Phantasm's the tall man origin & powers explained.
Phantasm is one of the weirdest horror franchises of all time, and sports one of the genre's best villains in the supernaturally powerful Tall Man.
Phantasm is one of the weirdest horror franchises of all time, and sports one of the genre's best villains in the supernaturally powerful Tall Man. In 1979, writer/director Don Coscarelli introduced Phantasm to the world, a surreal, nightmare-like terror tale that didn't necessarily make much logical sense, but never failed to captivate the viewer. A big part of this was the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), a towering bad guy wearing a black suit that gave him of an air of being all business.
Unfortunately, that business wasn't anything good. While it wasn't until the sequels that more was revealed about The Tall Man's goals, and how he accomplished them, it was clear from the start that this man, if he even was one, had very malevolent intentions. That became apparent enough when he was seen picking up an occupied coffin with ease, displaying strength that would earn a nod of approval from Thor or The Incredible Hulk. It became even more so the first time The Tall Man displayed the ability to shape-shift.
Related: 11 Best Horror Movies of the 1970s
As the Phantasm franchise went on, more and more was unveiled about The Tall Man's origins, and what exactly he was capable of. While that never succeeded in making him less frightening, it did make him a bit less of a blank slate.
Phantasm's The Tall Man Origin & Powers Explained
As first explored in depth in 1998 sequel Phantasm 4: Oblivion, The Tall Man was once human, or at the very least had his appearance stolen by something inhuman. The face we know as The Tall Man's once belonged to a normal 19th century man named Jebediah Morningside. Well, normal outside of being a mortician. Years of working with the dead led Morningside to become fascinated with death, and conduct experiments to try and find a way to the other side. Morningside ultimately created a machine capable of traveling through time and space, but upon stepping through it for the first time, he failed to come back, at least as he was. Instead, The Tall Man returned.
The Tall Man definitely isn't human, despite his outward facade giving that initial impression. As mentioned above, The Tall Man possesses superhuman strength, and is also able to shape-shift, most notably into a seductive woman dressed in lavender. The Tall Man is also extremely hard to damage, and it would appear is impossible to kill for good. Parts cut off The Tall Man can come to life on their own, and transform into their own creature, and he can also regenerate a new one of those same lost parts. The Tall Man also commands an array of diminutive henchmen called Lurkers, which are made from the shrunken, lobotomized corpses he takes in as a mortician. Of course, The Tall Man's signature weapon is a flying sphere - also commonly called a ball - that flies through the air and attacks with various sharp implements. Phantasm 's The Tall Man is truly one of the fiercest foes in all of horror.
More: 20 Underrated Horror Movies Every Horror Fan Needs To See
- Today's news
- Reviews and Deals
- Climate change
- My portfolio
- My watchlist
- Stock market
- Biden economy
- Personal finance
- Stocks: most actives
- Stocks: gainers
- Stocks: losers
- Trending tickers
- World indices
- US Treasury bonds
- Top mutual funds
- Highest open interest
- Highest implied volatility
- Currency converter
- Basic materials
- Communication services
- Consumer cyclical
- Consumer defensive
- Financial services
- Real estate
- Mutual funds
- Credit card rates
- Balance transfer credit cards
- Business credit cards
- Cash back credit cards
- Rewards credit cards
- Travel credit cards
- Checking accounts
- Online checking accounts
- High-yield savings accounts
- Money market accounts
- Personal loans
- Student loans
- Car insurance
- Home buying
- Options pit
- Investment ideas
- Research reports
- Fantasy football
- Pro Pick 'Em
- College Pick 'Em
- Fantasy baseball
- Fantasy hockey
- Fantasy basketball
- Download the app
- Daily Fantasy
- Scores and schedules
- World Baseball Classic
- Premier League
- CONCACAF League
- Champions League
- College football
- Horse racing
- How To Watch
- Fall allergies
- Health news
- Mental health
- Sexual health
- Family health
- So mini ways
- Style and beauty
- Buying guides
- Privacy Dashboard
MVPs of Horror: Don Coscarelli exposes secrets of his 'Phantasm,' from flying murder spheres to the Tall Man
Four years ago, Richard Linklater deservedly garnered acclaim (and multiple Oscar nominations) for the years-in-the-making feature Boyhood , which followed the life of one boy (Ellar Coltrane) from ages 6 to 18. Due credit to Linklater, but he’s not the first filmmaker to tell one child’s story from youth to adulthood. A quarter century before Boyhood arrived in theaters, another fiercely independent-minded writer-director, Don Coscarelli, released Phantasm , an unassuming horror movie big on ambition (and short on budget) about 13-year-old Mike Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) and his run-in with a nightmarish local boogeyman called the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).
Coscarelli didn’t know it at the time, but those characters became constants in his personal and professional life: Between 1979 and 2016, the filmmaker oversaw a total of five Phantasm features, and fans watched as Baldwin aged from a scared kid to a haunted adult. (For the record, Baldwin was replaced by James LeGros in 1988’s Phantasm II at the urging of the studio, but Coscarelli ensured that Baldwin would reprise the role in every sequel going forward.) With each successive installment, the Tall Man and Mike’s pal Reggie (Reggie Bannister) also grew older before our eyes; Scrimm died two years ago before the release of the final — for now — chapter, Phantasm: Ravager .
By the director’s own admission, his entire career is made up of happy (and sometimes unhappy) accidents like stumbling into the horror movie equivalent of Boyhood . “We beat out Richard Linklater by, like, 10 years there,” Coscarelli joked to Yahoo Entertainment when we spoke with him earlier this month at New York Comic Con. Many of those accidents are detailed in his new book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking , which serves up dishy behind-the-scenes stories about the Phantasm series, as well as cult favorites like The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep . We talked to Coscarelli about tall men, yellow blood, and flying spheres of death.
Yahoo Entertainment: The Tall Man is such a memorable creation, like a childhood nightmare come to life. Did you have a Tall Man in your own dreams as a kid? Don Coscarelli: I don’t think so, but boy was I highly influenced by the classic Universal monsters. I mean, Karloff and Lugosi — those were the guys. Maybe a little Vincent Price, although he had a sense of humor and that didn’t do much for me. [ Laughs ] In any case, I think the Tall Man was my attempt to try and go down the path of a more classic horror villain from the ’30s and ’40s. I can’t take the credit, because Angus Scrimm brought a darkness and a power that only he could summon. I think he only has six lines in the first movie! I can still remember watching when he was doing a makeup test one day; he had always combed his hair to the side, but on this day, he combed his hair back, and the makeup artist had hollowed his cheeks. I thought, “Oh, that’s really good. This could work!”
What were some of the techniques you used to make him such a menacing figure? In real life, Angus was about 6-[foot-]4, but we gave him boots that got him up to about 6-7. It was also a function of narrowing the suit; it was tailored very tightly and made him look very tall and very thin. On the first movie, we had no stunt double for him, because we didn’t have any other tall older men we could cut to. So he did all of his own stunts, including a scene where we hung him by the neck — that didn’t make it into the film.
What happened with that scene was we did a sequence where Mike and his brother (Bill Thornbury) end up hanging the Tall Man, and then at night, Mike keeps hearing this “Cut me down, boy, cut me down” on the wind. So he goes out there and has this conversation with him hanging from the tree. I love the scene, but it just didn’t fit into the flow of the movie. A few years later, the MGM lab was closing up, and they called to say, “We’ve got a bunch of your cans here — come pick them up.” I went out there and found all those outtakes that had been stored in really good shape! We had that entire scene, and by that time, I was making Phantasm IV , so I integrated it into the story. It was interesting to have Michael at age 40 in that film, and then you cut back [to the outtakes] and you see the exact same person as a child.
