Sunday, December 18, 2016

Season of Horror: Phantasm (1979)

I have missed my Saturday night Creature Features fest the past two weeks. Last week I was taken out by what felt like a weaponized virus, and last night was busy celebrating holiday festivities with friends. As the Season of Horror draws to a close this week, I cannot wrap it up without revisiting this frightening film.


Phantasm is another horror movie that frightened me when I was younger, and I haven't seen it for quite a number of years, so I'm looking forward to seeing this one again. I recently received the newly released 4K restoration on Blu-Ray and I must say, it's gorgeous.

"The funeral is about to begin, sir!"



This film has a chilling score and it really adds to the tension in the film. It opens with a view of the Morningside Mortuary at night, and goes straight to the graveyard where some coupling is going on.


Having intimate relations in a horror film is a sure way for a character to get killed, and as expected, our victim gets a poke in the gut once the fun is done.


What I find extremely disturbing is how this girl's face becomes that of the guy we'll come to know as the Tall Man. I hope Tommy was already dead before seeing that.



We get a pretty view of the Morningside Mortuary in the daytime and meet Tommy's grieving buddies, Jody and Reggie, who believe he's committed suicide. It's a nice touch the way they enter the frame. What a handsome guy that Reggie is, forever inspiring many bald men to rock a ponytail.



Jody goes inside to visit his dead parents and hears strange noises within. This is another horror movie that uses sound to good effect. We hear the clicking of his heels echoing in the marble hallway and it's when he stops that we hear an undefinable but unnatural sound. It all serves to build tension.


A young boy disturbs the peacefulness of the cemetery by tooling around on his loud, buzzy motorbike, which unexpectedly sputters out on him. He hears the same strange sound that Jody just heard and sees small brown cloaked figures duck behind gravestones. From the first time I saw this film I always thought of Jawas when seeing them.



Meanwhile, Jody continues hearing the sounds in the mausoleum and also sees a small brown cloaked figure scurrying behind a wall. A hand suddenly lands on his shoulder and a sinister man informs him that "the funeral is about to begin, SIR." What an introduction to the Tall Man! This guy is capable of a range of unpleasant expressions on his face.





As they view Tommy's body in the casket, Reggie tells Jody that it was a good idea to keep his little brother from coming to the funeral. Jody says his brother had nightmares for weeks after their mom and dad's funeral. Little do they know the little tyke is under the bushes viewing the funeral through his binoculars.



After Jody and Reggie take off, Jody's little brother continues watching and sees the Tall Man lift Tommy's casket by himself and load it back into the hearse.


The eerie Phantasm music begins and little bro stops off at a palm reader's house. A girl lets him in and tells her grandmother that Michael wishes to speak with her. He tells her that he's found out Jody is leaving.


The scene cuts to Mike and Jody hot rodding around, and it's a surprise to see lil Mike hop out of the driver's seat, pop the hood and describe some problem with the headers. 


He slides under the car with a tool while a friend of Jody's pulls up and starts asking why Jody is still hanging around this dump. He tells him he's been taking care of the kid, but now that the kid is 13, he's thinking about sending him to live with his aunt. He says he follows him everywhere like he knows he's going to leave, that he's a tough little kid, he loves him and is gonna miss him. It's sort of funny to see him riding down the road on his bike oblivious to the little brother he loves, who is running through bushes and hopping fences as he chases after his big brother.


Back at Grandma's, the girl tells him that Grandmother has told him before not to worry, that if Jody does leave, he will take Mike with him. Mike goes on to describe something scary he saw at Morningside cemetery. The scene cuts back to him watching the Tall Man load Tommy's coffin back into the hearse, and as he rides his motorbike through the cemetery, the Tall Man appears and he takes a spill.


The girl leans over to Grandmother and tells Mike that Grandmother wants to play a little game with him, and a black box suddenly appears on the table. She tells him to put his hand in the black box. He says it hurts and he can't get his hand out, while she tells him repeatedly not to fear. She tells him that Grandmother wants him to learn that fear is the killer. He says it really hurt and she tells him it was all in his mind. He leaves money on the box and it disappears with the box. After he leaves, Grandmother starts chuckling.


