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Phantasm (MGM vs. AB UK vs. AB)
03-21-2007, 12:07 AM
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Review Date: March 20, 2007
Released by: MGM, Anchor Bay (UK), Anchor Bay
Release date: 9/28/1998, 10/31/2005, 4/10/2007
MSRP: $19.98 (OOP), £14.99, $19.98
Region 1 NTSC (MGM, Anchor Bay), Region 2 PAL (Anchor Bay UK)
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: No (MGM) | 16x9: Yes (Anchor Bay UK, Anchor Bay)
phantasm: the delusion of a disordered mind. a phantom. a spirit. a ghost.
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Although text culled from the trailer for Lord of the Dead, these fateful words sum up the mystic that is Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Is it reality? Is it a dream? Who is the Tall Man? A ghost? An alien? What? There are a lot of unanswered questions in Phantasm, but that is part of the charm, and part of its legacy. Funny that there are so many unanswered questions, considering the film has had a very supplement-rich life on home video. The laserdisc was stacked, the MGM DVD was stacked, the Anchor Bay UK box set was stacked, and now, so too, is this new “Anchor Bay Collection” entry for Region 1. Does this release answer the questions we’ve always wanted to know, or is it just more of the same goodness we’ve been getting for years? Boyyyyyyyyy, I sure hope the former.
Summarizing Phantasm is like trying to describe a Dali painting. You can try, but it will probably just confuse matters worse. So we have a trashy looking guy getting his rocks off in a cemetery on the opening frame. He is with the “lady in lavender” (whose name is never mentioned audibly). The scene climaxes, yep, with the lady driving more than just lavender into his heart. Cut to the funeral, where his friends and family gather. Among them are brothers Mike (Michael Baldwin) and Jody Pearson (Bill Thornbury) and the local ice cream truck driver, Reggie (Reggie Bannister). While Jody and Reggie mourn, little Mikey camps out in the graveyard with a set of binoculars. There he sees a lumbering old man with sparse gray hair carrying an entire casket as if it were balsa wood (oops…it is!). Away goes their friend’s body, and away goes Mike’s overactive imagination.
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Mikey begins to see The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), as he is now famously dubbed, everywhere he go. He sees him power walking down main street, in mirrors, in dreams and in that big marble mortuary. One day Michael wanders into the mortuary, where hundreds of cadavers are stored in tidy roll out drawers. It appears that instead of being buried, the dead are instead brought here, where they become henchmen of sorts to The Tall Man. Apparently he controls the underworld, Beelzebub with bad hair, and because the gravity is so severe in death land, all his slaves are shrunk by the gravity. This somewhat explains then, why Michael and Jody are occasionally pursued by cloaked midgets from time to time.
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The glass ball though, is a whole other beast altogether. Suffice to say, it floats around the mortuary, stabs the head of its victims, and then drills for bloody gold. It’s all about perception though it seems, since Michael learns from a prophet that pain is a subconscious manifestation that can be trumped. It’s all, like, spiritual, man. So what follows is a series of attacks and pursuits by The Tall Man and his merry men, while Michael, Jody and Reggie all try to get a handle on the madness that is Phantasm.
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Shot on weekends over a number of years, Phantasm is one of those movies with a never-ending slough of crazy, unconnected ideas. Most of the scenes don’t really connect well together – you get the feeling that each scene was shot on a weekend, and then forgot about the next. One minute you have The Tall Man falling into a pit of hell, and then the next you have Reggie and Jody in a jam session. To the casual viewer, or any staunch critic of the film, this will be passed off as amateur sloppiness. Coscarelli, a wunderkind at only 23 when production started, had already had two films under his belt, and more than understood the parameters of his story. His allusions to Salvador Dali and to surrealism in the supplements further prove that while the film may be chaotic, it was a planned confusion, and not one brought out of incompetence. For how else could so many great and memorable images be fused forever on celluloid?
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Considering the plot is hardly linear and more or less just a series of horror set-pieces, the film could certainly be mistaken for a Terror in the Aisles-like compilation of effective seventies scares. But it’s all in one movie, and it has a purpose. Going back to that opening “phantasm” definition, the meaning of the film becomes somewhat clear. This is the journey into the psychosis of a small boy, where in the shadows, late at night, the silhouette of a tree branch can suddenly elicit a compendium of fears. As a kid you’d swear it was all real, and hey, in Phantasm it just might be. To explain any further would give away some pretty weighty plot points, but revelations at the end certainly through some weighty steel balls in the air in terms of perception and reality.