How did you decide that the Tall Man would bleed yellow? I was just trying to think of what I could do that was different. And if I wanted to go with a different color of blood, what would it be? Well, Vulcans have green blood, blue blood has that connotation with royalty, and purple blood might be kind of odd. So I ticked down the list, and yellow became the choice. I really think there’s a lesson there for aspiring horror filmmakers: We’ve seen so many movies and so many TV episodes that every time one comes on, you know what’s gonna happen. It’s like, “Oh, she’s gonna open the door and there’s gonna be a guy there.” We’ve all seen that stuff. The idea was to try and do something unexpected, like a different color of blood. Or when Mike’s going into the lair of the Tall Man that’s down in this creaky mausoleum; the door opens, and suddenly you’re in a science-fiction world — this white room. It’s unexpected and keeps the audience off balance. That’s a lesson that I knew in my 20s and keep trying to think about today.
Is that white transporter room your homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey ? You cite seeing that film as a formative experience in your book. I bow at the feet of the master! 2001 was the first film I saw where I started to realize there was more to it than strictly entertainment. So yeah, it certainly was. I also think that I was trying to go with the use of wide-angle lenses [for that scene] because Kubrick loved his wide-angle lenses. I like to think he might have seen Phantasm , but I’ve never heard if he did. [ Laughs ]
You also devote a whole chapter to explaining how you pulled off the flying-sphere stunt . Did you have any idea that would become the movie’s signature special effect at the time? Yes, I did! And I knew that we needed to push all our resources at it. With most special-effects scenes, if you just break them down into simple components and cut them efficiently, you can do [cool] things. For instance, in one scene that ball just needs to fly around the corner, and it was really easy to figure out. We put it on a little piece of fishing line and just pushed it to try to keep the light off the fishing line. And now it’s going to hit a guy in the head, so we decided to put it in his head, then pull it off and shoot it in reverse. The real breakthrough was getting the gentleman that built the device, Willard Green. He built the drilling rig and the blood tube that came out, because those were beyond our abilities.
Was the flying sphere something that came out of your childhood nightmares? That was the one scene that did come from a dream. I often think about the serendipity of how we got that effect, because when you think about it, you’ve got the camera shooting down the hallway, and when you throw the ball, it’s gonna slow down and kinda fall. But when you put it in reverse, it starts to come up and kind of float, and then it accelerates toward you! So it had this dynamic of pursuing you that we got [on camera], and that was cool.
Did you play around with where the knives would pop out of the sphere? Not so much, because it was really a function of the design. We went to Will and told him we wanted blades to come out, and drew these crude little stick figures. His original sphere is a beautiful piece; it should be in a museum somewhere. That’s one of the props that I hung on to. The interesting thing is that in the later Phantasm movies, we used a lot of plastic spheres, and they’d all get trashed. But on film, they look like they’re metal! I was at a horror convention once, and there was a guy who makes metal reproductions of them. And wow, if you ever get a chance to pick one of those up, it feels the way it looks to people in the movie.
It’s interesting to me that you started shooting Phantasm in 1978, the same year that John Carpenter released Halloween . Was that film on your radar at the time? It was on the radar only in that we had finished shooting and I saw an article in the Los Angeles Times that John Carpenter had just finished shooting a movie about Halloween. The movie came out a few months before Phantasm , and there was an upswell in genre titles that year. I remember being featured in Newsweek in an article called “ Hollywood’s Scary Summer ,” where they also mentioned Alien and Dawn of the Dead .
There’s no question that Halloween created a genre of slasher that was immediately followed by movies like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street , and all of those franchises made a load of money. I was always uncomfortable with the misogynistic aspects of that stuff. I mean, it became funny as those movies got into the higher Roman numerals, with the teens having sex and getting killed. By then, they were killing male characters because they had to. I did an episode of [the anthology series] Masters of Horror that had a little bit of a “killer with a knife” kind of thing, but the basic story had a very feminist streak, so I really took pains [to avoid that].
The Halloween franchise has now been revived by David Gordon Green. Would you be open to another director taking over the Phantasm series full-time? [David Hartman directed Phantasm: Ravager , which Coscarelli co-wrote.] Absolutely, yes. So much time has gone by, and I’ve become such fans and friends of these actors that I work with, that to see some visionary younger filmmaker take it and do something really interesting would be thrilling to me. I think that the hunt would be on to find an actor [for the Tall Man] who had that scowl. I know they’re out there somewhere. As great as Angus was, everyone’s replaceable. There’s so many people in the world, I think we could find another Tall Man. It’s something I hope to explore in the next couple of years. These things never really go away — they are lingering nightmares.
Phantasm can be streamed on Shudder. True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking is available now.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
MVPs of Horror: ‘Suspiria’ director Luca Guadagino breaks down horrifying human pretzel dance scene
MVPs of Horror: KISS revisits ‘Phantom of the Park,’ 40 years later — ‘Wow, that was weird’
MVPs of Horror: 15 years later, Eliza Dushku reveals how she took control of the ending in ‘Wrong Turn’
Gillian anderson's golden globes gown was embroidered with vaginas. ob-gyns say they're vulvas. what's the difference.
The actress’s dress caused a stir at the Golden Globes. Here’s why ob-gyns say it’s important to get it right when it comes to female anatomy.
Coughs can linger for weeks after getting sick. Here’s why — and how to get over it faster.
What causes a cough that just won't quit? Experts explain.
Forecasts say bad weather conditions could impact 2 AFC wild-card games
The weather forecast for two games this weekend is a key factor.
Scammers steal entire driveway from Florida woman's house
Florida resident Amanda Brochu came home to find her entire driveway missing. Law enforcement officials say she was the victim of an overpayment scam.
Eagles punter caught in mid-flop by Giants defender
Not even flopping is working for the Eagles in the first half of a division game against the Giants.
John Mulaney and Olivia Munn finally make it red carpet official: From undercover couple to loving out loud
The pair, who welcomed a son together in 2021 on the heels of his divorce, have made it red carpet official.
Ask Allison: I found a sex toy in my teen's bedroom. What should I do?
Advice columnist Allison Winn Scotch tackles a parent's tricky teen conundrum.
NCAA president Charlie Baker explains 'unusual' decision to reveal Michigan sign-stealing investigation
By revealing the sign-stealing probe to the world midway through the season, Baker believes it legitimized Michigan's run to a national title.
Clippers sign Kawhi Leonard to contract extension
Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has signed a contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers, the team announced Wednesday.
Honda bets its electric future on 'thin, light' 0 series EVs at CES 2024
Honda is dunking on the "thick, heavy" electric vehicle trend in an attempt to build buzz around its upcoming 0 series EVs. At CES 2024, the automaker teased two concept vehicles, the Saloon and Space-Hub, and said the first commercial model in its 0 series EV lineup will launch in North America in 2026. Honda's first 0 series model is apparently "based on" the Saloon concept — a low-slung, roomy yet sporty EV that looks a little like a CGI set piece from a Blade Runner sequel.
- Edit source
- View history
The Sentinels are spherical metal devices used by the Tall Man for various purposes, primarily enforcement. They are best known for their ability to jam into a human skull and suck out the blood, thus killing the victim. Through unknown propulsion, they float in the air.
Types of Sentinels [ ]
- Silver Sentinel (first seen in Phantasm) - The most common type. The Tall Man typically amputates the minds of his victims by placing their brains within the Sentinel devices, thus creating Lurkers and Sentinels simultaneously. The Silver Sentinels patrol the Tall Man's territory and seem to attack mainly on instinct, as they are capable of harming the Tall Man himself if he is caught offguard. The Silver Setinels also double as keys in the Tall Man's lair, which has doors that can only be opened through a special lock in the shape of concave hemisphere with two slits to fit the prongs.