The girl goes into the Morningside Mortuary and then we see Reggie ride up to Jody's house in his ice cream truck. He grabs his guitar and joins Jody, who is singing a doot 'n do song and trying to look cool in his Stones shirt and hat. They jam together and actually don't sound half bad. They could have opened for Spinal Tap. As Reggie says, "We're hot as love." Back at the Morningside Mortuary, the girl opens a door and is illuminated by whatever is within, and then we hear her scream from outside. I guess it was not all in her mind.



Jody rolls up to Dunes Cantina and Mike watches through the window as he picks up the Tall Man appearing as the blonde in the lavender dress in a hot minute. S/he takes him to the cemetery for some action. Mikey follows and gets an education in the life sciences. While both Jody and Mikey admire female anatomy, Mike hears rustling in the bushes and one of the little brown not-Jawa dwarves runs at him and frightens him, causing him to run screaming past his big brother and new friend. Jody looks up with some drawers stuck in his teeth and asks her to wait there since it's his brother and he thinks he's got some kind of problem.


Jody catches up to Mike and asks what is wrong. He tries to tell his big brother that something little and brown and low to the ground is up there and is going to get him. Jody thinks his brother has an overactive imagination and he gives him the car keys and sends him home. He goes back to resume his tryst but the lady in lavender is nowhere to be found.

Mike is in bed dreaming that the Tall Man is leaning over his bed at the cemetery and corpses rise up out of the ground and grab him.


Jody returns to the Cantina in the daytime and Mike is following once again. Mikey sucks a lollipop while walking downtown and observes the Tall Man, whose footsteps are echoing loudly as he walks in slow motion down the street. As he passes Reggie loading his ice cream truck, the Tall Man stops and turns to gaze in Mike's direction, while he sniffs at some aroma he seems to enjoy, before continuing on down the street.



Jody is in the bar asking the bartender if the chick he picked up the previous night ever returned. He confesses that they were messing around at the cemetery. We cut to Mikey working under the car in the garage and we hear the not-Jawa sound we've heard before. He sees little feet scurrying by from under the car and then the car starts shaking back and forth. The car falls off the jack, pinning Mikey to the ground, and when he sees a pair of feet, he nails them with a hammer and Jody yells out. He tells his older brother about the things in the garage but Jody doesn't believe him.


Mikey equips himself with a large knife that he straps to his ankle and grabs a crucifix for good measure. He sneaks out of the house during the night and takes off running down to the Morningside cemetery where he hops the fence. When he sees the funeral parlor, he takes off running toward it and breaks a basement window and sneaks in. He wanders through the mortuary where many empty coffins lay open and hears a door slam. He hides in one of the coffins as a caretaker approaches. As he's about to lift the lid Mike is hiding in, the Tall Man appears at the door and the caretaker leaves with him.


Mike wanders through the mausoleum and hears sounds from behind a door. A metal ball flies at him and he ducks to avoid it. The caretaker grabs him from behind and the metal ball approaches as Mikey bites his arm to get free. The metal ball sprouts prongs and impales itself on the caretaker's head while a drill enters his cranium and blood spurts out through a hole in the ball. It is a macabre masterpiece.



The Tall Man appears behind Mike and they approach each other step by step before Mike takes off running with the Tall Man in hot pursuit. He slams the door on him, but the Tall Man's fingers are caught in the door. Mike chops them off and yellow embalming fluid spurts out. He picks up one of the wiggling fingers and runs off with two of the not-Jawas chasing him, grabbing his feet as he escapes through the broken window.


Mike is sleeping at the foot of the stairs at home with a rifle in his lap and a locked box wiggling around on the step below him. Jody comes downstairs, picks up the rifle from Mike's lap, and as he unloads it, Mike wakes up and informs him they need to talk. As they sit on the front porch, Jody takes the box from him and sees the severed finger wriggling around in a thick mustard-like fluid. He hands it back to Mike and says he believes him. He suggests that something weird is going on and that they should go to the sheriff with the evidence.


