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-like zombie 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
are the guiding principles of the series. Going for Surreal Horror
and the feeling of a nightmare, the films are brimming with such memorable horrors as the ex-human
lurkers, the brain-drilling flying spheres, and Angus Scrimm playing the magnificently frightening Tall Man himself.
Sixteen years since the release of Oblivion
, the fifth and final film, Phantasm V: Ravager
has been announced.
The series features examples of:
- Action Girl: Rocky and Tanesha in the third film.
- Action Survivor: Reggie.
- Actionized Sequel: Phantasm II
- 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.
- All Just a Dream: "No, it's not!"
- And I Must Scream: "You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!"
- Asshole Victim: The looters in the third movie.
- Badass Adorable: Tim in the third movie. A cute boy who's absolutely deadly.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: The Tall Man is not your average undertaker, but he always dresses the part.
- Badass Normal: Reggie in particular has this in spades.
- Bald of Awesome: Reggie is either awesome in spite of being bald, ugly and middle aged, or doubly awesome because of it.
- Bifurcated Weapon: Reggie's quadruple barreled Sawed-Off Shotgun.
- Big Bad: The Tall Man.
- Blatant Lies: In the fourth Phantasm, in a dream, the Tall Man is caught by a noose and he begs the protagonist, Michael to cut him down.
The Tall Man: Cut me down!
The Tall Man: I won't hurt you.
Michael: You're killing the world!
The Tall Man: I'll go away... and I won't ever come back. [gives mischievous grin]
Michael: You will?
The Tall Man: Yes.
- Black Girl Dies First: Tanesha, Rocky's friend, is the first to die of the main group in the 3rd film.
- Bloody Hilarious: Especially the third film, where the gore is mostly played for laughs.
- Body Horror: The Liz Creature from the second film and the living, twisted body in the trunk from the fourth film.
- Bond One-Liner: Reggie: "Wow, some cops can be real assholes!" He also has some delightfully cheesy Pre Mortem One Liners.
- Catch Phrase: "Booooooyyyyyyyy!!!"
- Chainsaw Good: In the second film, Reggie has a chainsaw duel with a Gas Mask Mook.
- Cool Car: The series has a reputation for blowing these up.
- Cool Gate: The gates that the Tall Man uses for transportation.
- Credits Gag: "...and the wrath of The Tall Man."
- Creepy Mortician: The Tall Man in the first Phantasm.
- 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.
- Cut Short: The four issue comic miniseries by Xmachina. Only one issue was released.
- Death by Sex: Tommy in the first film. And poor Reggie comes close on a few occasions.
- Designated Girl Fight: Rocky vs the female zombie Edna in the 3rd film.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: The ending of the first three movies.
- Dirty Old Man: Reggie.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Reggie Bannister sang and wrote the lyrics for Have You Seen It?, the rock song that plays over the end credits of the fourth film. Doubles as an Image Song as well.
- Downer Ending: The fourth film ends with Michael dying and Reggie going off into parts unknown to follow the Tall Man.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Liz and Tim, and in the same film no less.
- Eldritch Abomination: The true form of the Tall Man is implicated as being some kind of being that is anchored in another dimension.
- In Oblivion, sweet old man Jebediah Morningside walks into his prototype Dimensional Gate... and something else wearing his skin comes back. This dialogue best illustrates it:
Mike: *as Jebediah Morningside steps through the prototype Dimensional Gate* When's he coming back?
*The Tall Man steps back through the gate, Sentinel in hand.*
- Elite Mook: The Gold Spheres.
- Probably more important than a mook seeing as how both the Tall Man and Mike are gold spheres.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: It is even lampshaded in the fourth film, with the implication that Reality Is Unrealistic.
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.
- 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".
- Failure Is the Only Option
- 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?
- Final Girl: Rocky.
- Gas Mask Mooks: The Gravers.
- 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.
- Groin Attack: With a chainsaw in Phantasm II.
- 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.
- Heavyworlder: The lurkers.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Subverted in Phantasm II when Mike uses one of the Tall Man's own flying spheres against him. It only makes him spurt yellow blood, and he crushes the sphere with his bare hand before throwing it away.
- Humanoid Abomination: The Tall Man.
- Human Resources: The Tall Man uses stolen corpses for two purposes; the bodies are compressed and reanimated as Lurkers; the brains are compressed and reanimated as operators of the Spheres.
- Life or Limb Decision: Happens to one of the Tall Man's mortuary assistants in the second film.
- I'm Melting: The Tall Man's "death" in the second film.
- Implacable Man / Invincible Villain: The Tall Man who simply can't be stopped. Destroy him completely and another identical one will step out of the portal and finish where he left off.
- Impossibly Cool Weapon: The Tall Man's silver spheres. They're essentially flying Swiss Army knives of doom.
- 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.
- Mind Screw: How much of it is deliberate and how much is Coscarelli making it up as he goes along is unclear.
- Mirror Scare: The first film contains a classic example.
- Mood Whiplash: The fourth film is split between Mike's somber explorations of the Tall Man's origins, and Reggie's wacky adventures trying to find him.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: The Tall Man. Though, to be fair, the extent of his powers is never made clear.
- 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".
- Nocturnal Mooks: The lurkers.
- 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.
- Our Zombies Are Different
- 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.
- Product Placement: Dos Equis beer in the first movie.
- Reality Warper: The Tall Man.
- 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.
- Running Gag: Every car explodes when it crashes. (See Every Car Is a Pinto above.)
- Save Scumming: A rare Film example. It's how The Tall Man keeps coming back. Subverted in the fourth film when Jody teaches Mike how to do it... but he isn't nearly as good at it as The Tall Man is.
- The Seventies: The cars, slang, hairstyles, and especially the clothes from the first film. Reggie though seems to be still stuck there, given his lifestyle and slang.
- Shaky P.O.V. Cam
- Shout-Out: In Phantasm II, an undertaker is seen filling a bag labeled "Mr. Sam Raimi" with ashes. This may also be a Stealth Pun on Ash from Raimi's Evil Dead films.
- 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.
- Spirit Advisor: Jody to Mike and Reggie.
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Liz and Tim.
- 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.
- Surreal Horror: The original Phantasm in particular runs off this, but the whole series has strains of it.
- 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.
Reggie: Little kids shouldn't be playing with guns.
Tim: I aint a kid no more, Reg.
- 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."
- White Void Room: The portal rooms.
- With Catlike Tread: Subverted. Mike carefully sneaks up to the funeral home in the middle of the night, and then noisily smashing a window to get in.
- Zombie Mooks: Lurkers, reanimated and shortened zombie creatures ready to do The Tall Man's bidding.