- Gold Sentinel (first seen in Phantasm II) - A superior version with added torture devices. The Tall Man's own brain is contained within a Gold Sentinel, as is Mike's, suggesting that only the truly special minds are kept in these. Since The Tall Man was still alive and Michael hadn't been changed yet, it is unknown whose mind the first Gold Sphere contained in Phantasm II.
- Black Sentinel (first seen in Phantasm III) - After being burnt by the Tall Man for his disobedience, Jody's Sentinel turned into a black color, suggesting that black marks independence. It's also the only time a Sentinel is shown actually changing colors. This may not actually be a specific type, as it is possible that Jody's was simply charred black from the burning.
- Makeshift Sentinel (first seen in Phantasm IV) - A brainless sphere built by Mike out of the parts of one of the Tall Man's hearses. This sphere had three needles for a weapon and seemed to be controlled by Mike's mind.
- Red Sentinel (first seen in Phantasm V) - A suicide sphere designed to detonate.
- Giant Sentinel ( first seen in Phantasm V)- The most powerful variant. These were constructed during his war with humanity. They fire large laser beams powerful enough to destroy skyscrapers. The ending shows that he has at least five of them.
- The Sentinels were based on a dream that Don Coscarelli had.
- There's a new type of Sentinel in each film.
- The Red Sentinels seen in Ravager were invented by Roger Avary for his unused Phantasm's End script.
- On the set of Phantasm II , the Gold Sentinel was referred to as the "Rambo sphere".
- One of the DVD releases of the Phantasm series is designed as a Silver Sentinel.
- The game "Terraria" features a reference to the Silver Sentinel with an enemy named the Deadly Sphere.
- 1 Jebediah Morningside
39 Things We Learned from the ‘Phantasm’ Commentary
Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Kate Erbland enters another dimension filled with little creatures and a tall man . That’s right, she’s listening to Don Coscarelli’s commentary on his cult horror hit, Phantasm .
Experiencing Don Coscarelli’s latest, John Dies at the End , was a trip at South by Southwest. Actually, experiencing any of Coscarelli’s films are a trip of one kind or another, and the guy is such a pleasant film maker you can’t help but want to hear him talk about his earlier works. That’s why we’ve chosen Phantasm this week. One of his earliest works, it was this horror film that landed Coscarelli on the industry map, turning its success into a full-fledged career that continues to this day. It’s also his scariest and arguably his best to date.
But, as interesting as it is to hear Coscarelli speak, it’s good to have friends, and he’s brought three of them along for this commentary track. The DVD box boasts Reggie Banister, who plays the guitar-wielding ice cream guy, Reggie – Pretty sure the part was written for him – but he doesn’t appear on the commentary. Instead, it features the other two leads, Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury, and the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, who isn’t even listed on the box.
Regardless, we’ve got the writer/director on board and three of the film’s main actors, so grab a seat and check out all the things we learned from hearing these men talk about Phantasm . It’s the commentary that’s got balls. If you haven’t seen the film, I regret the euphemism already.
Commentators: Don Coscarelli (writer, director), Michael Baldwin (actor), Angus Scrimm (actor), Bill Thornbury (actor), lots of Dos Equis
- The film is introduced by Angus Scrimm, who explains he was asked by Don Coscarelli to do the film. Coscarelli only told him he would be playing an alien, to which Scrimm began wondering which country the character would be from and what accent he would have to perfect. The actor offers us some examples of foreign languages. I have no idea what he says, but it sounds believable enough. Little did he know he’d be playing an alien alien, like the outer space kind. Scrimm then explains that Coscarelli wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited the film and that the film was a huge success in 1979. “Now, by means of this latest, entertainment incarnation, Phantasm is here for your enjoyment,” he says before mentioning the Tall Man might be right behind you. He says it in English, though, so you can get good and scared. Also “latest, entertainment incarnation” is a nice way of saying “We don’t want to date ourselves when things like DVD or Blu-Ray hit.”
- “Any good horror film has got to start off in a graveyard,” says Coscarelli just as his film opens in a graveyard. He then goes on to say he wanted to turn the trope on it ear by having the female of the couple making out in a graveyard kill the man.
- The man in the opening scene is played by Bill Cone who wanted more than anything to be killed off in one of Coscarelli’s films. Coscarelli obliged him. The actress in the scene, Kathy Lester play the Lady in Lavender, was uncomfortable filming nude scenes, so that side of the role was handled by a double. Lester insisted the woman filling in for her got her own credit, which explains the Double Lavender credit. According to Bill Thornbury, who plays Jody, Lester wasn’t comfortable filming with Cone, either, as she didn’t know him that well. The legs sticking into frame in the opening scene are those of Lester and Thornbury.
- The mansion standing in for the exteriors of Morningside Mortuary is the Dunsmuir House near Oakland, California. Coscarelli notes they had two days to shoot all of the scenes with the Dunsmuir House, and all of it was shot in order. The interiors of the mausoleum were sets. Coscarelli mentions how smooth the floors were on this set and how this allowed them even on a tight budget to get a lot of camera movement in the scenes shot there. He also mentions the set builders were right out of college, had no idea how movie sets were build, and actually built the structure to last. Only a small section of hallway was created, and the production changed furniture and decorations around and shot it differently to appear to be a full mausoleum.
- “All it takes to make a cemetery are some tombstones and a park,” says Coscarelli. The tombstones in the film were rented from 20th Century Fox.
- The thought that Phantasm ’s dwarf creatures look strikingly similar to the Jawas in Star Wars is not lost on the director, and he even makes mention of it. He does mention the dwarfs in Phantasm were conceived of before Star Wars came out. George Lucas’ film came out while Coscarelli was shooting Phantasm , and someone pointed the similarity out to him after seeing the Jawas in a trailer. There were discussions to make the creatures in Phantasm a different color, possibly grey instead of the brown robes they and the Jawas seem to both favor. Coscarelli mentions so many of the scenes with Phantasm ’s dwarfs had been shot, and they decided to keep the brown robes. Any likenesses be damned.
- “Why did you make a horror film?” asks Michael Baldwin. “Well,” replies Coscarelli, “for this reason right here.” He says this just as Scrimm makes his first appearance as the Tall Man, slapping his hand down on Thornbury’s shoulder and basically scaring everyone in the audience. The director goes on to explain there was a small moment in his previous film, Kenny & Company , where someone jumps out with a mask on, and the audience jumped. Coscarelli responded well to seeing an audience scream in fright at his film, and he wanted to have more of that throughout an entire film.
- Coscarelli notes his frustration with a lot of horror films he watched when he was younger. He would see ads for these films and be frightened by what he saw in the ads, but the movies themselves rarely lived up that. He wanted to make a film that a scary moment at least every five minutes. You run the clock and see if he succeeds.
- The casket Scrimm picks up by himself was made from paper mache. Scrimm notes the handles were Styrofoam cups. He had to lift the casket from underneath with one hand and use a rope that was tied to the other side to pick it up. He notes it wasn’t heavy, just cumbersome. “We took the dead body out,” the actor says. He also mentions it fell apart on the first take, but they were able to pull off three takes.
- Scrimm also remembers there were sometimes three or four weeks between times when he would film. The actor spent much of his time in those days writing liner notes for all kinds of genre of music. This isn’t mentioned on the commentary, but Scrimm is a Grammy Award winner for the notes he wrote for “Korngold: The Classic Erich Wolfgang Korngold.” How many horror icons can say they’ve won a Grammy. There’s Scrimm and there’s Madonna. Anyone else?