Mike goes to get the box and is surprised by it's stillness. He opens it and a buzzing bug-like creature flies out and crawls on his head. He traps it in a pillow case and Jody comes to help him struggle with it as it attempts to get away. They take it to the sink and run it through the garbage disposal. Reggie shows up to see what's going on and asks Mike if he wants to ride along with him while a hairy leg pokes up out of the sink and the creature flies out and lands on Mike's back. Jody captures it and runs it through the disposal again. Reggie asks what the hell is going on.


Jody loads a rifle and instructs Mike that he not aim a gun at a man unless he intends to shoot him, and that he not shoot a man unless he intends to kill him, that there will be no warning shots and he should shoot to kill or not at all. Jody tells him he'll be safe in the house and should lock all the doors and windows and that he should not follow him. I guess he forgot all about the plan to go to the Sheriff, since their evidence turned into Satan's bug and was macerated in the disposal.


Jody shines his flashlight into the mortuary from the broken basement window and hops inside. He turns on a light and a not-Jawa jumps on his back. He takes out his gun and shoots it and goes back out the basement window. He runs away from the mortuary and the lights on the hearse come on and follow him to the gate. He stops and attempts to shoot the driver to no effect. Mike rolls up and saves him as the hearse follows in pursuit. Jody grabs the rifle as the hearse passes, and they note that nobody is driving. Mike stands up through the sunroof and shoots at the hearse, finally hitting the engine and disabling it as it runs into a tree. They turn around and approach it, and find a dwarf inside. Jody removes its hood and sees that it's his buddy, Tommy.


Jody is on the phone to Reggie and tells him to bring his truck. They take dwarf Tommy out of the hearse and load him into Reggie's ice cream truck. Reggie is worried that he'll leak yellow fluid on his ice cream. They return to the house and Reggie locks the door behind them. Jody, Mike and Reggie are sitting around the fire as Jody wonders why they are taking bodies and crushing them down to half size. Mike wonders about their parents who are also up at the Morningside Mortuary and Jody tells him to forget about it. Reggie suggests they snag the Tall Dude, find out what's going on there and stake him through the heart. Mike says he's strong and Jody says that Mike needs to go stay with Sally.


Mike is at Sally's antique store and she says they should lock up and that she has a bed in back for Michael when he gets sleepy. He wanders around the creepy store and finds some antique photographs. He finds an old photo with the Tall Man driving a carriage in front of the mortuary, and he turns to look at Mike from the photo. He demands that Sally take him home. Meanwhile, Reggie is driving his ice cream truck at night with the music playing, and begins to hear a roaring and thumping sound from the ice cream truck. Jody lays back and is dreaming of being in the mortuary, and as the Tall Man approaches him, the little dwarves pop out of a tomb and grab him.



Mike is driving back with Sally and sees Reggie's truck overturned on the road. He tells Sally and her girlfriend to stay in the car and not get out while Mike goes to inspect the truck. He sees the padlock broken off the back door and pops it open to find a yellow, dripping handprint. He tells the girls to get him home and they hear something trying to get into their car. Brown dwarves break into the car and Mike and the girls struggle with them, screaming. Mike falls out the back window and the car takes off down the road with the screaming girls inside.


Mike meets Jody at home in tears and tells him they got Sally, Susie and Reggie too. Jody tells him to go to his room and Mike says he's not letting Jody go by himself, that he won't be coming back, as Jody locks him in his room. Mike takes out a bullet and pokes a tack into the top of it. He tapes it to the end of his hammer and uses it to blow a hole in his door and break out. Jody is taking off in the hot rod and Mike grabs a gun downstairs and meets the Tall Man at the door who says he's been waiting for him. He grabs Mike by the collar and throws him into the hearse.


Jody goes to the mortuary as Mike rides in the back of the hearse and the Tall Man laughs at him. He shoots out the back window and then the rear tire and then jumps out the back. The hearse crashes  into a pole and explodes.



Mike runs to the mortuary with his gun, while Jody opens a cobwebby tomb. He opens the casket inside and can't bear to look. As Mike enters, we get a reddened balls-eye view of the corridor. Mike finds his father's casket and opens it to find that it's empty. He screams and runs, and as a flying metal ball approaches, Jody appears behind him and shoots it. They go off to see what's behind the mystery door.


