As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned a couple times during the course of this series, there is always something about the Halloween Horrors event to surprise me on a yearly basis. One thing that has surprised me over the last 2 year’s of this series is that, despite its immense popularity and undeniable impact on the landscape of horror, no one has ever claimed Phantasm (or any of its sequels for that matter). Until now.
Please welcome Michael Ramsey to this year’s series! I’ve known Mr. Ramsey for around 11 years now, only meeting for maybe 45 seconds in that time, in spite of us having mutual friends. I first became acquainted with him through the forum for a convention that we both attended, although at that time his last name was “Myers” (and I was named after a video game, but no one cares about that). Seven years later, we would briefly meet as we were being rushed out by the throng of people leaving a Halloween Q&A at the same convention (it too now has a different name).
I can’t tell you much about this meeting, but I do remember this: He had this blank, pale, emotionless face, and… the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes.
The year I chose is 1979. More specifically the movie I chose is, dare I say, Don Coscarelli’s most beloved film. I would, however, like to give a little background.
I was, as I assume most of you reading this were, the “weird” kid in school that always gravitated to things that were… spooky. It didn’t help that my dad was a mortician . It also didn’t help that whenever given the chance to pick a book from the book fair, it was always ghost stories, or vampires, or witches. You get the idea. There weren’t a lot of outlets back then for seeing horror movies. Some old movies on TV, highly edited. Or maybe something on Super 8 at a friend’s house (or some other reel-based format), but these were the days before videotapes and the like.
Fast forward to 1978 and the release of John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween. It was the first real horror movie that I saw in the theater. I had somehow talked my mom into taking me, at nine years old, to see an R rated horror film that I probably had no business seeing. I have never been the same.
Fast forward to the beginning of 79, and I started reading about this movie Phantasm in the horror magazines… Famous Monsters, Fangoria, and the like. I just knew I had to see it! My mom said “no” right away! I guess someone had shamed her for taking me to see Halloween. My hopes were dashed. There was no way an almost 10-year-old was going to get a ticket.
Haha, I lucked out! My mom and her friend, Carol, were going to see Norma Rae, and I asked if my friend, J.J., and I could tag along and go see Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. So, Carol and my mom went to see Sally Field, and J.J. and I went and got traumatized by The Tall Man! We got into the theater just as the previews were ending and sat all the way in the back in the corner. That’s inconspicuous, right? The movie starts with boobs and a teenager on a dirt bike in a cemetery. I’M IN!!
Phantasm was the first movie that I remember sitting on the edge of my seat for, and I could feel the excitement in my chest. (Even today, I think back to that day when a movie affects me in that way.) The “edge of the seat” moment started to fade as I was assaulted with the visuals of this impossibly strong mortician, flying murderous spheres, scary ass Jawas, and MORE blood than I had ever seen in any movie! Oh, and when the caretaker “gets it” by the sphere… he totally pees himself! Coscarelli has said that some of their prints were bad and you couldn’t see the pee. It was, he said, the difference between getting an R rating instead of the dreaded X.
I really enjoyed Phantasm, despite the fact that it gave me nightmares for weeks (isn’t that kinda the point?) and made it difficult for me to go to work with my dad… I saw The Tall Man EVERYWHERE! Mike was the kind of teenager I imagined that I would be and I was sort of right…minus the denim, wavy longish hair, and the battling of demonic aliens! For some reason, I thought Jody and Reggie were just the “coolest”.
And then… there he was! “The Tall Man”, played to perfection by the man with the softest hands and most quiet demeanor… Angus Scrimm! I had the chance to meet Mr. Scrimm at a Spooky Empire show years later and it was like meeting an old friend. When you see him lift the casket into the car by himself, The Tall Man easily cemented himself into the hallowed halls of badassery, not to mention his legions of Lurkers, Gravers, and silver murderous spheres. Yeah, and did I mention that if you cut off one of his appendages he oozes a thick yellow mustard-like blood and the appendages turn into killer bug creatures?
Going back and watching Phantasm as an adult, I can see all the plot issues that others mention online (problems with effects, etc), but one thing holds true: Just like a song can take you back to a specific time in your life, Phantasm takes me back to March/April of 1979 and reminds me of a simpler time when two prepubescent boys could sneak into a horror movie, see some boobs, and have the shit scared out of them… all in the name of fun! I can’t tell you the number of horror films and rated-R teen films that I snuck into after that, but suffice to say my bush and boob count was very high, and I have Don Coscarelli and The Tall Man to thank for it! Angus Scrimm, wherever you are, I just have one thing to say…BOY!!