- Michael Baldwin learned to drive in the Plymouth Barracuda used in Phantasm . Coscarelli mentions he was always in love with the car and even owned it for a brief time after Phantasm was done filming. He also notes that most of the Barracudas that came out just after Phantasm were black, one of the many influences the film had at the time of release.
- Several scenes were shot and cut out of Phantasm . Some of these actually show up in the film’s third sequel, Phantasm: Oblivion . Coscarelli mentions one scene in particular involving Jody and Mike’s aunt. The actress playing the aunt was the same actress who plays the fortuneteller’s grandmother. She stepped into the grandmother role when the original actress, who Scrimm had brought on board, was unable to make the shoot.
- There’s an ongoing joke for the audience to pick up on in Phantasm where you try to spot as many Dos Equis bottles as you can. The film had a promotion with the Cuauhtémoc – Moctezuma Brewing Company, and Coscarelli remembers going to his production manager house and seeing 50–100 cases of Dos Equis in the garage. There were times, he mentions, where the cast and crew would drink the lager for breakfast. Who says the film making business is rough?
- Bill Thornbury, taking a page out of Kathy Lester’s book, refused to show his bare ass in the film. The “stunt butt” was played by the film’s key grip, and Coscarelli even kicked the stubborn Thornbury off the set that night. They made up and went to a Dodger game shortly after.
- Phantasm was shot over the course of a year with cast and crew members getting together only on weekends to shoot straight through the three days. Coscarelli mentions they had no permits and even had to tap into local residents’ homes for power. It should also be noted Coscarelli was 23 when Phantasm began and 25 when it was released. It was also his third feature film, his first two of which had been picked up by Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, respectively. Three feature films before he was 25, so time to get off the couch and pick a camera, huh?
- Mike’s surreal dream involving his bed in the middle of the graveyard and the Tall Man standing over him was one of the first images Coscarelli came up with after conceiving the initial idea. This shot would end up serving as the film’s poster.
- “The big question is, ‘Is he in agony, or is he in ecstasy?’,” mentions Coscarelli during the scene where the Tall Man is reacting to the cold air coming out of Reggie’s ice cream truck. Scrimm mentions it’s very ambiguous. Thornbury mentions that’s the way he reacts every time he opens his refrigerator.
- Originally, the main title theme to Phantasm was only used in the opening and closing credits. Coscarelli felt it got to the tone of the whole film and decided to fit it in periodically throughout the whole film.
- When they production went to get the shot of Mike climbing over the gate and into Morningside Mortuary, a STOP sign sat too near the gate for them to get the shot. As Coscarelli remembers it, “Roberto Quezada, our visual consultant, got in the van and just happened to accelerate in the wrong direction, and the composition was perfect after that.” At this Baldwin jokes, “Creative independent film making.”
- The display head that falls into Mike’s arms as he’s searching through the main house of the mortuary was initially supposed to be a cat. “We didn’t have a cat,” says Coscarelli, “so somebody, I think our intrepid makeup designer, Kate, came up with that idea of using a wig stand.” More creative independent film making. Cats are so overdone, anyway.
- Coscarelli notes they had the run of a local funeral home one night to shoot. The man who was in charge of making sure they didn’t break anything was an embalmer who would come watch them shoot between working. The director remembers one night when the embalmer was eating a doughnut, heard the backdoor bell ringing, and said, “Oh, I got another one.” He promptly left, doughnut in hand, to receive the corpse. “It was really morbid,” recalls Coscarelli.
- When the caretaker is killed in the mausoleum by the sphere, you can see a trail of urine coming out of his pant leg when he falls. Coscarelli mentions this was something you could barely see in the early video transfers. He notes the fact that you can’t see the urine as one of the reasons they were able to get an R rating.
- Coscarelli handled the camera work in all of Phantasm , sometimes at the risk of his own safety. In the chase sequence with Mike driving and Jody firing the shotgun at the pursuing hearse, Coscarelli was sitting in the trunk of the Barracuda. Thornbury fired the shotgun almost directly at him for one shot, no one on the crew being aware that even firing a blank shoots out a hot projectile that could kill at a close range. Scratch that picking up a camera thing. Back to the nice, safe couch.
- Unaware of how film making is supposed to be handled, some of the car interiors in Phantasm were shot with the actors actually driving the car. Coscarelli was not privy to the “poor man’s process” of getting these shots, shooting inside a stationary car and moving lights around to make the car appear to be moving.
- Angus Scrimm is not the actor’s real name. His real name is Lawrence Rory Guy, which people refer to him as in person. On the commentary, you can even hear the other three calling him Rory at times. As Scrimm explains it, he had to pick a stage name for when he would do plays “off campus”, presumably when he was in acting school. He wasn’t allowed to appear in plays off campus, and chose the name Angus Scrimm in case he was mentioned in reviews. It’s a stage name he uses to this day.
- There were times filming scenes with Baldwin, Thornbury and Reggie Banister where Baldwin had to sit for hours in front of a roaring fire. Coscarelli remembers they had to strap aluminum foil to his back to keep him from getting burned.
- Something Coscarelli wanted to establish in Phantasm was a psychic link between the two brothers. The moment when Mike is pushed out of the back of a car by the dwarf creature and the film cuts back and forth between him laying on the road and his brother looking pensively was added to help create this link. It’s something Coscarelli would build on with the ensuing sequels.
- “To this day I just thank God that no one ever tried to duplicate this, or I’ve never heard about it happening,” says Coscarelli about the exploding hammer Mike devises to break out of his room. I’m sure people have tried it. They just aren’t around any more to tell anyone where they learned about it.
- When the Tall Man reappears at Mike and Jody’s house, the original idea was to have him still missing the fingers Mike had severed earlier in the film. A long, phony arm was created for Scrimm to wear, but it stuck out over a foot beyond his actual arm. The idea was dropped, and the Tall Man’s ability to regenerate missing limbs was devised.
- Initially, the flying ball was only supposed to make the one appearance early in the film. It came off so well, though, that Coscarelli decided in the editing stage to add the extra sequence near the end.
- The space gate room was Coscarelli’s homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey . The director states it was this film that got him into film making to begin with. The transfer of the film that this commentary track accompanies, presumably the laserdisc of the film, is the first transfer where the walls of the room give off the glow Coscarelli was always going for. The director remembers most of the crew had to wear sunglasses while working on the set.
- Also about those earlier transfers of the film, when the lights in the space gate room go out, the sequence where you only hear the main actors talking and Mike flicks a lighter only to see one of the dwarf creatures was completely cut from the film in early released versions. The dialogue appeared in the theatrical version of Phantasm , but, when it was released on home video, the lab thought the reel was over when the lights when out and made the cut at the point. In VHS copies of the film, it cuts immediately to the exterior shot of the Dunsmuir House. “Sometimes the technicians have the final cut on these things,” says Coscarelli.
- It was Reggie Banister and his wife, Susan’s, idea to factor in the idea of the tuning fork and Reggie putting both hands on the chrome poles to open the space gate.
- After Reggie opens the gate and the canisters begin getting sucked into the space gate, you can see a red welt on top of the actor’s head. This was the result of one of the canisters hitting him square on the head in an earlier take. No one mentions any prolonged effects it had on Bannister’s mental state, and that can’t be a coincidence.
- It wasn’t decided until late in the production to have the Lady in Lavender be an incarnation of the Tall Man. Coscarelli remembers this was a revelation for actress Kathy Lester. “It was a revelation to me, too,” says Scrimm. Baldwin jokes that Scrimm still has the lavender dress.
- The effect of the mansion disappearing in a bright, colorful light was done by Joe Westheimer, who did many of the effects on the original “Star Trek” series. The effect on the mansion is the same one used for the transporter sequences on the series.
