Revisiting the ’70s Horror Classic: Phantasm

Angus Scrimm, RIP 1926-2016

I love to revisit old-time horror movies from my teen years. Some, like the Jason movies, haven’t aged well—perhaps that’s why they keep making sequels or remaking them. There were plenty of bad slasher movies, a lot of them! However, some movies did stand the test of time. Hellraiser, for instance, still looks great, and Pinhead remains a classic evil villain. The original Evil Dead movies are in a class of their own. They were different, not relying on a formula, just like my all-time favorite movie (and the first DVD I rushed out to buy), Phantasm.

Phantasm was released on March 28, 1979, featuring a relatively unknown cast and was written, produced and directed by Don Coscarelli when he was only 25. The story revolves around two orphaned brothers, Jody, the eldest, and Mike, who is about 13, and their best friend, Reggie Bannister, the town’s ice cream man.

Revisiting the ’70s Horror Classic: Phantasm

Left to Right: Jody, Reggie and Mike

When a friend of theirs allegedly dies in a car accident, Mike decides to investigate the mortuary. He witnesses the “Tall Man” (the local mortician and his soon-to-be eternal nemesis) doing something unbelievable. This sets in motion an epic battle spanning five films (let’s ignore my previous mention of sequels). The Tall Man has plans for this planet and won’t let the “Boy” get in his way, so he and his minions chase after Mike. Mike tries to warn people about the Tall Man, but, of course, no one believes a 13-year-old kid, especially not Jody, who assumes it’s just a trauma response after their parents’ deaths. Or is it?

Revisiting the ’70s Horror Classic: Phantasm

Reggie Bannister, the ice cream man

I can still vividly recall the first time I watched Phantasm. I was just a kid, home alone on a Friday night, and Phantasm was playing on CBS at 10:30 p.m. I had never seen anything like it before. Sure, the special effects weren’t as advanced as they are now, but I was terrified and turned on every light I could find. I was also amazed that Mike, a seemingly ordinary kid the same age as me, could be so brave.

Phantasm features many bizarre elements, such as deadly flying silver orbs, reanimated tiny zombies, tuning fork portals to another world, a really creepy bug, and, of course, being set in the ’70s, some cheesy singing and “groovy” lingo. It’s all very trippy and not always politically correct. But beneath the surface, there’s a story with its own mythology and meaning. Is it all a dream? An alternate world or dimension? Or is something more sinister at play?

Revisiting the ’70s Horror Classic: PhantasmIn addition to the talented Angus Scrimm, who portrayed the Tall Man, the movie introduced us to the unforgettable Reggie Bannister—a hero, whether he’s selling ice cream, strumming his guitar, or battling evil. While Phantasm may not have reached the popularity of Halloween or other well-known horror franchises, I really wish it had. Phantasm is a cult classic that combines elements of science fiction and fantasy into an exciting and memorable experience. There are four sequels, but while I enjoy revisiting the characters, nothing beats the original. I highly recommend getting a copy and making this special movie part of your spooky season traditions. We own the movie on DVD and Blu-ray, and you can stream it anytime on the Kanopy app.