Phantasm is a series of horror films written and directed by Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho Tep).An evil supernatural being known as the Tall Man travels from small town to small town, leaving devastation in his wake. Posing as an undertaker, he steals dead bodies and transforms them into dwarf-likezombie slaves, nicknamed 'lurkers'. Pursuing him are the only ones who might stop him: a troubled young man named Mike, an aging, balding ice cream vendor named Reggie, and the few allies they find along the way.To date, four films have been made, the most popular being the 1979 original, which remains a Cult Classic admired for its atmosphere and originality. With Phantasm II in 1988, the series shifted away from quiet, creepy horror, giving the heroes some cool weapons and upping the excitement. 1994's Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is more of the same with added comedy, while 1998's Phantasm IV: Oblivion is a lot more subdued, and takes time to explore (if not explain) things hitherto unexplored in the series, such as the possible origins of the Tall Man.It is fair to say that the rules of cool and scary are the guiding principles of the series. Bellisario's Maxim probably applies. While a coherent plot would have been nice, the films are entertaining enough and brimming with such memorable horrors - the ex-human lurkers, the brain-drilling flying spheres, Angus Scrimm playing the magnificently frightening Tall Man himself - that it hardly matters.
Adam Westing: Scrimm's role as a Crusty Caretaker in the low-budget horror spoof Transylvania Twist sends up the Tall Man persona with which he is indelibly identified something rotten, including a flying sphere attack that turns into a baseball game.
Alien Blood: Both the Tall Man and his minions bleed yellow.
Cruel and Unusual Death: How the Spheres deal with their victims, by impaling themselves into the forehead and then drilling between the eyes, the blood spurting out from the Sphere's other side. Sounds painful.
The death of one of the assistant morticians in the second film. The Gold Sphere hits him right in the back and proceeds to drill right into his body, the mortician writing in agony, until it tries to leaves through his mouth but gets jammed in his jaws.
The Danza: A. Michael Baldwin as Mike and Reggie Bannister as Reggie.
Death by Sex: Tommy in the first film. And poor Reggie comes close on a few occasions.
Reggie: We better move away from the car before the gasoline blows.
Jennifer: Wait! I thought cars only blew up like that in the movies!
[Car explodes in a huge fireball]
Reggie: Yeah, me too.
Executive Meddling: This is one reason why the second film is more straightforward, faster paced and altogether a more conventional horror film than its predecessor.
Fake Shemp: Mike's face isn't shown in the first part of the second film, as he was clearly played by a different child actor. For the rest of the film Mike is played by James LeGros, see The Other Darrin below.
The first scene of the first movie has two Shemps: the actress who played the Lady in Lavender wasn't comfortable with mimicking a sex scene with the actor who played Tommy, so Bill Thornbury filled in for him. Also, she didn't want her own breasts on film, so the movie cuts to a shot of a different actress' breasts - in the credits, she's billed as "Double Lavender".
Fingore: The Tall Man's hand gets caught by a slammed door in the first film, then gets its fingers cut off when Mike realizes the trapped hand is there, and still moving. So were the amputated fingers. At least until one turned into an evil alien bug. Did we mention that this is one weird flick?
Gender Bender: In the first movie and possibly the second, the Tall Man seems able to transform himself into a gorgeous woman, doing so to lure people in for to be killed. And it was poor Reggie in both films!
Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the first film, Mike clearly mouths the words "What the fuck?" after seeing the Tall Man easily lift a heavy casket, although only the soundtrack is heard.
Ghost Town: Any town that the Tall Man has visited.
Go Into the Light: Mike is somewhat discouraged from doing so in the third film when he sees the Tall Man waiting for him there.
Hand in the Hole: A likely Shout-Out to Dune in the first film. Mike is instructed by the daughter of the local blind witch to put his hand in a black box which inflicts pain on him, thus teaching him that fear is the mind killer. Mike utilizes this knowledge at the end of the film, trying not to fear The Tall Man.
Even more so with the gold spheres, which have "positron lasers", 3 blades that look like serrated can-opener blades, and dual circular saws.
Reggie's quadruple-barreled shotgun counts as this. It consists of two double-barreled shotguns connected together via their mechanisms to create a four barreled masterpiece.
Infant Immortality: Averted. Though little Mike is nearly killed by the Tall Man in the first movie, Phantasm II has Reggie's family, including his young daughter, killed after the Tall Man blows up their house, and Phantasm III has Tim taken and likely killed by one of Tall Man's Lurkers.
