Years and years ago, my parents watched Phantasm and due to their very negligent approach to parenting, I watched it at the tender age of 7 or 8. The final scene was responsible for me being terrified to be alone in a room with a mirror for the next five years. Good job, Mom and Dad!
Now that I am a grown adult with only a minor phobia of mirrors, I list Phantasm as one of my favorite horror movies. It stars Mike, a young kid who’s parents died and now he is being raised by his handsome older brother, Jody. Mike is a rightfully obsessed with his only surviving family member and spies on Jody all the time. On one of his spying trips, Mike realizes something is weird with the local cemetery and undertaker, unnamed in the movie and called the Tall Man in the script. The Tall Man puts coffins in the ground but after the ceremony, he picks the coffin up by himself and takes it back to the creepy house that doubles as a crypt.
Mike, being a young kid in the 70’s. investigates like he is Nancy Drew. Along the way he consults the local blind fortuneteller and her granddaughter, breaks into the mortuary, wrestles what looks like a Jawa from Star Wars, nearly gets killed by a flying metal sphere, escapes the Tall Man, and oh yeah, severs some of the Tall Man’s fingers but he bleeds yellow ooze and the fingers keep moving. And then the severed finger turns into a giant bug for some reason and nearly kills him.
If this movie sounds crazy, well, it is. It is wonderfully crazy. Weird shit keeps happening. Most horror movies would have stopped with the flying sphere and the Jawa, but no, Phantasm keeps throwing weird shit at you like a nightmare that won’t give up.
Mike eventually tells his older brother Jody what is going on. They also realize, hey, isn’t Mom and Dad buried there too? What has the Tall Man done with their bodies? The brothers load up with shotguns and get in their cool black muscle car to go avenge their parents.
Hey, that sounds familiar.
Holy shit, Mike and Jody are prototype Sam and Dean Winchesters! Jody is the cool older brother who doesn’t care for feelings but he loves his Mike. Mike is the sensitive younger brother who catches on to things while his older brother is just interested in banging hot blondes!
So, back to the movie. Jody and Mike recruit their friend, Ice Cream Truck driver, Reggie, and go fight the Tall Man and his flying sphere and Jawas. More crazy shit happens. The biggest reveal may be that this isn’t a horror movie, but a science fiction horror movie. Reggie eats it but in the end, the brothers drop the Tall Man down a shaft and they celebrate their victory.
And now I am going to discuss a spoiler. If you have never seen Phantasm, stop now and walk away. Please, go watch the best horror movie and then back to me.
Seen it yet? No, What did I just tell you?
Okay, now you saw it? You’re not just lying are you?
You are lying! Go on, watch it.
Okay, now you have seen it. Tell me how Reggie dies. Okay, I believe you now.
It was all a dream. Mike wakes up, and we see him with Reggie. The entire movie was a dream. Jody died in a car wreck and Reggie is raising Mike now. Reggie tells Mike that it was all a nightmare and that it is perfectly natural to think dream about his dead brother and to make up some sort of monster.
Which is cool and all until the Tall Man snatches Mike through a mirror. Freaking mirrors!
Normally I would be against a “It was all a dream” ending, but for Phantasm, it works so wonderfully well. The whole movie is a nightmare. The Tall Man and his endless powers are perfect for a dream. The way the movie just keeps escalating is typical of a dream as well. The weird gate to another world is typical of a dream shifting tone. It also explains why Mike is always spying on Jody. It’s Mike’s dream and he is clearly following his brother who he knows subconsciously is dead.
Holy crap, Phantasm is a movie about grief. The Tall Man is a personification of Mike’s fears and sorrow. Instead of just another weird horror movie, Phantasm is a thoughtful movie about loss.
Well, right up until the Tall Man appears and snatches awake Mike, but hey, still a damn good movie.