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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/3/99

Special Edition - 1979 (1999) - MGM/UA

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Phantasm: Special Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/A

Specs and Features

88 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/director Don Coscarelli, and actors Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm & Bill Thornbury), 6 deleted scenes, "behind-the-scenes" footage with commentary (by Coscarelli and Reggie Bannister), stills gallery featuring lobby cards and press materials, merchandising items, posters, fan art and props, Phantasm theme (disco version), radio spots, complete recording of Sitting Here at Midnight (written and performed by Bill Thornbury), Australian TV spot for The Never Dead (Phantasm), Fangoria commercial featuring Angus Scrimm, Fangoria: World Of Horror convention footage, two-part interview from 1979 with Coscarelli and Scrimm, theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots, film-themed menu screens with animation and music, scene access (32 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1 and 1.0 mono), subtitles: English and French, Close Captioned


Phantasm is one of those horror flicks that just crawls right under your skin and won't come out. I remember the first time I saw it. It had to be in 1983, and I was at an overnight sitter. For some strange reason, I was allowed to watch a movie before I went to bed, and Phantasm was on. From the moment I first laid my eyes on this film, I was sucked in, and may not have ever gotten myself out. What makes the film so special, is that the story is so well done that even as a kid things just struck me as important. I honestly remember the movie being about loss, utter loneliness, and what it's like being left behind. I vividly remember the shots of Michael chasing after his older brother, the fireside chat between Reggie Bannister and Michael, and that ending where we see The Tall Man for the last time. I was saddened by all of it. I was also, not incidentally, scared out of my gourd. I think it's that last scene with the Tall Man in the mirror that has kept me from having mirrors in my bedroom even to this very day. It's funny how some movies have such a tight hold on a guy.

Phantasm is about 13-year-old Mike and his brother Jody. Their parents were killed two years prior to the events in this film, and they are living life on their own. In the opening of the film, a friend of theirs is killed by a mysterious woman, known simply as The Lady In Lavender. The death is ruled a suicide, and his body is interned at the Morningside cemetery. Mike isn't allowed to the funeral, but he sneaks into the cemetery anyway, and it's there that he first spies a very odd cookie by the name of The Tall Man. A man seven feet tall, who can lift a full coffin with his own hands. The Tall Man also has a few other tricks up his dark suit sleeve, among them a chrome embalming ball that flies around the mortuary looking for heads to spike, and a hive of evil looking dwarves. As most fans know, The Tall Man isn't someone to be messed with, and makes for an ideal horror film icon. The film kicks into high gear, as Michael gets closer to finally discovering what's going on in his sleepy little burg. His biggest problem is trying to make his brother aware of the evil slowly making itself known. Jody has bigger visions of getting out of town and starting a career in music.

Phantasm, like its title, is more a twisted scary dream than it is a traditional horror film. There was nothing like it when it came out, and it paved the way for many other genre icons, including Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame. It's scary at its core, with twisted images, real fright, and well-drawn characters, that you either grow to love or live to fear.

As a DVD, Phantasm is pretty packed. It's basically the repackaged laserdisc special edition that came out a few years back, with the same commentary track. The track features the principle cast including Angus Scrimm, but excluding Reggie Bannister (the package incorrectly lists Bannister on the track and omits Scrimm). Bannister does, in fact, pop up on the behind-the-scenes footage with Coscarelli, which is a treat. The track is as entertaining as it is informative. It's one of those commentaries that pulls the wool out from over your eyes, and after you listen to it, you'll see all the tricks that Coscarelli and company pulled to get such a small budget to go such a long way. Additionally, there is a nice assortment of extras, like the behind-the-scenes footage (shot on video way before hand held units were affordable), a stills gallery with lobby cards and press materials, and a section of merchandising items, posters, fan art and props. One of the biggest features is an isolated version of the Phantasm theme, in its hard to find disco version (that will have you dancing in your living room). It doesn't stop there - you get radio spots, a complete recording of Sitting Here At Midnight, written and performed by Bill Thornbury (and featured in the film), an excerpt from an Australian TV show promoting The Never Dead (the film's Australian name), a Fangoria commercial with Angus Scrimm shilling the magazine, Fangoria: World Of Horror convention footage. The most educational extra is a hefty two-part interview from 1979 with Coscarelli and Scrimm and talking about the film, its making and Coscarelli's background. Top it all off with the theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots and 6 deleted scenes from the film (that don't add very much but they're here.

Pretty whopping, huh? On top of everything listed above, this DVD features really great picture and sound quality. I've never seen the film look as good as it does here (even if it's not anamorphic), and I've watched several incarnations of this film at home and in theaters. This is honestly the only way I would watch this film at this point. The original mono soundtrack and a DD 5.1 track are on the disc, and both are very well done. The mono is just as eerie as the full-blown 5.1, although I like working those speakers. I'd have to say that MGM has put out a pretty special DVD version of one of my favorite horror films. If you haven't checked it out yet, pick a copy up.

Todd Doogan

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