Kill It with Ice: Cold is one of the few forces proven to incapacitate the Tall Man, if only temporarily.
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Angus Scrimm is renowned for being very approachable and happy to discuss the films in all the decades since taking the role.
Mind Screw: How much of it is deliberate and how much is Coscarelli making it up as he goes along is unclear.
The "Sentinel Spheres" (silver spheres) seem to do this on occasion. It's unknown exactly if different spheres have different weapons and other equipment (such as the "eye stalk sphere"), or if they're all flying Swiss army knives of death.
Most noticeably, the Jody Sphere is able to shift into Jody's form, while the other spheres have to be embedded in a body to pass as human.
There's also Mike, where he first seemed to have a psychic link with Liz and the Tall Man in the second film before in the fourth film having Tall Man-like powers.
Nice Hat: Jody's derby hat he wears while playing "Sitting Here at Midnight".
Ominous Walk: The Tall Man apparently carries marble floor with him just so he can use this trope.
Once per Episode: Someone must have decided that since the original film ends with Mike being pulled through a mirror by lurkers, each sequel should end with something similar befalling a character or characters, whether or not it makes sense. Only the fourth film breaks with this tradition.
Portal Cut: In the third film, the Tall Man is reaching through one of his dimensional gates when Reggie shuts it off, slicing them off where they then mutate into alien scorpion-like creatures that attack the protagonists.
Retcon: It's pretty damned hard to figure out which parts of the end of one film you're supposed to accept as canon when watching the next in the series. Characters who clearly died are suddenly alive again, others just drop off the face of the earth, etc.
It doesn't help that all events in the series up to and including the first 10-15 minutes of the second film were All Just a Dream. It is uncertain how much - if any - of the first film actually happened, and beyond a few broad hints what the real events unfolded like. Then when the fourth film starts flashing back to footage from the original that wasn't actually included in the film...yep, the Phantasm series is a little screwy.
We can be fairly certain that none of the reveals of the third film, including the spheres holding the brains of dead people, and Mike being from the Tall Man's world were things Coscarelli had in mind while starting the series.
Rule of Cool: The series is based entirely around it. In fact, a major strike against the sequels for many fans is that they attempt to make sense of the Tall Man and his world, which is an exercise in futility.
The fortune teller scene in the first film references the opening scene of Dune. And this is the only purpose of the scene, too.
Shown Their Work: In the funeral home infiltration scene in the first movie, Jody decides to carry his Colt 1911 with a round chambered but the hammer in the down position. When a lurker drops onto his back, he has to manually cock the hammer to start shooting at it, which is how a 1911 works in real life.
Further work-showing in the scene with Mike giving Jody the shotgun: "Don't point a gun at a man unless you intend to shoot him. Don't shoot at a man unless you intend to kill him. And no warning shots. Warning shots are bullshit." All 100% in line with the Rules of Gun Safety.
Super Strength: The Tall Man, who despite his frail (yet imposing) frame, has demonstrated strength of the Neck Lift, Barrier-Busting Blow, and Hoist Hero Over Head varieties. As a matter of fact, one of the first clues that there was something odd about the Creepy Mortician skulking around the local cemetery was Mike witnessing him heave a loaded casket into the back of a hearse. With one arm.
This Is a Drill: The silver spheres kill by drilling into the brain and spitting the blood out the end.
Undignified Death; The caretaker in the first film. Not only is he the first Sphere kill in the films but he then urinates himself all over the floor when he hits the ground.
Unflinching Walk: At the beginning of Phantasm II, Reggie turns off the pilot lights on the gas stove in an effort to incinerate the Tall Man's minions. After a harrowing escape with Mike in tow, they leap out a window just in time to get clear of the massive explosion. The Tall Man merely glances backwards at the flaming building, then continues after the pair.
Was Once a Man: Both the lurkers and, seemingly, the spheres and the Tall Man, himself.
Wham Line: At the end of the first film... Mike is in his room - he closes the closet door to reveal the Not Quite Dead Tall Man standing behind him.
The Tall Man: BOOOOOOYYYYYY!!!
At the end of the second film too, courtesy of the Tall Man once again.
The Tall Man is good at these. From the end of the third film:
Reggie: (to Tim) Run kid, get out of here! It's over!
The Tall Man: It's never over.
The origin of The Tall Man
"Jebediah Morningside never does come back."
What Could Have Been: Another sequel was planned, starring Bruce Campbell and taking place in a future America overrun by the Tall Man's minions. We haven't heard much about this project for, oh, about a decade.
Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of Mike in Phantasm II.