Over the weekend, I caught the newly restored, remastered version of phantasm. Really, you don’t need the resolution upgrade and digitally cleaned up pretty print to get me out to see this movie. The mere prospect of seeing Phantasm on the big screen is more than enough of an incentive to propel me to the theater. Before we get into the effects of the new restoration, I’d like to talk a little bit about the film itself.and establish a pedigree. There’s lots of Freddy Kruger fans, there are plenty of Jason Vorhees fans. Heck, even Hellraiser has a significant following (Who are abused by their franchise almost as much as Cleveland Browns fans are….).
Phantasm fans are little bit more rare. It’s a weird niche film, that doesn’t quite get the respect that it deserves. It’s certainly more beloved than most people realize – I noticed at two different conventions, they never seemed to be prepared for the MASSIVE autograph line that the Tall Man would draw. Phantasm fans are a different breed – and I’m the biggest Phantasm fan you’ll find in the Midwest, I assure you. It’s what’s driven me to meet all the members of the main cast- no mean feat (Remind me to tell you all about the repeated near-misses and letters sometime).
So what is it about this series that draws my devotion? I recall as a child seeing the advertisements on television for Phantasm 2. They made a big deal about “the ball is back!” And they featured the tall man heavily. I was confused, how did I miss Phantasm one? With something that looked is interesting as this, I surely would have seen the commercials for the last few years. I always perked up when I saw this commercials for Nightmare on Elm Street sequels or Friday the 13th sequels! So what was going on here? It wasn’t too long into the theatrical run of phantasm two that the original start playing on the late night UHF channels. I was not quite as steeped in the look and feel of the 70s then as I am now, so it was a strange beast to me. The hair was actually a little bit off-putting, especially young Mike’s, but there was so much about this that I immediately latched on to. The feeling that I was watching something on those late night UHF channels that I was probably too young for. The genuine creepiness of those endless marble corners, and The mysteriousness of the hooded dwarves. It all created a perfect horror movie… And then in the last act, everything changes.it turns into a completely different film – somehow they tricked me and I don’t watching science fiction all along. It’s a marvelous twist. Funny, if you just look at it objectively on paper, coming up and saying “It was aliens “really does seem like a cop out, but here it works on unimaginably well. Maybe it’s the fact that there are no flying saucers, no little green man, just a stark white room and those two simple chrome poles… used to brilliant efffect with a simple splitscreen effect. I was hooked there and then, and it wouldn’t be long before I finally made it to Phantasm two. It gets some flack for being the high budget entry in a low-budget series, it gets grief for not bringing back Michael Baldwin or Bill Thornbury back, but it’s undeniably where a lot of the mythology starts. It’s where we see four barrel shot gun, it’s where we finally see what really is underneath the hoods on the dwarf robes. It’s the point where the series turns into a road movie, and propels Reggie into action stardom. They bring in the same haunting score, and it proves that this formula can continue to work.
Even though Bill and Mike didn’t come back for this one, Reggie and the tall man aren’t the only two returning characters – the car is back. That’s surprisingly important, the hemi-cuda in the series is every bit of character as any of the actors. I’m not a car person in the least, but that this vehicle really is the through line spanning all the movies, and it struck me profoundly enough that I spent a couple of years searching for a hot wheels or matchbox version of the car, something to add to a meager Phantasm collection (there really isn’t that much merchandising out for the series sadly. It’s tough to even get all the movies in one set!).
So what about this for a restoration? Interestingly enough, Phantasm really benefits from it. This is on the first time I’ve seen the film on the big screen, cinema wasteland ran a 16 mm copy one year and I was thrilled at how clear it was – being a to read what kind of book is on Mikes bedside table, and being able to make out some of the names on the tombstones. Still, I hadn’t realized how dirty the print was until I saw this treatment. The colors pop, more vibrant than I’ve ever seen them and there’s been some mild re-editing – nothing so insidious as the “Han shot first” thing, but judicious inserts in places like the antique store, the ball victim losing control of his bladder, things like that. Most of the improvements will be late when noticeable, even if you seen this film on hundred times as I have. It looks good, … Sometimes this kind of restoration will actually make movies look cheaper. It’ll turn them into Soap Opera quality rather than Godfather quality. Phantasm is one of those films that really feels elevated by the new treatment. Of course the Capital, being the cult and art house theatre that it is, screened trailers for upcoming presentations of “I drink your blood” and “the Pit”. It all added to the overall atmosphere of the evening. These are the kind of films phantasm would’ve played with at the local drive in or corner grind house.
Sadly, we weren’t quite in synch with FantasticFest at the Alamo Drafthouse so we only got the intro to the film and not the Q&A which featured this beautiful duet between Bill Thornbury and Kat Lester –
However, the film WAS preceded by a short feature on the upcoming phantasm ravager, What is hoped to be the definitive end to the series, particularly now that it’s star Has passed. The poster was up outside the theater and that alone was enough to give me chills. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I was so excited for a film coming out… Perhaps Freddy versus Jason? But that was a long time ago, and to be perfectly candid, as much as I love both of those franchises, neither mean as much to me as Phantasm does. I will be there in the center of the theatre come October 7!
I hope to see you there to.