Phantasm (film)

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Phantasm is a series of horror films written and directed by Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep).

An evil supernatural being known as the Tall Man travels from small town to small town, leaving devastation in his wake. Posing as an undertaker, he steals dead bodies and transforms them into dwarf-like zombie slaves, nicknamed 'lurkers'. Pursuing him are the only ones who might stop him: a troubled young man named Mike, an aging, balding ice cream vendor named Reggie, and the few allies they find along the way.

To date, four films have been made, the most popular being the 1979 original, which remains a Cult Classic admired for its atmosphere and originality. With Phantasm II in 1988, the series shifted away from quiet, creepy horror, giving the heroes some cool weapons and upping the excitement. 1994's Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is more of the same with added comedy, while 1998's Phantasm IV: Oblivion is a lot more subdued, and takes time to explore (if not explain) things hitherto unexplored in the series, such as the possible origins of the Tall Man.

It is fair to say that the rules of cool and scary are the guiding principles of the series. Bellisario's Maxim probably applies. While a coherent plot would have been nice, the films are entertaining enough and brimming with such memorable horrors - the ex-human lurkers, the brain-drilling flying spheres, Angus Scrimm playing the magnificently frightening Tall Man himself - that it hardly matters.

Tropes used in Phantasm (film) include:

The Tall Man: "Cut me down!"
Michael: "No!"
The Tall Man: "I won't hurt you."
Michael: "You're killing the world!"
The Tall Man: "I'll go away... and I won't ever come back." [gives mischievous grin]
Michael: "You will?"
The Tall Man: "Yes."

  • Bloody Hilarious: Especially the third film, where the gore is mostly played for laughs.
  • Body Horror: The Liz Creature from the second film and the living, twisted body in the trunk from the fourth film.
  • Bond One-Liner: Reggie: "Wow, some cops can be real assholes!" He also has some delightfully cheesy Pre-Mortem One-Liners.
  • Brick Joke: The entire series has one big one regarding Reggie and whether or not he believes the Tall Man exists. In the first movie, he believes Jody and Mike and even decides then and there to kill him. Then later on when Mike wakes up, the events of the movie are dismissed as a bad dream. In the second movie, which picks up where the first movie leaves off, Reggie believes again at first, only to dismiss the events as yet another bad dream and delusions from Mike. When Tall Man kills his family, Reggie is no longer a skeptic and this lasts well into the third and fourth movie. The fifth movie brings it full circle by hinting that all the events are the result of of an older Reggie's dementia. Making it darkly funny that after all the movies spent on Reggie going back and forth on his skepticism, now he's the one trying to tell Mike the Tall Man is real.
  • Catch Phrase: "Booooooyyyyyyyy!!!"
  • Chainsaw Good: In the second film, Reggie has a chainsaw duel with a Gas Mask Mook.
  • Cool Car: The series has a reputation for blowing these up.
  • Cool Gate: The gates that the Tall Man uses for transportation.
  • Credits Gag: "...and the wrath of The Tall Man."
  • The Creepy Undertaker: The Tall Man in the first Phantasm.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: How the Spheres deal with their victims, by impaling themselves into the forehead and then drilling between the eyes, the blood spurting out from the Sphere's other side. Sounds painful.
    • The death of one of the assistant morticians in the second film. The Gold Sphere hits him right in the back and proceeds to drill right into his body, the mortician writing in agony, until it tries to leaves through his mouth but gets jammed in his jaws.
  • The Danza: A. Michael Baldwin as Mike and Reggie Bannister as Reggie.
  • Destructo-Nookie: Reggie and Alchemy have a more subdued one in Phantasm 2. During the sex it's clear that she's stronger than him and with some discomfort, Reg was enjoying every second of it. Her strength was the first clue that she was not only a corpse come to life, but one of the Tall Man's forms in disguise.
  • Death by Sex: Tommy in the first film. And poor Reggie comes close on a few occasions.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina: The ending of the first three movies.
  • Dirty Old Man: Reggie.
  • Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Reggie Bannister sang and wrote the lyrics for "Have You Seen It?", the rock song that plays over the end credits of the fourth film.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Liz and Tim.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The true form of the Tall Man is implicated as being some kind of Cosmic Horror that is anchored in another dimension.
    • In Phantasm 4, sweet old man Jebediah Morningside walks into his prototype Dimensional Gate... and something else wearing his skin comes back. This dialogue best illustrates it:

Mike: *as Jebediah Morningside steps through the prototype Dimensional Gate* When's he coming back?
Jody: Jebediah Morningside never does come back.
*The Tall Man steps back through the gate, Sentinel in hand.*

Reggie: We better move away from the car before the gasoline blows.
Jennifer: Wait! I thought cars only blew up like that in the movies!
[Car explodes in a huge fireball]
Reggie: Yeah, me too.

