Home » Phantasm Retrospective – A Genius Mixture of Horror and Sci-Fi

Phantasm Retrospective – A Genius Mixture of Horror and Sci-Fi

Poster art for Don Coscarelli's Phantasm.
Poster art for Phantasm.

In Phantasm, a small Oregon town joins a growing number of cities that has been taken over by a grave robber known as The Tall Man. Three friends start to suspect that something is awry and begin to look for a correlation between the deaths of the townsfolk and the creepy tall man that lurks around their graveyards. The friends quickly discover The Tall Man’s nefarious plan. He is on a mission to exhume bodies from their graves and reanimate them only to shrink the corpses to half their size and force them into slave labor.

Phantasm is, hands down, one of the best horror films of all time. It is pure genius. The plot is so crazy but so original. The relationships between the characters are so authentic. And the atmosphere is exceptionally creepy.

Phantasm represents Don Coscarelli’s finest work as both a writer and director. He has crafted such a unique story that could have gone totally off the rails and lost the audience but he keeps them interested by only revealing small pieces of the puzzle as the story goes along and leaving a lot to the imagination – even when the film is over. Though the plot-line sounds far-fetched – and is – Coscarelli tells the story in a very captivating way. He has also cleverly worked in a subplot that deals with the brotherly bond between two of the main characters that recently lost their parents. Coscarelli makes their story so relatable that the audience is instantly endeared to them and is steadfastly cheering for their survival.

Don Coscarelli is a jack of all trades: In addition to proving himself as a highly competent writer and director, Don Coscarelli also shows that he is a master cinematographer and editor trough his work on Phantasm. The camerawork and creative angles Coscarelli shoots from add an extra layer of terror and suspense to an already highly jarring feature. The film’s use of creative editing tricks also helps to lend a sense of profound dread to the finished film.

Don Coscarelli did an exceptional job of assembling his cast for Phantasm. A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury are so natural as brothers and Reggie Bannister is absolutely fantastic as ice cream man turned ass-kicker. Angus Scrimm was indisputably the perfect choice to play The Tall Man. The fact that he is six foot six doesn’t hurt, but the real magic that he brings to the role can be found in his mannerisms. His ability to emote without any dialogue to speak of is what makes his performance truly exceptional.

It’s an understatement to say that Phantasm is paced exceptionally well. There are ample chase scenes and legitimate scares to terrify the viewer and keep him or her on the edge of their seat when watching the film. The scares may not be quite as shocking upon repeat viewing but the film still maintains its unsettling qualities no matter how many times one watches it. Also adding to the film’s replay value is the multifaceted nature o the film. There are so many layers to Phantasm that fans of the franchise will likely discover something new each time they watch Phantasm.

Phantasm boasts one of the most underrated scores in horror cinema history. The film came out so close to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween that a lot of people seem to have overlooked the brilliant simplicity of the score. While it reportedly took influence from the work that Goblin did on Argento’s 1970s films, it doesn’t plagiarize any other film score. It is original and terrifying. Phantasm’s score amplifies the dread that the viewer is feeling. And it poignantly accents some of the most frightening scenes in the film. Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave did an impeccable job in their composition and deserve accolades for their efforts.

The effects are absolutely spectacular for the late 1970s. And they are even more impressive given that the film was an independent production. Though the techniques used to create the effects may be dated, they still hold up very well by today’s standards.

If by some chance you haven’t yet seen Phantasm, you must stop what you are doing and watch it now. It is a horror classic and an accomplishment in filmmaking.


Director(s): Don Coscarelli
Writer(s): Don Coscarelli
Stars: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister
Year: 1979
Studio/ Production Co:
Budget: $300,000
Language: English
Length: 89 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Science Fiction infused horror


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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dog, and cat hat(s).
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