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Like the finest documents of surrealism, this moves without a grounding thread, but at such a fast clip that the confusion never becomes an obstacle. Phantasm is one wild psychological ride, like Suspiria if you were to replace the handsome Udo Kier with a bald, mulletted Reggie Bannister. Reggie, who would later become the star of the series and an unexpected horror icon, is probably weirder as a character than the film as a logical whole. Today, his bald, ponytail wearing, guitar playing, ice cream selling musician would be construed as a pedophile along the lines of say Little Children, but Coscarelli has the tact to take the man at face value. Reggie is just as simple man with a good heart, and the quite pathos Coscarelli gives him, especially in the final moments, makes him one of least-likely sympathizers in the entire genre. Even though the film is ultimately about the relationship between Michael and Jody, it is Bannister that gives the film its heart. Big claims, especially considering the film is renowned for its soulless Tall Man.
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Let’s not sell the Scrimm short though. With that menacing stare and the iconic bellowing of “Boyyyyyyyy”, Angus Scrimm created one of horror’s finest villains. Classier than Freddy, and with more personality than Jason, he was sort of the happy medium between the other two big 80’s horror icons. Still though, that scene of Reggie Bannister and Bill Thornbury just jamming out on their doorstep resonates more. Like some amazingly personal window into these guys’ lives in the midst of a surrealist horror experiment. A big, long nightmare or a close personal drama, Phantasm is all of the above, and all the better for it. It is truly a one of a kind work in the genre, and even if the sequels would shortchange the metaphysical questions in exchange for action, its impact will be forever left on the genre. It’s one of the greats.
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Phantasm has had three major releases on DVD. The first was from MGM, a port of the special edition laserdisc, and as a 1999 release was sadly non-anamorphic. It went anamorphic in the UK with Anchor Bay’s silver ball release, and now finally, in Region 1, Phantasm is 16x9 thanks to Anchor Bay. This new Region 1 disc is not merely a port of the Region 2; it is clearly a whole new transfer. The Region 2 was somewhat criticized, and justifiably, for a slightly blue tint and marginal cropping on the bottom of the frame. Color corrected compared to the laserdisc and MGM DVD, it threw skin tones off slightly, and those whites in the 2001-esque portal looked dirty. The transfer was certainly sharper than the MGM disc, and had the benefit of anamorphic enhancement, but the feel wasn’t quite there.
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This new Anchor Bay Collection transfer for Region 1 though, thankfully returns the visuals to the same color palette as the MGM disc, but with the added anamorphic resolution. As a result, the North American Anchor Bay disc is no doubt the best of the lot, even if initially it seems grainier than the previous two releases. There is no doubt, especially when looking at the finger snap, that the detail is increased, and there is no edge enhancement visible. Like Dark Sky’s stellar transfer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre¸ this is a sharp new transfer that retains all the gritty grain of the film’s original theatrical exhibition.
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All three discs offer a 5.1 remix, with the MGM disc Dolby Digital, and the Anchor Bay discs both Dolby Digital and 5.1. Truth be told, there is little audible difference between the three of them, suffice to say all feature commendable 5.1 restorations of the film. There are some nice bits of atmospheric effects, where the Tall Man’s voice booms from all speakers, or when those little druids come creeping around the backs. Sound is boosted in all the tracks, and they all sound more vivid than they have any right to. Purists may want to hang on to the MGM disc though, as that is the only one with the original mono track – the two Anchor Bay discs offering only a 2.0 surround option.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasm/phantasm_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasm/phantasm_menul.jpg)Although Anchor Bay sprung for a new video transfer for their Region 1 debut, like the sound, the extras here are mostly all ported over from the Region 2 set. The Region 2 set, incidentally, featured supplements from the original laserdisc. It’s one big incestual affair. The short of it though, is that the new Region 1 disc has nothing new that isn’t featured in the Region 2 box set, although there are a couple notable omissions. Firstly, the Angus Scrimm introduction, found on the MGM DVD and on Phantasm II in the UK box, is missing on the new Anchor Bay Collection disc, as are the totally awesome sound supplements on the MGM DVD, which feature a song by Bill Thornbury and best of all the psychedelic disco remix of Phantasm. What the Anchor Bay Collection disc has that neither the MGM nor the single-disc UK release have, is the excellently produced “Phantasmagoria” documentary, as well as other interview bits from the bonus disc of the UK sphere set. The documentary is available on the bonus disc of the UK sphere box, but not the individual release of Phantasm in the UK. So while it may seem original here, it really is just the same thing UK fans have had available for years. Confused yet?