Reggie catches up to them and Mike notes that he's not dead and Reggie adds that he's not 3'2" either. He says he's been hiding in a casket playing like a stiff but that he did find the girls and snuck them out a window. Mike opens the door and finds rows of barrels stacked inside, with two metal rods sticking up out of the floor and humming like a tuning fork. They enter the room and Jody peers into one of the barrels. Mike approaches the tuning fork and notes that his hand disappears as he sticks it in between the two rods. He falls forward and finds a red landscape with a line of brown dwarves and more barrels. Jody is holding Mike by the seat of his pants and pulls him back out.


Mike surmises that the dwarves are being used as slaves, that they have to crush them because of the gravity and heat, and that the tuning fork is a gateway to their planet. The room goes dark and when Mike lights a lighter, he finds a dwarf staring at him.


Reggie calls for Jody and Mike in the dark and curses as he hears a roaring sound. The lights come back on and Reggie is in the room alone. He thinks of his tuning fork and reaches out and grabs hold of the metal rods. The humming stops, but he is blown back and a wind starts pulling Reggie and the barrels toward it as he struggles to get away.


Jody is outside and the lady in the lavender dress is sneaking up behind him and stops with a sharp inhale when Reggie grabs the metal rods. As Reggie runs out of the mortuary, he finds her laying on the ground and when he goes to help her, she stabs Reggie in the gut. She morphs into the Tall Man, who pulls the knife out of Reggie.




Jody tells Mike they need to find Reggie, and they find him unconscious on the ground. Jody tells Mike that he's dead and they can't help him, and they take off as the mortuary glows red and goes dim.


Jody drives Mike to the house and tells him there's an old mine shaft that's a thousand feet down and they have to figure out a way to get him up there. Mike asks what they'll do without Reggie and Jody says he's the last he'll ever get, that they'll run the Tall Bastard down to hell. He says he's going to get rid of the warning barrier around the mining shaft and that Mike should go into the house, lock it up and find more ammo. As Mike is locking up windows, he peers through the drapes and sees the Tall Man staring in at him, who breaks in through the glass and goes after him.


Mike is tiptoeing around the darkened house when the door breaks open and the Tall Man stands in the doorway laughing and calls out, "BOY!"


Mike runs out the door and down the street as the Tall Man follows, saying he's played a good game, but the game is finished and now he dies. Mike tells himself not to fear as he sinks into mud and hands reach up from the earth to hold him down, and the Tall Man approaches. Mike has a knife and the girl in the lavender dress stands in the shadows, staring at him with her knife. He keeps running and when he stops, the Tall Man bursts out of the bushes. Mike runs toward the mine shaft and the Tall Man falls in, as huge boulders roll off the hillside and plug up the shaft, and as he looks up, he sees Jody standing atop the hill.



Mike is sitting in front of the fire at home with Reggie, saying the rocks aren't going to hold him. Reggie says he's hardly slept since the funeral from a week ago. Mike says that first he took his mom and dad, and then Jody, and now he's coming for him. Reggie tells him the Tall Man did not take Jody away, that Jody died in a car wreck, and that Mike had a bad dream, but that he's not alone. Reggie says he'll take care of him. Mike said it seemed so real. Reggie suggests they hit the road for a couple of weeks and Mike agrees. He tells him to go upstairs and get his gear.


Mike goes to his room and starts packing and sees the Tall Man reflected in his mirror as hands reach through the glass and grab him.





Thoughts:

Huh? It was all a dream? It sort of makes sense because the hearse crashes the first time with Tommy as driver and then crashes again with the Tall Man driving. When the Tall Man is going after Mike, he appears outside the window and breaks in, and then appears at the door as it bursts open. Did he go back outside? Many events do not make much sense if you don't explain them away as all a bad dream. It doesn't matter too much that we may not understand why the Tall Man lures victims by appearing as a voluptuous woman and creates dwarves from dead bodies to enslave them and send them off through a portal in the mortuary so they can do his unknown business on another planet, because it's just plain scary and leaves you to have nightmares of your own. We are left to wonder if Mike really does die in the end or if it's another dream. I suppose you have to watch Phantasm II to know for sure.

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