Review Date: October 1, 1999
Released by: MGM
Release date: 9/28/1998
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: No
In 1979 a young director - Don Coscarelli - wrote and directed his sci-Fi/horror masterpiece, Phantasm. Working on a small budget and huge aspirations, he fashioned one of the greatest horror films of all time, turning it's villan - The Tall Man - into a horror icon and it's unlikely hero - Reggie - into a cult hero. The film was very successful and would eventually spawn three surprisingly good sequels. However, as is usually the case none of them live up to the original film. Now MGM has released an excellent Collector's Edition DVD with supplements every fan will rejoice about.
The film takes place in a quiet seemingly innocent town. Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) are attending a funeral at morningside for their best friend Tommy who apparently killed himself. Jody's little brother Mike (Michael Baldwin), who wasn't supposed to attend watches the proceedings from a distance with his binoculars. After the services Mike sees more than he bargained for. A mysterious Tall Man arrives in a hearse and picks Tommy's coffin up by himself and loads it into the hearse with his bare hands. Mike, bewildered by what he saw, rides out of Morningside in a hurry, but not before being spotted by the Tall Man.
Mike visits a psychic living in the neighborhood and confesses to her about what he saw at the cemetery. The psychic tells Mike that it was all in his mind and that fear is the real killer. Still not convinced, Mike begins to notice strange things and decides to break into Morningside at night and spy on it's occupants. After encountering the Tall Man and his minions, Mike narrowly escapes and returns home. Mike tells Jody about the horrific things he saw at Morningside and that they have to do something. Jody, reluctant to believe his little brother, is finally convinced when Mike shows him his evidence. Now its up to Jody, Reggie and Mike to figure out the nature of the Tall Man and stop him.
Phantasm succeeds in many ways as a horror film and a science fiction film. Don Coscarelli creates a very surrealistic and dreamlike atmosphere throughout the film; an element sadly lacking in parts 2 and 3. Throughout the film the viewer is constantly faced with the question are the events in the film real or are they indeed all in Mike's mind? This is a reoccurring theme in all the Phantasm movies. Probably the main thing that sells Phantasm are the great performances from all the actors. Phantasm is the kind of film that could fall apart at the seams if the actors are incompetent and don't take their roles seriously.
I think Don was very lucky with the cast of Phantasm as all the actors involved do a great job. Most notably Michael Baldwin, many actors his age can't act their way out of a paper bag and usually overreact, but Mike Baldwin really pulls off a great performance. Of course, Angus Scrimm's performance as the Tall Man steals the show. The Tall Man doesn't have many scenes and has very few lines, yet Angus Scrimm gives the Tall Man a terrifying and suspenseful presence equal to that of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster or the mummy.
Another aspect of the film that really drives it home is the excellent score. Composed by Fred Myrow and Malcom Seagrave, the score fits the film perfectly and helps to enforce the films atmosphere. Phantasm is one of my favorite films and is truly a classic. Though it may not be for everyone, Phantasm definitely delivers a perfect melding of sci-fi and horror; fans of both genres will undoubtedly fall in love with it.
MGM presents Phantasm letterboxed in it's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and is not enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The transfer is great though there are some things MGM could have done better. Overall it seems MGM used the same print that was used on the Signature and Collctor's edition LDs released in 1995/96. The transfer is pretty clean, but has some moderate film damage occasionally scratches and specks pop up here and there. The detail offered by the transfer is excellent; a slight improvement over the LDs, but could have been better if MGM made a new 16:9 transfer.
The colors and flesh tones are nicely saturated. The dark scenes look good, but I noticed some break-up during the scenes where Mike discovers Reggies turned over Ice Cream truck and is later attacked by dwarves. I noticed hardly any grain throughout the presentation and the authoring is solid I didn't notice any compression artifacts. MGM did a good job with the transfer, but I'm sure a new HD 16:9 transfer would have yielded better results. Phantasm fans that have only seen the film on VHS will no doubt rejoice about the nice clear transfer, but fans looking for a leaps and bounds improvement over the LDs may be disappointed.
The new 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is excellent. The Phantasm score has never sounded better and makes perfect use of the surrounds. The scenes with the flying sphere sound exceptionally good. High Marks.
The supplements are where this DVD really shines. MGM managed to fit all the bonus materials that were on the LDs onto the DVD and then some. The disc comes packaged with a very nice booklet with a message to the "DVD collector" from Don Coscarelli and also contains a multitude of information about the films production and it's stars. The DVD also has some beautiful animated menus. When you first play the disc a short animation plays where a hand holding a sphere comes at you and extends it's blades. After which it hovers around the screen with clips from the film playing on its surface and a montage of stills playing in the background, as well as the Phantasm theme playing.
The disc has a total of 9 deleted scenes two of which are outtakes. Two of these scenes were only on the recent VHS release and the two outtakes I've never seen before. The deleted scenes are excellent one of them features a confrontation between the Tall Man, Jody and Mike. The Tall Man speaks the line "You think you go to heaven? You go to us!"; this line would later re-appear in the sequel, Phantasm II. Other scenes have Jody, Reggie and Mike having a food fight in Reggie's ice cream shop and an outtake of the Tall Man Laughing!
There's also Home movies of behind the scenes footage which is excellent and features a commentary by Don Coscarelli and Reggie Bannister. A fangoria magazine commercial featuring the Tall Man! A very funny Australian promo short for The Never Dead (Phantasm's title in Australia) and footage taken at a Fangoria convention where the Tall Man was a guest. There's also about a 30 minute long interview with Angus Scrimm and Don Coscarelli at the time of Phantasm's release.
In addition to those, the DVD also has an audio commentary by Director Don Coscarelli, Bill Thornbury, Michael Baldwin, and Angus Scrimm. This is the same commentary found on the laserdiscs. It's a great commentary and a fun listen. Don goes into great detail about the making of the film and talks about the effects and sets - very informative. To cap off this amazing set of supplements are a theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots, still galleries, a disco version of the Phantasm theme (!), Bill Thornbury's completed song "Sittin here at midnight" and last but not least - an introduction by Angus Scrimm that plays before the film.
If your a Phantasm fan, a horror fan or a DVD collector this disc is a must have. If you've never seen the film before there's no better way to experience it then on this DVD; it's worth every penny.
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A
Supplements - A+
- Running time - 1 hour 28 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Mono
- English and French Language subtitles
- 3 TV spots
- Still Galleries
- 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
- Booklet insert
- Animated Menus
- Scene Selection