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasmse/phantasmseuk_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasmse/phantasmseuk_menul.jpg)The only other notable difference with this new Anchor Bay Collection disc is the anamorphic enhancement of all supplements, so the full frame behind-the-scenes super8 footage and the deleted scenes are now window boxed in the 16x9 frame. Those are the only changes and differences between the sets, so overall the Anchor Bay Collection disc prevails over the rest of the single disc releases, even if the most supplement-laden release is the UK sphere, thanks to an entire disc of added features. There is a previous review of the MGM DVD here on the site, but for completist purposes, I’ll just run though the extras.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasmse/phantasmseab_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/phantasmse/phantasmseab_menul.jpg)The commentary with Coscarelli, Bannister, Thornbury, Scrimm and Baldwin, is one of the classic early horror commentaries. Coscarelli does a fantastic job anchoring the track, constantly filling it with fact upon fact about the production – a real film school in a box, or, I guess, sphere. He is game to pause though, when the actors want to comment, and helps keep the track more than just an essay, since everyone is having fun. Great stuff.
The deleted scenes are also lined with gold too, with two outtakes and seven deleted scenes. Several of the scenes, like the “You think you go to heaven? You go to us!” lines have been featured in later Phantasms, but there are some unique gems like an added death of the Tall Man, where fumes from a fire extinguisher cause him to explode in a mass of yellow blood. Again, some really rare and entertaining stuff here.
Another big vintage extra is some behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Coscarelli and Bannister, and it provides yet another fascinating window into this landmark production. There are shots of several stunts being setup, most notably the floating ball scene, really show how creativity can circumvent a small budget. Shots of Angus Scrimm smiling are a welcome surprise, too.
There’s the 1979 interview with Angus Scrimm and Don Coscarelli (not on the single-disc UK release) that runs shy of a half-hour and features the two basically trying to promote and explain the film. It has a lot more meat than the usual EPK. All discs include the hilarious Fangoria preview where Angus Scrimm, in character, opens a casket to find his favorite magazine. Rounding off the disc-agnostic extras are some trailers, still galleries and biographies.
The "Phantasmagoria" extra was newly produced for the Region 2 set, and on either the bonus disc of the box or in the Region 1 disc, it is well worth the watch. The director and his cast are back for more talk, but also included is Kathy Lester, the lady in lavender, and Paul Pepperman, the co-producer. Both of them add more depth to all the previous anecdotes, candidly speaking about things like being annoyed with kid actor Michael Baldwin, to visually showing how the dissolving box effect was achieved. Even after going through every previous supplement, this will still surprise with the sheer amount of new insight and material. Take note however, that the "Phantasmagoria" supplement on the Region 1 disc is a scaled down version of the one included in the UK set to include only interviews pertaining to the first film. If you account for the "Actors Having a Ball" Region 1 extra (which uses other "Phantasmagoria" interview footage) it is still half as long as the UK sphere box, and that's still not factoring in all the other bonus disc exclusives on the UK set.
Even the menus of all three DVDs are notable, each having their own CG replication of the floating sphere and the mortuary. The new Anchor Bay disc is probably the worst of the bunch, with the worst computer effects and some really long transitions, but still, even a lot of work went into the menu. I’ve reviewed a lot of DVDs, and I think it is safe to say that no single film has had the amount of care and quality put into the supplemental material than Phantasm. Ever since the laserdisc, each release has just been phenomenal in its own right, and no matter which disc you pick up, prepare for an amazing learning experience.
