Ice Cream Trucks and Dwarves

It’s been a while, so why not return with an undisputed classic? One that is close to many people’s hearts, and certainly deserves a revisit – Phantasm

Director Don Coscarelli etches something as close to a real-life nightmare as you are likely to witness on screen. A heroically-bizarre movie including metallic flying-spheres drilling blood-spattered holes in heads and a magical gateway to a sand-ridden planet populated by not just alien but dwarf slaves. ‘Phantasm‘ is an energised cinematic jolt of low-budget horror fantasy.


The plot, if you can call it that, involves a young boy (A Michael Baldwin) and his older brother (Bill Thornbury) who find out that there are very strange goings-on – somewhat akin to body-snatching but suitably crazier – at their local funeral home. The stolen corpses are somehow transformed into the aforementioned undead dwarf slaves in order to serve some alien God…… Of course, at the centre of it all is the mysterious and by now, cult figure, the ‘Tall Man’ played by the omnipresent Angus Scrimm. Our good guys are completed with the inclusion of a hilarious middle-aged ice-cream vendor and wannabe rock-singer ‘Reggie’ (Reggie Bannister) – and yes, there is a musical number in here…… Strange enough for you yet?


Whilst certainly not for everyone (particularly if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to know what is going on), and if you can forgive the production values and performances, “Phantasm” is cripplingly joyous entertainment leaving you with a genuine sense of awe for the imagination of Coscarelli and co. The movie runs at one hell of a pace and is infamous for the ‘head-drilling’ sequence alone, but there is more to savour than the short 88 minute running time would suggest – including a script swollen with cheese, over-acting, motorbikes and achingly unsubtle testosterone.

Australian Lobby Card
Although not as scary as the tagline -“If this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead!” – indicates, there are nevertheless some heart-pounding moments and more than a dusting of ‘cheap’ shocks (bodies falling out of cupboards, etc.). There’s also a fantastic chase sequence between a hearse, or more like an evil-version of the bat-mobile to be honest, and a motorbike.

Coscarelli’s vision is lovingly propelled throughout by an eerie score reminiscent of ‘Tubular Bells’ but along with the ‘Carrie‘-esque ending, is where the ‘borrowing’ ends – “Phantasm” is a uniquely fascinating movie, directed with panache and original to the point that it could never be understood, let alone forgotten – just like a nightmare.

Grant Davies covers similar B grade classics as well as Westerns at his Hot Dog Cinema blog
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