Two brothers discover that their local mortuary hides a legion of hooded killer dwarf-creatures, a flying silver sphere of death, and is home to the sinister mortician known only as the Tall Man. This nefarious undertaker enslaves the souls of the damned and in the process his character has entered the pantheon of classic horror villains.
"You play a good game boy, but the game is finished, now you die."
- The Tall Man
When it comes to the Phantasm films, one must be able to enjoy many different genres mashed into one. Of course, the main genre is horror, but there is also elements of science-fiction, a touch comedy and a hefty serving of B-movie cheese factor. These together set a scene of suspense and hilarity that should be cherished by all film lovers.
We follow young Michael Pearson and his older brother Jody after Michael witnesses the local mortician pick up a 600 pound casket (containing their recently deceased friend), throw it into the back of his hearse (instead of burying it) and taking it to his funeral parlor for unknown reasons. Young Michael tries his hardest to convince his brother that something is not right at the parlor but his cries of concern fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the mortician, known only as "The Tall Man", continues a bizarre ritual of transforming into an attractive blonde female and murdering young men for an unknown purpose. During one of these "hunts for bodies" the transformed Tall Man lures Michael's brother Jody to the local cemetery for some nookie. As Michael watches from the nearby woods.... prepare for it.... a midget in a robe runs by him, causing him to run through the cemetery like a man who just had his dick hacked off. And this is where the REAL strangeness begins.
Michael decides to investigate the old funeral parlor and discovers the place is patrolled by a strange chrome ball (about the size of a softball) which kills its victims by drilling into their skull and spitting their brain matter out onto the floor. After being discovered by "The Tall Man", a foot pursuit ensues which ends with Michael taking a knife to the old mans hand, severing his fingers and revealing a thick yellow goo as the mans blood.
What is happening up at the old funeral parlor? I'll save that for you to discover. It's a shocker.
The acting is 50/50. Some scenes are well done while others cause spontaneous laughter. Best performance goes to Angus Scrimm who plays the villain "The Tall Man." His performance was superb. The storyline leaves you confused through the first half of the film, but soon begins explaining itself and sparking more interest from the viewer. Visually, there isn't much effects used until the end of the film, where late 70's pixely graphics come into play, which were well fixed in the Special Edition DVD.
There are good aspects to this film and there are the bad, but it comes down to a pretty solid performance. How else would this film become a cult classic of epic proportions?
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- The mansion used for the exterior shots of the mausoleum was also seen in the James Bond film A View to a Kill.
- Sequels to the Phantasm films are made in comic book form.
- Don Coscarelli's and Reggie Bannister's parents can all be seen as extras in the funeral scene.
- The gnomes were played by children.
- The "ball" scenes were simple special effects. The sphere was being guided around a corner by a fishing line. 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.
- The stone-looking interior of the mausoleum was actually constructed of plywood and marble colored plastic contact paper.
- The title was changed to "The Never Dead" for Australian audiences as not to confuse it with the popular Aussie sex comedy Fantasm.
- 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 copyright date shown during the closing credits of this film says MCMLXXVII (1977).
- 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.
- 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.
- The film's Turkish title, "MANYAK", translates to "Psycho".
- Filmed at the same mansion location used in Little Girls Blue.
- 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 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.
- To get the inspiration needed , Don Coscarelli spent a couple of weeks in an isolated cabin at the mountains outside Los Angeles while writing the script.
- Don Coscarelli got the idea of The Tall Man's living severed finger while drinking from a cup of plastic. He punched his finger through the bottom and started moving it. He loved the visual effect of it and decided to include it in the story.
- 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 role of Jody Pearson was originally intended for performer Gregory Harrison who played the title role in Don Coscarelli's first feature Jim the World's Greatest.
- The song played on the front porch by Reggie and Jody, 'Sittin' Here At Midnight', was actually composed by Bill Thornbury himself.
- The spheres were designed by craftsman Willard Green who charged the production a little over $1,100 for his services. Sadly, he died just after production completed and never saw his work on the big screen.
- At the scene near the end when Reggie comes out of the funeral home, the production installed a wind machine with a huge fan blowing to create the effect of a very strong wind. As a joke, A. Michael Baldwin started throwing stones in front of the fan, that went to hit Reggie Bannister and Kathy Lester several times.
- The film was originally rated X by the MPAA because of the famous silver sphere sequence. 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.
- Don Coscarelli's mother, novelist Kate Coscarelli, held several titles on the production such as production designer, make-up artist and costume designer.
- Co-Producer Paul Pepperman approached Angus Scrimm at a sneak preview of Kenny & Company and told him that Don Coscarelli had written a role for him in his next production. When informed that he would be playing an alien, Scrimm became very excited and immediately asked to know what country his character would hail from. Pepperman said: "He's not from another country, he's from another world."
- There are several references to Frank Herbert's Dune, including a bar named "Dune" and a scene where Mike is forced to insert his hand into a black box that inflicts pain as part of a test.