I’ve been unwell for the past few days. Strange coloured substances have emanated from me. It has been unpleasant for all involved.
Generally, I don’t “do” sickness. It’s just not my style. But this time, I had no choice in the matter.
There were some upsides, though. One upside was that I spent a good deal of time in the spacey, nonsensical world of Fever. Trying to hold meaningful conversations is difficult when you’ve lost your grasp on things such as cause and effect, temporal logic and coherent speech. However, it does make for interesting perspectives on any films that you watch.
Given that I felt bad, I opted to return to a place of childhood safety and comfort. Namely, I returned to the world of Phantasm. The four Phantasm films (created and directed by Don Coscarelli, who also directed such indie classics as Bubba Hotep and The Beastmaster) were produced from 1979 to 1997. They each centre on the nefarious activities of a mysterious individual known only as The Tall Man and his ongoing conflicts with Mike Pearson and ice cream vendor, Reggie. Complete with enslaved undead dwarves, graverobbers and floating bocce balls that drill into your skull and suck your brains out – this series has everything that the non-discerning B-grade film lover could want.
Just like Jaws 2 and the Empire Strikes Back, Phantasm II is one of those rare sequels that is better than the first film (although the soundtrack is not as good). Unfortunately, it all slides downhill from there and Phantasm IV: Oblivion is little more than a hodge-podge of scenes from the earlier films that are loosely tied together by a flimsy storyline.
As I said, this is decidedly B-grade stuff. Nevertheless, the Phantasm series has a lot to offer. Firstly, it’s actually pretty well shot and edited (especially the first two films). The acting is solid and the scripting (especially in the first film) is tight and natural. In fact, it is only the substance of the film that makes it B-grade – in all other respects, Phantasm I and Phantasm II are good films.
Furthermore, the character of The Tall Man (played with understated sincerity by Angus Scrimm) is schlock horror genius. He is not your typical butcher’s knife wielding, strange costume wearing, mute, anti-promiscuous B-grade villain. There’s no trace of Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger about him. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single scene where he actually, personally, kills anyone. And, yet, he possesses a certain intensity that is intriguing to watch.
Sure, there’s some laughable stuff in this series. Climactic endings get played down and “fixed” at the start of the next film to allow for continuation of the story. The ambiguity of the post-apocalyptic setting. The obligatory “car-drives-off-road-and-flips-in-air-then-explodes” scenes of each film. But, generally, these features are consciously constructed in the film and even reach the point of being in-jokes.
Whilst never attaining the same level of cult following that other video nasties such as The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2 achieved, the Phantasm series is clearly of the same ilk. If not for Bruce Campbell’s outstanding body-acting skills (think about the “possessed hand” scene in Evil Dead 2), Phantasm may well have been regarded as the better film of the period. In fact, there’s a little in-joke about this in Phantasm 2. If you look closely at the scene where one of The Tall Man’s helpers is putting human ashes into a plastic bag you will note that the label on the bag reads: Sam Raimi (the writer and director of The Evil Dead series).
So, if your feeling sick and feverish, why not make things a little more pleasant. Pick up the Phantasm series and realise that things could be a bit worse.