A hooded dwarf. A guitar-playing ice cream man. A shapeshifting mortician. But enough about the Brexit Party MEPs; let’s talk Phantasm.
This 1979 cult horror is written, directed, produced, edited and shot by Don Coscarelli (already the youngest director to have a feature film distributed by a major studio circa 1975), who has clearly seen Halloween but is refreshingly disinterested in unleashing another copycat killer. Set in a Haddonfield-esque suburb, Phantasm ploughs its own phurrow through a series of strange sequences that owe more to David Lynch than John Carpenter.
Like Six Feet Under, the funeral parlour setting suggests the movie occupies the hinterland between life and death; a young hero (A. Michael Baldwin) confronting the recent loss of his parents, embodied by the fun mortician villain known simply as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Child protagonists are rare in the genre (special mention to The People Under the Stairs), especially one as creative and capable as the diminutive, denim-clad Mike.
Coscarelli takes time to build a dreamy atmosphere with spooky lighting and surrealist design, waiting half an hour before the blood starts to fly (and it does fly). This dreamlike quality feels like it seeped into A Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks and (apparently) Ace of Spades by Motörhead, making for a weird, witty and action-packed piece of ecstatically independent filmmaking. Phantastic.