Phantasm is one of those pinnacle horror classics that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Whether it is one montage after another of scary scenes done right, one provoking metaphysical nightmare, or a kind of touching portrait of humanity, it leaves a notable imprint. All three of these DVD releases do too, all with amazing supplements and quality sound and video. This new Anchor Bay Collection disc is the best on all fronts, with a sharp transfer retaining the grain and color of the original, DTS audio, and an amalgam of most of the notable extras from the previous releases. The MGM DVD still has some exclusive supplements and the original mono mix, and the UK box set has even more great extras on its bonus disc, so for purists all three will probably be a necessity. If you’ve never seen Phantasm before, buy the new Anchor Bay Collection edition and watch the yellow goo out of it, and if you have to own just one, then again the Collection disc reigns slightly superior. This is one of the masterpieces, so buy it or dust it off, sit back and have a ball. It doesn’t get much better.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
Anchor Bay UK:
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
Running time - 1 hour 28 minutes
English DTS 5.1 (Anchor Bay, Anchor Bay UK)
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0 (Anchor Bay, Anchor Bay UK)
English Mono (MGM)
Italian Mono (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
French subtitles (MGM)
3 TV spots
Disco version remix of the Phantasm theme
Bill Thornbury's completed version of "Sittin here at Midnight"
An introduction by Angus Scrimm "The Tall Man"
Audio Commentary by Don Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm, Bill Thornbury and Michael Baldwin
30 minute interview with director Don Coscarelli and Angus Scrimm
Footage of the Tall man at a Fangoria Convention
Home movies on the set of Phantasm with commentary by Don Coscarelli and Reggie Bannistar
Australian promo featuring the Tall Man
Anchor Bay UK:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio
Optional Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Audio
Introduction by The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm
Audio Commentary by Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and Bill Thornbury
Behind the Scenes Footage
Original Theatrical Trailer
Lady in lavender easter egg
Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1), Enhanced for 16x9 Televisions (First U.S. Availability)
Remastered Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Sound (First U.S. Availability)
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Don Coscarelli and Stars Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury
Phantasmagoria: The Making of Phantasm (First U.S. Availability)
Phantasm: Actors Having a Ball (First U.S. Availability)
6 Deleted Scenes
1979 Phantasm Interview
1988 Fangoria TV commercial
Angus Scrimm 1989 Convention Appearance
Interview Outtakes (First U.S. Availability)
Theatrical Trailers for Phantasm and Phantasm III
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03-21-2007, 01:13 AM
Thanks for the comparisons. I have the old LaserDisc special edition and the original MGM DVD issue. Interesting you gave the new release a complete letter boost - I can't tell much of a difference from the screen caps.. may give the newest issue a purchase when I see it in used bins.
03-21-2007, 01:34 AM
I'm not upgrading this. The MGM DVD offers me everything I need from the film. Don't care about anamorphic. Same deal with the RE-ANIMATOR reissue. There's just too much else I'm looking forward to. And to be honest, I saw the simulated VHS box-covers and I don't really like them.
Ash J. Williams
03-21-2007, 02:53 AM
Cool review, Rhett, as always. I got a fellow Campbellian into Bubba Ho-Tep, and now he really wants to see Phantasm, but it's got such a lack of structural narrative that he, an English major, may not pick it up. I'll try my hardest.
03-21-2007, 03:22 AM
I got the MGM disc, and that's good enough for me. No need to double dip or upgrade on this one whatsoever.
03-21-2007, 08:10 AM
Many thanks for the comparison. I love this type of review, that shows the differences of multiple versions side-by-side. It makes purchasing decisions much easier. I hope you do the same with Re-Animator.
With an improved anamorphic transfer and new extras, I will pick up the AB disc eventually. Maybe before Halloween. It's not a priority though, because I have the MGM disc. The MGM-exclusive extras mean I'll be keeping that one, instead of selling it off to help pay for the upgrade. Besides, I got it signed by Reggie Bannister at a haunted house two Halloweens ago. :D
03-21-2007, 08:40 AM
Re-Animator is next on the list, and yeah, don't ever part with the disco theme from the MGM DVD. Or else.
03-21-2007, 03:30 PM
Interesting. But I think I must disagree with the color palette being better in the R1. Should a severed finger really look that rosy?
03-21-2007, 10:31 PM
The Phantasmagoria featurette is listed as 30 mins on the box, but on the UK box set it runs 98 mins... is this an edited version for the new R1 release?
03-22-2007, 01:34 AM
It runs 36 minutes, but it has been split into another segment (the listed "Actors Having a Ball"), but even still it runs about half the length of the UK version.
03-22-2007, 03:30 PM
So, is the Phantasmagoria doc edited down to exclude retrospection on the sequels? That's the only reason I can think that they would shorten the thing. Glad I have the Sphere set.
03-22-2007, 06:19 PM
Yes, there is essentially no mention of the sequels in any of the extras.
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