm."
> The alien dwarves bear a strong resemblance to the Jawas from STAR WARS, but the film and the design for the dwarves were already completed before STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE was released.
> The film was originally rated X by the MPAA because of the famous silver sphere sequence, and because of the man urinating on the floor after falling down dead. Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin made a phone call in a favor to a friend on the board. Thanks to him, Phantasm was downgraded from the original dreaded X-rating to a more acceptable R. Champlin's positive review was quoted on the film's promotional posters.
> All of the USELESS KNOWLEDGE was provided by IMDB.