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Horror » » »
Phantasm


1978       Directed by Don Coscarelli

Skull Island! The Frankenstein Laboratory! The Borga Pass! Add a new setting for terror to those legendary locales. It's the Morningside Mortuary, where death lurks in myriad fiendish forms and the dear departed are the liveliest corpses in town. Morningside is the chilling environment of Phantasm, which opened in 1979. The first foray into screen horror by acclaimed young writer - director Don Coscarelli, the Avco Embassy release was produced by D.A. Coscarelli and co-produced by Paul Pepper-man. The cast is headed by Michael Baldwin, Bill Thorn-bury and Angus Scrimm, a pseudonym for a classic actor who chose to follow the tradition of Lugosi and Karloff by assuming a new identity for his first terror role. Don Coscarelli describes Phantasm as "a series of frightening images and sensations, woven into a very bizarre plot, with one and only one objective - to scare the hell out of people." Those images begin with the voluptous "lady in lavender," a wanton who lures her lovers to the Morningside graveyard and leaves an indelible mark on them

- with a stilleto. Equally macabre is Scrimm's role as "The Tall Man," a funeral director dressed in black, with hollow, glowing eyes; a smile that would freeze the Medusa; and a knack for tossing coffins around as if they were kindling. Add to that an ice cream truck which emits a primal mist; dwarf-like hooded spectres who inhabit the mortuary's embalming cellar; a polished steel ball with blood-dripping daggers; a buzzing demon which lives in the hair of its prey; and grave-diggers whose dismembered limbs have ~i life of their own. Pitted against this litany of terror are two young brothers, Jody Pearson (BILL THORN-BURY) who has reluctantly returned to his home town after the death of his parents, and Mike (MICHAEL BALDWIN) who idolizes his older, footloose brother. When Mike claims to have witnessed a series of weird events at the Morningside Mortuary, Jody chalks it up to his sibling's over-active imagination. So Mike pays a midnight visit to the funeral home - and comes back with a grisly souvenir. "There was a time, in the early days of horror films, when people were frightened by monsters," says Coscarelli. "But that's no longer true. Audiences are more sophisticated. They simply laugh at gruesome make-up." Instead, says the young filmmaker, horror must be rooted in reality. "The most frightening things are those which are familiar to us but which, in the context of a movie, take on a strange new meaning. What could be more innocent, for example, than a Good Humor truck. But when a funeral attendant places an oozing package, wrapped in brown paper in the truck's freezer chest, you feel a twinge of fear. - "At least I hope you do." By the same token, he adds, the home in which the two young brothers live seems at first like any comfortable middle-class residence in almost any suburban middle-class community. "But when the strange-events start happening, its colors and shadows - and even its furnishings - take on a malevolent new tone." Phantasm is Coscarelli's third motion picture. The first was "Jim, the World's Greatest," which he conceived when he was seventeen years old, filmed at eighteen and sold to Universal Pictures just after his nineteenth birthday. In the spotlight of publicity that followed, he was accurately dubbed the youngest producer-writer-director in Hollywood history. More important, "Jim, the World's Greatest" was praised by critics as fresh, funny and totally original. When "Jim, the World's Greatest" went before the camera, Coscarelli was in his freshman year as a film student at UCLA. Taking a scholastic hiatus - from which he never returned - he wrote, produced and directed "Kenny and Company" for 20th Century-Fox. One remarkable aspect of that picture's success was its impact in Japan where it was released under the title, "Boys, Boys" and broke box office records. Both "Jim, the World's Greatest" and "Kenny and Company," grew out of Coscarelli's youthful experience and dealt with contemporary themes. For his third picture, he elected to follow a different path. "I've been a horror movie buff all my life," he says. "But the more horror I witnessed on screen, the more difficult it was to scare me. That became the challenge of Phantasm.. . to create a nightmare that would shock even the most jaded members of the audience." Click here for more



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Phantasm

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