Phantasm (1979)

A year before Mrs. Voorhees (spoiler I guess) started her bloodbath at Crystal Lake, and 5 before d haunting nightmares, another frightening character was killing people and haunting others in their dreams.

The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).

In Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, the Tall Man is a wickedly imposing and frightening figure who stalks our heroes when they stumble onto the truth behind Morningside cemetery and funeral home.

Young Mike (Michael Baldwin) is suffering the loss of his parents, and is being looked after by his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury). He is afraid that Jody will leave him too, and follows him everywhere.

Prevented from going to a funeral with Jody and his pal Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the coolest, balding, ice cream truck driver ever, Mike waits in the cemetery. It’s here that he catches glimpses of tiny robed dwarf-like figures running about, and finally, and imposing Tall Man, who levers a full coffin practically single-handed.

In what must seem to Jody as a cry for attention from his younger brother, Mike tells him everything he’s seen. But Jody doesn’t believe him.

So Jody returns to the cemetery and funeral home, only to be stalked through the halls by the Tall Man, and flying, killer, silver spheres. He finally gets his evidence, one of the Tall Man’s severed fingers, and convinces Jody that something very odd is going on.

With Reggie’s help, the three of them work to uncover the mystery of Morningside.

The film walks a fine balance, dealing with actual issues like loss and abandonment, while delving into horror, and even a little science fiction. The dream sequences are creepy, and a lot fun, as the Tall Man stalks the two brothers in reality and dreams

The Tall Man is a wonderfully iconic threat and villain, Scrimm’s delivery of his sparse dialogue is grating and bone-chilling, and his plan, if one can believe it, is truly frightening, because it means that at Morningside, even death isn’t a release.

Yes, some of the film is hokey, but if you can buy into it, the film is a lot of fun, and inspired three sequels.

There is also some lovely framing of images and moments, a perfectly framed shot featuring Mike in the foreground, while further back, down the hall, stands the Tall Man, both of them framed by the long walls of the funeral home.

And long before It frightened me with still pictures coming to life, Coscarelli shows us that the Tall Man has been in town for awhile.

Not only did Coscarelli direct the film, he also served as it’s writer, as well as the writer for its sequels.

If you haven’t seen it, and you’re looking for something a little different… this may be exactly what you are looking for, a combination of magic and the supernatural, horror and science fiction.

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