- The effect of having the door pulled off its hinges and flying into the house was achieved by having co-producer Paul Pepperman standing behind the door, which already had its hinges removed. He then ran full force into the house holding the door in front of him the whole time, making it appear as if the door had magically flown off. If you look very carefully, you can see the door bouncing along instead of flying smoothly.
- Another sequence Coscarelli had to cut from Phantasm came when Mike is meeting all manners of horror in the woods. Coscarelli refers to them as challenges. After coming across the Lady in Lavender again, Mike turns quickly. Originally, he came face-to-face with a web where the bug from earlier in the film is resting. The effect didn’t look very good, so it was cut completely.
- As expected, the audiences Coscarelli saw the film with in its early days of release were not pleased that the whole thing ended up being a dream. He credits Bannister and Baldwin’s performances for capturing the audience’s attention. It could have been worse, though. It’s not like it was a whole season of a TV series that ended up being a dream the whole time. Now, that would really piss people off.
Best in Commentary
“It’s the American way of death. Something that I was always disgusted with and fascinated with was the fact that we, as Americans, when somebody dies, we hide them away. We don’t have anything to do with it. We turn it over to this mortician or undertaker, and that’s why people are freaked out by death and freaked out by morticians.” – Don Coscarelli on the idea that began Phantasm .
Lots of insight as well as camaraderie is brought out in this commentary track. This film was clearly a labor of love for all four of these men, and Coscarelli is just as pleasant to listen to as ever. He provides more than enough information regarding the production of Phantasm , even if there isn’t a lot of talk about where the ideas for the film came from or what theories there are about it. Those are left for the audience to sift through and decide for themselves, probably a conscious decision on Coscarelli’s part.
Phantasm isn’t one of the best horror films of all time, and this commentary track isn’t among the best, either. However, the commentary, just like the film itself, gets in, gets out, and does its job satisfactorily. It’s a commendable effort from all of the commentators involved, and, at less than 90 minutes, it doesn’t even take up a large chunk of your time.
Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives
Related Topics: Commentary Commentary , Phantasm
Levitating Phantasm Sentinel Sphere
Introduction: Levitating Phantasm Sentinel Sphere
Hello Instructables! This one's a little obscure, but if you're a fan of VHS-era horror movies from the 80's you're in luck. Now since this is related to a horror movie, please be aware that if you go looking up the source material you're likely to find violent, gory, and possibly sexual imagery related to the film.
In the film and its sequels, there's a mysterious bad guy who has this floating ball of death that has blades and drills and all kinds of other nasty implements that emerge from its seamless chrome shell. The story isn't amazing, but I really liked the second film where there's a cool A-team style improvised weapon building montage before they head off to take on the big bad. There's even a sword fight with chainsaws! I digress :)
The display consists of several elements:
1. A 100mm or 4 inch clear plastic ball. $10.99
https://www.amazon.com/Seekingtag-Clear-Plastic-Fi... (pack of 10)
2. An electromagnetic levitation display stand with permanent magnet puck. $79.99
https://www.amazon.com/PowerTRC-Levitation-Ion-Rev... (I paid $47.99 in July 2017)
3. A 3D printed chassis that goes inside the ball and holds all the parts together.
4. A pair of blades cut from sheet plastic.
5. Fabric, stuffing, and tassels to make cheesy Victorian/funeral parlor looking pillow.
6. Some wood squares to raise up the magnetic stand.
7. A card to cover the LED lights in the base once you've got everything balanced correctly.
8. Glue, spray-paint, sand paper, body filler. $12.99 / $9.80
Step 1: The Build
The levitating platform really does all the heavy-lifting (heh...) of this build and doesn't require and modifications. The hardest part of the whole project is actually getting a nice mirrored-chrome looking paint job in your home shop. I used the instructions I found at the following YouTube link and it worked out pretty well. In my experience however I couldn't get the base coat of black paint to 'flow' and get me a super smooth surface. Every microscopic imperfection is magnified a hundredfold with this silver, so I wet-sanded it after the first coat with 2000 grit paper. That's the death-star looking photo in my garage - it was a very cool effect.
So print the chassis STL part file on your own or upload it to someplace like Shapeways and get them to do it for you. The material isn't super important as long as it's light and won't interfere with the magnets. I don't have a still photo of the ball before painting it, but in the video below you can catch a glimpse of how I placed the split between the two halves of the ball. I didn't want it to show up in a place you'd expect like right on the equator just in case any imperfections showed through the paint.
Take the permanent magnet puck and glue it in place with the lower half of the ball and 3D printed chassis. Then stick on the upper half and cut out the slits that hold the blades. Make these edges as neat as you can so you can avoid fixing the mistakes you make here with automotive body filler later on.
Cut out the blade profiles or 3D print them as well. I've provided an STL file, but don't have the original 2D drawings for them. I beveled the sharp parts of the blades as best I could but the fine edges and points get pretty fragile.
The blades aren't held in place with anything besides friction, but you could use some of that gummy blue poster-tack stuff. It's the prop maker's secret weapon ;)
Sand and fill and sand and fill and sand and primer and sand and primer and sand and primer until you get sick of it and then move onto the black base coat of paint. I left several days of drying time in the summer heat for that to cure before messing with the silver layer. As I said earlier, I ended up sanding nearly all of that first coat off when I saw so many blemishes. Even with 2000 grit paper the silver layer came off with a very gentle touch. The final coat was put on pretty thickly but it dries so fast I didn't get any runs.
Allow more time to dry in the heat before handling the ball. It's got a weird and heavy center of gravity due to the magnetic puck and any iron filings or dust from steel-wool will stick to it, so make sure to keep it clean. For the base, I wanted it to look like a magical curio in my home office sci-fi arsenal, so I decided to hide the base in a velvet pillow with golden tassels on the corners. Now I'm no seamstress, but it's not too hard to sew three sides of square. Most the afternoon I spent on this part was struggling to figure out how to thread the sewing machine at my local makerspace. Just sew everything inside-out and leave one side of the square open to insert the levitation base.
Once I had a pillow that looked good, I played around with the stuffing, but found the levitation base was very short, so I added a wooden spacer to its underside and held everything together with masking tape. Getting the sphere to hover correctly is a bit of an art, but the base I have gives a little feedback with the four corner lights to show you when you've got the right positioning. These lights kill the magic of a ball floating above a pillow, so I put a thick card inside the pillow and just shifted it around to cover the lights when I got the ball floating.
That's it! Let me know if anyone finds a better way of making chrome at home.
Participated in the Fandom Contest
Be the First to Share
Did you make this project? Share it with us!
Anything Goes Contest
4 years ago on Step 1
- The A.V. Club
- The Takeout
- The Inventory
Phantasm: a cult classic about the zombie Jawa industrial complex
Phantasm is a 1978 gothic horror fantasy written and directed by Don Coscarelli. It spawned three more sequels, all of them about evil dwarf minions and flying silver balls that love exsanguination.
A. Michael Baldwin plays Mike, a recently orphaned 13 year old living with his adult brother and guardian, Jody (Bill Thornbury). When Jody's friend Tommy is found dead in the middle of a graveyard, stabbed through the chest with his pants around his ankles, Mike doubts the official explanation of suicide and sets out investigating the strange events at the funeral home managed by a tall man aptly named The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). After being menaced by diminutive apparitions, Mike enlists his brother and their friend Reggie and the trio set out to solve the groovy mystery of the Tall Man's mausoleum. Reggie, by the way, is a family man who earns a living selling ice cream out of a truck. Ice cream, not Quaaludes. Definitely not Quaaludes.
