The 1970’s has always been synonymous with the birth of several iconic horror franchises. That decade gave us the likes of Halloween, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws, and Alien, to name a few.
Yet often overlooked is the indie darling, which would go on to become a cult classic: Phantasm. What started as a simple sci-fi/horror film (as well as an astounding achievement in low budget filmmaking), became a series with a rich mythology and a longevity into modern day most fans don’t even realize.
The original film is intentionally vague and mysterious in the origins and plans of the nefarious Tall Man, and this always worked to its advantage. Writer/Director Don Coscarelli was initially inspired by a nightmare he had and it really shows.
Rather than delve too deeply into the backstory and motivations of the nefarious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), instead we watch brothers Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jodie (Bill Thornbury), along with their ice cream vendor friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) contend with a mysterious and overwhelming force.
Much of the Tall Man is shrouded in mystery, and it helps give this film a dreamlike quality. All of this helps to fuel its overwhelmingly creepy atmosphere.
Between the grim-looking and intimidating Tall Man, the graveyard, the mortuary, and the now-famous floating silver sphere, there’s plenty of iconic imagery to conjure up when most fans look back on this sci-fi/horror classic.
Particularly the scene with the Tall Man looming over Michael’s bed, which has created countless nightmares in the last 41 years.
As with most horror classics, it was only a matter of time before Phantasm was revisited in the form of a sequel. Nine years later, Phantasm II picked up with Mike and Reggie continuing their struggle against the Tall Man, and what started as a single horror film became one long narrative that would take over almost 40 years to complete.
Whereas the first film kept things very cryptic, each sequel delved deeper into the Tall Man’s background, including his human origin, interdimensional travel, and extra-terrestrial plan for world domination!
What’s made the franchise so intriguing, other than the long form narrative over the sequels, is the fact that the protagonists (or the actors playing them) haven’t changed since the very beginning.
With the exception of Jody’s absence and Mike’s recasting in Phantasm II (at Universal’s demand), Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Angus Scrimm have appeared in every film in the series.
It’s not uncommon for the villain of a horror franchise to be the only link to tie all their films together, as is the case with Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and so many others. The fact that the three main characters kept returning only speaks volumes to the incredible continuity and loyalty they had to writer/director Don Coscarelli.
As the years (and decades) went by, he added chapters to his epic sci-fi/horror saga and could always count on these actors to reprise their roles and continue the journey for their characters.
Because of this, as we watch the actors age over five films and 37 years, it really does feel like these characters have spent their whole lives on this journey.
It also changes the entire dynamic of the first film as well. It’s all the more tragic but compelling knowing that once the Tall Man came to their small town, the lives of Mike, Jodie, and Reggie were never the same again.
This certainly makes rewatching the first film an entirely different experience. What started as a mysterious, but simple premise turned into a lifelong struggle for three people that would affect the fate of the very world!
What do you think of the Phantasm series?! Let us know in the comments!
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