  • Executive Meddling: This is one reason why the second film is more straightforward, faster paced and altogether a more conventional horror film than its predecessor.
  • Fake Shemp: Mike's face isn't shown in the first part of the second film, as he was clearly played by a different child actor. For the rest of the film Mike is played by James LeGros, see The Other Darrin below.
  • Failure Is the Only Option
  • Fingore: The Tall Man's hand gets caught by a slammed door in the first film, then gets its fingers cut off when Mike realizes the trapped hand is there, and still moving. So were the amputated fingers. At least until one turned into an evil alien bug. Did we mention that this is one weird flick?
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The Gravers.
  • Gender Bender: In the first movie and possibly the second, the Tall Man seems able to transform himself into a gorgeous woman, doing so to lure people in for to be killed. And it was poor Reggie in both films!
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the first film, Mike clearly mouths the words "What the fuck?" after seeing the Tall Man easily lift a heavy casket, although only the soundtrack is heard.
  • Ghost Town: Any town that the Tall Man has visited.
  • Go Into the Light: Mike is somewhat discouraged from doing so in the third film when he sees the Tall Man waiting for him there.
  • Groin Attack: With a chainsaw in Phantasm II.
  • Hand in the Hole: A likely Shout Out to Dune in the first film. Mike is instructed by the daughter of the local blind witch to put his hand in a black box which inflicts pain on him, thus teaching him that fear is the mind killer. Mike utilizes this knowledge at the end of the film, trying not to fear The Tall Man.
  • Heavyworlder: The lurkers.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Tall Man.
  • Human Resources: The Tall Man uses stolen corpses for two purposes; the bodies are compressed and reanimated as Lurkers; the brains are compressed and reanimated as operators of the Spheres.
  • Life or Limb Decision: Happens to one of the Tall Man's mortuary assistants in the second film.
  • I'm Melting: The Tall Man's "death" in the second film.
  • Implacable Man: The Tall Man who simply can't be stopped. Destroy him completely and another identical one will step out of the portal and finish where he left off.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: The Tall Man's silver spheres. They're essentially flying Swiss Army knives of doom.
    • Even more so with the gold spheres, which have "positron lasers", 3 blades that look like serrated can-opener blades, and dual circular saws.
    • Reggie's quadruple-barreled shotgun counts as this. It consists of two double-barreled shotguns connected together via their mechanisms to create a four barreled masterpiece.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Though little Mike is nearly killed by the Tall Man in the first movie, Phantasm II has Reggie's family, including his young daughter, killed after the Tall Man blows up their house, and Phantasm III has Tim taken and likely killed by one of Tall Man's Lurkers.
  • Kill It with Ice: Cold is one of the few forces proven to incapacitate the Tall Man, if only temporarily.
  • Mind Screw: How much of it is deliberate and how much is Coscarelli making it up as he goes along is unclear.
  • Mirror Scare: The first film contains a classic example.
  • Mugging the Monster A rare human example. In Phantasm Ravager, Reggie loses the Cuda and tries to hitchhike his way back to the nearest town. A Cuda conveniently comes across him and picks him up. Reggie doesn't notice it at first, due to being weary from the walk, but realizes that it's Jody's Cuda and the man driving it stole it while he was looking for Mike. He makes small talk about owning a Cuda like this. Only his has a handgun in the console. The thief takes the bait and opens the console in an attempt to kill Reggie and keep the car. However he finds nothing. Only for Reggie to reveal that he lied and that the gun was in the glove box. Which he promptly opens, points at the thief and tells him to get out.

Reggie: Oh, that's right. It was in the glove box. GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY CAR!!