Long story short: The Tall Man is robbing Earthly graves of their occupants so he can compress them down to zombie Jawas and send them through a tuning-fork-like transdimensional portal to work as slaves in an off-world labor camp. To protect his operation from the prying eyes of meddling kids, The Tall Man employs a flying chrome ball which embeds itself in the flesh of intruders and drains them of blood with a power drill siphon. Nefarious? You bet. But the Tall Man's program still polls better than the GOP's Medicare voucher plan.
Along with the original, the Phantasm oeuvre is comprised of three sequels, released in 1988, 1994 and 1998. Each sequel picks up from a slightly retconned version of where the previous left off and follows the basic formula of Mike (now an adult), Reg and Jody (who has now been compressed into one of the flying chrome ball devices) teaming up with some combination of hot chicks and wise cracking kids to hunt down and kill the Tall Man, which is quite a Sisyphean task considering that the Tall Man instantly reincarnates whenever he's killed. Or does he? Yes, he does. Unless it's a dream. Which it's not. BOO! The end.
Spanning the last two decades of the twentieth century, the Phantasm series is a microcosm of the evolution of the horror, science fiction and action genres.
The first film is a slow, languid fever dream, with bizarre images and scenarios drawn from childhood nightmares. It's a moody suburban meditation on the autumn of childhood and the confrontation with fear, similar to John Carpenter's Halloween , which was released in the same year. I'm also pretty sure it's an allegory for the Vietnam War.
The first sequel, coming some ten years after the original film, shifts gears into pure action. Mike, now played by James LeGros, takes on the familiar role of the reluctant action hero facing down a relentless nemesis in the tradition of Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. Killer cyborgs, acidic xenomorphs and alien undertakers? Feh. Nothing a good phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range won't fix.
The later sequels bring Baldwin back to play a more brooding, more emo Mike and while it's no mystery as to why no one took home an Oscar for any of these films, the restoration of the original Mike does give parts III and IV a better sense of attachment to the first film, especially as we learn more about the origin of the Tall Man and his relationship to Mike.
Thankfully, Coscarelli resisted the temptation to turn the Tall Man into the kind of cartoonish self-parody that other horror villains became. Angus Scrimm's stoic, minimalist menace remains consistently creepy throughout the series.
Other elements of action and horror are borrowed or stolen more brazenly. From the Wes Craven-inspired pretty-preppy slash electric-boogaloo-hip teens to the Sam Raimi-inspired cinematography to the "get away from her you bitch" tag lines, the series plays like a mash-up reel of 80s action horror tropes. Is there any more apt adjective to describe Reggie and Mike's nocturnal home improvement arsenal montage than "groovy?" (scene starts at 4:11)
Or consider the similarities between this flying Cuisinart pursuit scene from Phantasm II (8:35) and the shaky-cam demon pursuit from Evil Dead 2 (12:28):
Coscarelli certainly doesn't seem to be shy about stealing what works. But considering that most of the films he references were likely inspired at least a little by the original Phantasm , he can be forgiven. Even in the first film, however, there's a scene where Mike visits a fortune teller who teaches him not to fear by putting his hand in a box which induces pain. It's not clear whether this Bene Gesserit encounter helps Mike much. If fear is the mind killer, the spiked silver ball with skull-penetrating drill attachment is a shoo-in for deputy mind killer.
Coscareli's saving grace is that, like Quentin Tarantino, he invents with the same enthusiasm and gusto with which he borrows. Compressed Jawa zombie slaves? Brain-powered flying silver ball assassins? Tuning-fork-shaped trans-dimensional portals? Four-barreled shotguns? One sees such things and what can one say but "Coscarelli?"
And yet, for all the seeming bad trip randomness and the paper-thin exposition, it's clear that Coscarelli has had at least a rough idea from the beginning of how all these elements hang together. The odd bits and pieces of his zombie Jawa industrial complex that we see on the screen suggest an intricate clockwork hidden just beneath the surface. And he's had the discipline and patience to reveal it at a leisurely pace without over-explaining or contradicting himself too badly.
George Lucas and J.J. Abrams could have taken a page from his book.
All four Phantasm movies are available on Netflix streaming.
Den of Geek
Phantasm: The Strangest Horror Franchise of Them All
After four decades the dream world of the Phantasm films remains unlike any other.
- Share on Facebook (opens in a new tab)
- Share on Twitter (opens in a new tab)
- Share on Linkedin (opens in a new tab)
- Share on email (opens in a new tab)
Over the years, a number of people have drawn parallels between George Romero and writer/producer/director Don Coscarelli, and I suppose it makes sense. Both made a couple no-budget indie films that were mostly ignored before hitting it big with a surprise cult classic. In both cases the breakthrough horror films were utterly unique at the time, and accidentally spawned their own franchises.
Despite efforts on the part of both Coscarelli and Romero to break away and make some very different films (like Martin and Knightriders in Romero’s case, The Beastmaster and bubba Ho-Tep in Coscarelli’s), for one reason or another both were forced back into feeding the franchise. Both filmmakers, for the most part, spent their careers working independently with very small budgets, but while Romero’s Dead films grew smaller, repetitive, and, let’s be honest, pretty shabby and tired, the wild imagination that gave birth to the original Phantasm only expanded and grew wilder over the next four decades, with the continuing storyline leaping back and forth between universes and dimensions.
The big difference between the two is that while Romero’s first three Dead pictures went on to spawn an overcrowded genre of zombie films and TV shows, Coscarelly’s Phantasm pictures (apart from their clear influence on Wes Craven (remain an indefinable and inimitable genre unto themselves.
As he tells it, at a screening of his light comedy Kenny & Company in 1976, Coscarelli noted the positive audience reaction to a cheap scare, and so decided to make a horror movie next. But unlike the classic Universal horror films he’d grown up with, he’d make something that offered a solid scare every five minutes.
Ad – content continues below
John Carpenter’s Halloween was still two years away, and so the clear blueprint for the standard form and structure of horror films over the next fifteen years had yet to be laid out. The landscape was wide open.
Coscarelli had two starting points when he set to work on the script. First, he wanted to do something about the potential horrors that lay behind the closed doors of a funeral parlor. Most of us have no real idea what morticians actually do, after all. They could be up to all sorts of diabolical shenanigans in those embalming rooms! And the second was a nightmare he’d had as a kid, in which he was chased down endless white corridors by a flying silver ball equipped with a large needle. After that, and following a sort of dream logic (again two years before David Lynch’s Eraserhead ), the script came together.
With no money for niceties like name actors, fancy special effects, lighting set ups, or extras, Phantasm was filmed over the course of 1977, mostly on weekends, and with available light whenever possible. Sam Fuller always instructed young filmmakers that even if they had no money, they had to use their imaginations to figure out a way to get everything in that script up on the screen. Coscarelli clearly took this to heart, even if it meant the film’s iconic silver ball was actually controlled by a guy with a fishing pole, and the giant insect trying to escape from the gunny sack was achieved through a bit of simple method acting and slapstick on the part of the three principles.
Phantasm focuses on a 13 year-old named Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), his older brother Jody (musician Bill Thornbury), and Jody’s best friend, an ice cream vendor named Reggie) future low-budget horror regular Reggie Bannister). After a friend mysteriously, um, “commits suicide” in a graveyard after picking up a tall blonde in a local bar, the three witness some strange goings-on at a small-town mortuary. It seems a mysterious figure known only as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is in fact an evil shape-shifting being from another dimension who, disguised as a mortician, has been sending corpses back through a space/time portal to his home planet where they are reanimated and forced into slave labor. Given the force of gravity on his home planet is several times what it is on Earth, the corpses are also shrunk to the size of dwarfs and for some reason dressed in monk’s robes. But that’s only scratching the surface. A few of those inter-dimensional midgets are here on Earth, skulking about a nearby cemetery, driving the vintage hearse, and doing whatever else the Tall Man might ask of them. He also has at his disposal that notorious flying silver ball (in many ways the real star of the film), which patrols the endless white hallways of the mortuary.
