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By Patrick Samuel • May 22nd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
AVCO Embassy Pictures

Original release: March 28th, 1979
Running time: 89 minutes

Writer and director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm


There are lot of things my parents protected me from when I was little. Though they weren’t always there to save me from the occasional scrapes and falls, when it came to television and films, they kept a close eye on what I was exposed to.

Scenes of sex and death were at the top of that list, and a film like Phantasm was only glimpsed for a few minutes before I was banished to bed. Needless to say, those first few minutes fuelled my imagination for years and it wasn’t until much later I finally got to see the film in its entirety.

Puzzling, surreal, haunting and weird are just a few words that can be used to describe it. The story is centred on a teenage boy, Mike (Michael Baldwin), and his older brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury). The boys don’t have any parents and they live in a town that’s plagued by mysterious deaths.

At the funeral of one of Jody’s friends, Mike spots the undertaker (Angus Scrimm) effortlessly carrying the coffin on his shoulders as if it was made out of Styrofoam. Mike starts to become suspicious that the Morningside Funeral Home is harbouring a secret about the spate of recent deaths and he tries to warn Jody. At first he doesn’t believe him, but as they witness more and more bizarre goings-on, gradually they realise the mortician, whom they refer to as the Tall Man, and the alien dwarves he works with, guards a gate to a fiery inter-dimensional underworld.

With the help of their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike and Jody try to trap the Tall Man in his own world, but even as Phantasm reaches its climax it remains packed with so much subtext that’s unusual for a standard horror film. It’s not as simple as heroes fight the monsters and a good ole happy ending. The theme of death remains constant throughout and we see this with the mortuary, caskets, funerals, hearses, graves and the Tall Man chasing after Mike.


Our young protagonist, Mike, is preoccupied with the idea of death. Still trying to cope with the loss of his parents, he’s also anxious about his brother leaving him and when he visits a fortune-teller he communicates this fear to her. In response to this, he’s told to put his hand into a small black box and as something inside grips it, the fortune-teller’s granddaughter says to him not to be afraid.

“You play a good game boy, but the game is finished, now you die” ~ The Tall Man

As Phantasm progresses, Mike has to overcome his fears of death, pain and abandonment. It’s also a film where sex is used as a weapon. We see the Tall Man disguised as beautiful women seducing men and then killing them in the throes of passion. Though it raises questions on the Tall Man’s sexual preference, if he has one, the real issue here is Mike linking sex and death together, both of which he’s Phantasmunderstandably curious about, and which he explores in his self-constructed fantasy to help him deal with what’s happened to his family.

Blending all of these ideas, Phantasm, though far from perfect, emerges as a film that’s still as enjoyable to watch as another film that came out a year before, John Carpenter’s Halloween, and one from the following year, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th.

Though they’re all quite different from each other, they’re films whose sequels couldn’t match the blueprints established in their originals, and yet remain strongly favoured by cult movie fans, myself included.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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