  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: The Tall Man. Though, to be fair, the extent of his powers is never made clear.
    • The "Sentinel Spheres" (silver spheres) seem to do this on occasion. It's unknown exactly if different spheres have different weapons and other equipment (such as the "eye stalk sphere"), or if they're all flying Swiss army knives of death.
      • Most noticeably, the Jody Sphere is able to shift into Jody's form, while the other spheres have to be embedded in a body to pass as human.
    • There's also Mike, where he first seemed to have a psychic link with Liz and the Tall Man in the second film before in the fourth film having Tall Man-like powers.
  • Nice Hat: Jody's derby hat he wears while playing "Sitting Here at Midnight".
  • Nocturnal Mooks: The lurkers.
  • Ominous Walk: The Tall Man apparently carries marble floor with him just so he can use this trope.
  • Once Per Episode: Someone must have decided that since the original film ends with Mike being pulled through a mirror by lurkers, each sequel should end with something similar befalling a character or characters, whether or not it makes sense. Only the fourth film breaks with this tradition.
  • The Other Darrin: Executive Meddling replaced A. Michael Baldwin with James LeGros for the second film; Baldwin returned to the role of Mike in the third film.
  • Our Zombies Are Different
  • Portal Cut: In the third film, the Tall Man is reaching through one of his dimensional gates when Reggie shuts it off, slicing them off where they then mutate into alien scorpion-like creatures that attack the protagonists.
  • Reality Warper: The Tall Man.
  • Retcon: It's pretty damned hard to figure out which parts of the end of one film you're supposed to accept as canon when watching the next in the series. Characters who clearly died are suddenly alive again, others just drop off the face of the earth, etc.
    • It doesn't help that all events in the series up to and including the first 10-15 minutes of the second film were All Just a Dream. It is uncertain how much - if any - of the first film actually happened, and beyond a few broad hints what the real events unfolded like. Then when the fourth film starts flashing back to footage from the original that wasn't actually included in the film...yep, the Phantasm series is a little screwy.
  • Running Gag: Every car explodes when it crashes. (See Every Car Is a Pinto above.)
  • Save Scumming: A rare Film example. It's how The Tall Man keeps coming back. Subverted in the fourth film when Jody teaches Mike how to do it... but he isn't nearly as good at it as The Tall Man is.
  • The Seventies: The cars, slang, hairstyles, and especially the clothes from the first film. Reggie though seems to be still stuck there, given his lifestyle and slang.
  • Shaky POV Cam
  • Shout Out: In Phantasm II, an undertaker is seen filling a bag labeled "Mr. Sam Raimi" with ashes. This may also be a Stealth Pun on Ash from Raimi's Evil Dead films.
  • Shown Their Work: In the funeral home infiltration scene in the first movie, Jody decides to carry his Colt 1911 with a round chambered but the hammer in the down position. When a lurker drops onto his back, he has to manually cock the hammer to start shooting at it, which is how a 1911 works in real life.
  • Spirit Advisor: Jody to Mike and Reggie.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Liz.
  • Super Strength: The Tall Man, who despite his frail (yet imposing) frame, has demonstrated strength of the Neck Lift, Barrier-Busting Blow, and Hoist Hero Over Head varieties. As a matter of fact, one of the first clues that there was something odd about the Creepy Mortician skulking around the local cemetery was Mike witnessing him heave a loaded casket into the back of a hearse. With one arm.
  • This Is a Drill: The silver spheres kill by drilling into the brain and spitting the blood out the end.
  • Undignified Death; The caretaker in the first film. Not only is he the first Sphere kill in the films but he then urinates himself all over the floor when he hits the ground.
  • Unflinching Walk: At the beginning of Phantasm II, Reggie turns off the pilot lights on the gas stove in an effort to incinerate the Tall Man's minions. After a harrowing escape with Mike in tow, they leap out a window just in time to get clear of the massive explosion. The Tall Man merely glances backwards at the flaming building, then continues after the pair.
  • Was Once a Man: Both the lurkers and, seemingly, the spheres and the Tall Man, himself.
  • Wham! Line: At the end of the first film... Mike is in his room - he closes the closet door to reveal the Not Quite Dead Tall Man standing behind him.


    • At the end of the second film too, courtesy of the Tall Man once again.
    • The Tall Man is good at these. From the end of the third film:

Reggie: (to Tim) Run kid, get out of here! It's over!
The Tall Man: It's never over.

  • What Could Have Been: Another sequel was planned, starring Bruce Campbell and taking place in a future America overrun by the Tall Man's minions. We haven't heard much about this project for, oh, about a decade.
    • Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of Mike in Phantasm II.
  • White Void Room: The portal rooms.
  • With Catlike Tread: Subverted. Mike carefully sneaks up to the funeral home in the middle of the night, and then noisily smashing a window to get in.
  • Zombie Mooks