Equipped with some sinister-looking rotating knives, the ball swoops down upon any intruders and (in a sequence that originally earned the film an X rating) drills out their brains. Along the way there are also disembodied living fingers that transform into giant grotesque insects, creepy blind fortune tellers, psychic activity, copious amounts of yellow blood, a glimpse across dimensions, a giant tuning fork, references to Poe, Dante’s Inferno and Frank Herbert’s Dune (are you putting all this together as we go?), some believable human drama, several terrifying dream sequences that may or may not be dreams after all, and a dark twist of an ending that, together with the rest of the film, was clearly a major influence on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Unlike the Freddy films, however, the original Phantasm from start to finish operates on the above mentioned dream logic, in which audience members are simply asked to accept this Absurdist universe, no matter how goofy things get at times.
Although the film was completed in 1977, it didn’t find a distributor until late 1978, after Halloween triggered an explosion in the popularity of horror films. In this new horror-hungry climate, maybe even a weirdie like this had a shot.
It was released in January of 1979, and much to everyone’s amazement, actually found an audience among people who loved horror, but were eager for something a little different. No, it wasn’t the game-changing phenomenon Halloween had been, but it was a solid cult hit, raking in $11.5 million on a $300,000 budget.
Get the best of Den of Geek delivered right to your inbox!
Several lean years passed in which Coscarelli didn’t write or direct much of anything, apart from the Conan knockoff The Beastmaster . Then in 1988,noting the success other studios had been having with other horror franchises like Halloween , Friday the 13th and the Freddy films, Universal took note of Phantasm’s respectavle profit margin, and approached Coscarelli with an offer. They’d produce a sequel that Coscarellu would write and direct, they’d provide a top-notch special effects team, they’d distribute the film when it was finished, and give him $3 million to do it,. He’d never planned on a sequel when he wrapped the original a decade earlier, but what the hell, right?
Having not planned on such a thing, Coscarelli wasn’t sure where to go with a follow-up story. Then he decided the easiest thing would simply be to pick up exactly where the first film left off, with Mike in the clutches of the Tall Man who, as luck would have it, hadn’t died in that fiery hearse wreck after all. Then he was further inspired by the pair of vampire hunters hitting the road at the end of Stephen King’s ‘ Salem’s Lot . With Jody dead at the end of the original, he’d have Mike and Reggie team up, going on the road to track down the Tall Man as he emptied graveyard after graveyard in small towns across the country.
Being a major corporate studio, of course, Universal had a few conditions when it came to the production. First, they had some say in the casting. Apart from Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, they weren’t interested in bringing back anyone from the original cast. If Coscarelli insisted, those original, unknown actors would have to go through the same audition process as everyone else. Even then, they told him he could either cast Bannister or Baldwin to play their original roles, but not both. More importantly, when it came to the script Universal didn’t want to see any more dream sequences, no more loose ends, and in fact none of that giddy weirdness at all. Those things just confused audiences. In short, they wanted to strip the sequel clean of everything that made the original what it was. I never understood that, but it sure seems to happen a lot.
The flying killer ball was still there, though, and was in fact the centerpiece of the ad campaign, whose tagline read, “The Ball is Back!”
As has become standard for most every contemporary sequel, apart from the addition of a few new characters and a change of setting (and James LeGros taking over the role of Mike), a number of scenes and situations from the original are simply repeated. Despite those directives from above, however, dream sequences remain plentiful, and in fact propel the plot along, as Reggie and Mike head for Oregon to save a young woman who’s been appearing in Mike’s dreams (Paula Irvine) from the clutches of the Tall Man. And while the flamboyant strangeness of the original is mostly lost, there are a few neat little unexpected touches, like a deadly Frisbee and a drunken priest (the great Kenneth Tigar) desecrating a corpse.
Phantasm II hit theaters in August of 1988, and brought in only a meager $7.3 million. The reasons are probably fairly simple. While the other Big Three horror franchises began putting out sequels almost immediately, Phantasm II came out nine years after the original. Nobody remembered that first Phantasm anymore. While the small core audience from 1979 (like me) was still there, the new younger crop of filmgoers was by that point far more accustomed to cookie cutter slasher films and the splashy big budget effects of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and likely couldn’t make heads or tails of this thing. As straightforward as it was in comparison with the original, compare it with any other horror film in theaters at the time, it must have seemed like surreal madness. What American teenager would want to sit through that?
While Phantasm II ’s ending, which echoed the original’s, clearly hinted at another sequel, that lackluster box office prompted Universal to drop the franchise idea. They’d distribute a Third if Coscarelli decided to make one, but that was all. The financing and everything else was up to him.
In a way, it might have been the best thing that could have happened to Coscarelli, because having started construction on the Phantasm universe, he was now free to continue as he pleased without interference from dull-witted studio exacs.
With that freedom, and after securing a $2.5 million budget, Coscarelli went a little hog wild, beginning with rounding up the original cast (including A. Michael Baldwin as Mike and Bill Thornbury as Jody), now some sixteen years older than they’d been in 1979. He also tossed in a new gun-crazy youngster named Tim (Kevin Connors), Gloria Lynne Henry as a military officer and martial artist, and a whole armada of flying spheres.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead , released in 1994, was a return to the wild unpredictability of the original, only more so. To even begin sketching out the plot is an exercise in futility, Let’s just say that the film once again picks up with Part II ’s final scene, but within three minutes you know no major studio had anything to do with this. Along the way, insignificant details from the original become major story points, we learn a bit more about the Tall Man ’s methodology and the secret of the silver (and now sometimes gold) spheres, we see why you should never trust a nurse, we’re introduced to a trio of comically villainous zombie looters, and spend a bit of time in other dimensions. There’s also a hot pink hearse.
The whole thing makes as much sense as the dream I had last night about the autistic handyman, the steel cage and the flying dog, but that’s the simple joy of it, and what a Phantasm film is supposed to be.
As expected, with audiences buy that point liking their movies (and particularly their sequels) simple retreads of the well-worn and familiar, Lord of the Dead only brought in $350,000. But now that he was in full indie mode once again, and with a small but hardcore cult fan vase anxious for more, Coscarelli was free to charge ahead.
Giving things a boost, one of those hardcore fans was Roger Avery, who’d co-written Reservoir Dogs and won an Oscar for co-writing Pulp Fiction . He wrote his own Phantasm screenplay, entitled Phantasm 1999 A.D. , which he hoped might be the fourth installment. This time the story was set in a post-apocalyptic future, and included a major part, none too surprisingly, for bruce Campbell.
Unfortunately the estimated $10 million budget needed to pull it off was out of reach, so Coscarelli shelved the idea for the time being as he wrote and directed his own Phantasm IV: Oblivion , designed to lead directly into the Avery script.
Necessarily pared down some thanks to its $650,000 budget, Oblivion, again with the same cast, stretches even deeper into dream logic.
As per tradition, the film opens with Lord of the Dead ’s closing scene, as Mike, now with a golden orb in his head as the first stage of his transformation into one of the Tall Man’s minions (see?) escapes and drives away, determined to uncover the Tall Man ’s origins. Over the course of the film, Mike hops back and fore through assorted times and dimensions looking for the Tall Man , Reggie does the same looking for Mike, Jody appears in a variety of forms (though mostly as a flying sphere himself(. We meet the Tall Man’s first earthly human incarnation in the form of a seemingly kindly and gentle 19th century innkeeper named Jebediah (who may or may not be married to the blind psychic from the first film, we get a glimpse of the abandoned Los Angeles of the future, and assorted family tensions are aired in Death Valley . And Reggie picks up a woman who turns out to have flying spheres for boobs. Beyond merely working with an Absurdist dream logic, as the series progresses the films (like David Lynch’s very early and very late work) come to feel like actual dreams, which make some kind of sense as you experience them, but apart from a few random flashes, are almost impossible to piece together again afterward.
Sadly, Oblivion , which ends on an unexpectedly melancholy note, didn’t turn out to be the stepping stone toward bankrolling that Avery script, and the idea was eventually abandoned.
Despite persistent rumors that seemed to crop up from a variety of sources every few years, that was apparently that for the Phantasm franchise, even with all the loose ends, unanswered questions, and open-ended storylines. But isn’t that just like a dream?
Latest Movie reviews
Aquaman 2 review: the king of atlantis limply buries dceu at sea, rebel moon review: at least it’s better than the rise of skywalker, the zone of interest is the scariest movie of the year.
Then in 2016, nearly four decades after the original, Phantasm returned from the dead, just like the Tall Man had so many times before.
It only makes perfect sense, given that by this point Angus Scrimm was in his nineties, Bannister and Thornbury were in their seventies, and Baldwin was in his mid-fifties, that 2016’s Phantasm: Ravager would close out the series with a storyline about Alzheimer’s, with Mike taking care of Reggie in a nursing home. Suffering from dementia, Reggie slips into and out of consciousness, dividing the film into dream sequences interrupted by dreamlike reality populated with characters from throughout the franchise’s previous entries. There are still a lot of shotguns and flying orbs and evil inter-dimensional midgets, but in the end the overall tone is melancholy, as a man whose grasp of current reality is tenuous at best, tries to take stock of a life that has essentially been lived in a dream.
Although Coscarelli is credited as screenwriter, this time around his co-writer David Hartman took the director’s chair, and did a masterful job. I can’t think of another contemporary genre franchise, particularly a horror franchise, with the guts to not only push its own boundaries with every outing the way the Phantasm films did, but actually mature along the way. Looking at them the right way, from its origins as a low-budget weirdie shocker (and with the exception of Part II ), the films quickly evolved into darkly comic avant-garde narrative experiments. Coscarelli invented his own complex and closed universe, a singular world of shifting realities and few constants, a world of daylight and bright colors and a kaleidoscope of incongruous imagery, with a set of rules perhaps only he understood completely. At least a few of us are perfectly willing and happy to accept that. And to this day the Phantasm films collectively remain the only films I can think of where I don’t want to put my head through the screen when I’m told at the end it was all a dream.
Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, Quitting the Nairobi Trio, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, The Blow-Off and some other books. His latest book, A Purposeful Grimace: In…
Full cast & crew.
Writing credits , cast (in credits order) verified as complete , produced by , music by , cinematography by , editing by , production design by , art direction by , makeup department , production management , art department , sound department , special effects by , stunts , camera and electrical department , costume and wardrobe department , editorial department , music department , script and continuity department , additional crew .
Release Dates | Official Sites | Company Credits | Filming & Production | Technical Specs
Contribute to This Page
- Full Cast and Crew
- Release Dates
- Official Sites
- Company Credits
- Filming & Production
- Technical Specs
- Plot Summary
- Plot Keywords
- Parents Guide
Did You Know?
- Crazy Credits
- Alternate Versions
Photo & Video
- Photo Gallery
- Trailers and Videos
- User Reviews
- User Ratings
- External Reviews
- Metacritic Reviews
- External Sites
Related lists from IMDb users
- Press Releases
- Israel-Hamas War
- Russia-Ukraine War
- Latin America
- Middle East
- Asia Pacific
- Election 2024
- AP Top 25 College Football Poll
- Movie reviews
- Book reviews
- Financial Markets
- Business Highlights
- Financial wellness
- Artificial Intelligence
- Social Media
More delays for NASA’s astronaut moonshots, with crew landing off until 2026
A full moon is seen behind the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, atop the mobile launcher, are prepared for a wet dress rehearsal to practice timelines and procedures for launch, at Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 14, 2022. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, NASA said astronauts will have to wait until 2025 before flying to the moon and another few years before landing on it. (Cory Huston/NASA via AP)
FILE - Artemis II crew members, from left, Jeremy Hansen, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman and Christina Koch, stand together at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in front of an Orion crew module on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, NASA said astronauts will have to wait until 2025 before flying to the moon and another few years before landing on it. (Kim Shiflett/NASA via AP, File)
FILE - NASA’s Orion capsule is drawn to the well deck of the USS Portland after it splashed down following a successful uncrewed Artemis I moon mission, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, NASA said astronauts will have to wait until 2025 before flying to the moon and another few years before landing on it. (Mario Tama/Pool Photo via AP, File)
- Copy Link copied
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Astronauts will have to wait until next year before flying to the moon and at least two years before landing on it, under the latest round of delays announced by NASA on Tuesday.
The space agency had planned to send four astronauts around the moon late this year, but pushed the flight to September 2025. The first human moon landing in more than 50 years also got bumped, from 2025 to September 2026. NASA cited safety concerns with its own spacecraft, as well as development issues with the moonsuits and landers coming from private industry.
“Safety is our top priority,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. The delays will “give Artemis teams more time to work through the challenges.”
The news came barely an hour after a Pittsburgh company abandoned its own attempt to land its spacecraft on the moon because of a mission-ending fuel leak.
Launched Monday as part of NASA’s commercial lunar program, Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lander was supposed to serve as a scout for the astronauts. A Houston company will give it a shot with its own lander next month.
NASA is relying heavily on private companies for its Artemis moon-landing program for astronauts, named after the mythological twin sister of Apollo.
SpaceX’s Starship mega rocket will be needed to get the first Artemis moonwalkers from lunar orbit down to the surface and back up. But the nearly 400-foot (121-meter) rocket has launched from Texas only twice, exploding both times over the Gulf of Mexico. A third test flight is planned for February.
The longer it takes to get Starship into orbit around Earth, first with satellites and then crews, the longer NASA will have to wait to attempt its first moon landing with astronauts since 1972. During NASA’s Apollo era, 12 astronauts walked on the moon. The competition back then was the Soviet Union; now it’s China. Nelson told reporters he’s not worried that China will beat America to the moon with a crew, even with the latest delay. Even so, “we don’t fly until it’s ready,” he stressed.
The Government Accountability Office warned in November that NASA was likely looking at 2027 for its first astronaut moon landing, citing Elon Musk’s Starship as one of the many technical challenges. Another potential hurdle: the development of moonwalking suits by Houston’s Axiom Space.
“We need them all to be ready and all to be successful in order for that very complicated mission to come together,” said Amit Kshatriya, NASA’s deputy associate administrator. He added that even with the delay, a 2026 moon landing represents “a very aggressive schedule.”
NASA has only one Artemis moonshot under its belt so far. In a test flight of its new moon rocket in 2022, the space agency sent an empty Orion capsule into lunar orbit and returned it to Earth. To engineers’ surprise, some charred material came off the capsule’s heat shield during reentry. Later, testing of another capsule uncovered a design flaw in the life-support electronics, and separate battery issues popped up.
It’s the same kind of capsule that will carry astronauts to and from the moon, linking up with Starship in lunar orbit for the trip down to the surface and back up.
Starship will need to fill up its fuel tank in orbit around Earth, before heading to the moon; SpaceX estimates an estimated 10 fuel transfers will be needed. The company plans an orbiting fuel depot to handle the job, another key aspect of the program yet to be demonstrated.
NASA’s moon-landing effort has been delayed repeatedly over the past decade, adding to billions of dollars to the cost. Government audits project the total program costs at $93 billion through 2025.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.