Film: Phantasm


"Where he came from, nobody knows. His evil spread like a plague, destroying towns, maiming and killing. We called him The Tall Man; at first we thought he was just an undertaker. His hordes pillaged graveyards, rooted up the bodies, and spirited off the dead to a place worse than Hell."
Reggie, Phantasm: Oblivion

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-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 and scary 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:

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  • Alien Blood: Both the Tall Man and his minions bleed yellow.
  • Alien Sky: The Tall Man's world has a strange, red sky.
  • 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.
  • Cool Gate: The gates that the Tall Man uses for transportation.
  • 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.
  • Cut Short: The four issue comic miniseries by Xmachina. Only one issue was released.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The ending of the first three movies.
  • 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!
  • Ghost Town: Any town that The Tall Man has visited ends up like this.
  • Heavyworlder: The lurkers get squashed as they are being made so that their bodies can withstand the gravity of The Tall Man's world.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Tall Man, since he is impersonating a human who ventured into his world.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: The spheres have a tendency to accidentally kill the Tall Man's minions when they're supposed to be targeting the heroes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 some see as an exercise in futility.
  • 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.
  • Spirit Advisor: Jody to Mike and Reggie in the third and fourth films.
  • 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.
  • Was Once a Man: Both the lurkers and, seemingly, the spheres and the Tall Man, himself.
  • White Void Room: The portal rooms to The Tall Man's world.
  • Zombie Mooks: Lurkers, reanimated and shortened zombie creatures ready to do The Tall Man's bidding.

    Phantasm (1979) 

"You play a good game boy, but the game is finished. Now you die."
The Tall Man

  • The '70s: The cars, slang, hairstyles, and especially the clothes. Reggie in the later films seems to be still stuck there, given his lifestyle and slang.
  • Creepy Mortician: The Tall Man, since he's true nature is yet to be discovered, poses as an odd mortician of the Morningside cemetery.
  • Death by Sex: The film opens with Tommy, a friend of Jody and Reggie, getting stabbed by a blonde that he just had sex with.
  • Fake Shemp: The first scene of the 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, 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?
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Mike clearly mouths the words "What the fuck?" after seeing the Tall Man easily lift a heavy casket, although only the soundtrack is heard.
  • Hand in the Hole: In a likely Shout-Out to Dune, 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.
  • Infant Immortality: Little Mike is nearly killed by the Tall Man, but survives to appear in the sequels.
  • MacGyvering: After being locked in his room by Jody, Mike tapes a shotgun shell on a hammer which he uses to make a hole in his door and let himself out.
  • Mirror Scare: The film ends with a Mike closing a closet door with a mirror on it, revealing that The Tall Man is in his room. He is then grabbed by the lurkers through the said mirror.
  • Nice Hat: Jody's derby hat he wears while playing "Sitting Here at Midnight".
  • Product Placement: Jody is shown to be an aficianado of Dos Equis beer.
  • Undignified Death: Happens to the caretaker. 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.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • In the funeral home infiltration scene, 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.
  • Wham Line: At the end of the 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!!!
  • With Catlike Tread: Subverted. Mike carefully sneaks up to the funeral home in the middle of the night, and then noisily smashes a basement window to get in.

    Phantasm II (1988) 

"You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us."
The Tall Man

  • Actionized Sequel: Since Mike and Reggie are already (mostly) on the know about The Tall Man and his machinations, they arm themselves with a laundry list of weapons and get plenty of use from them throughout the film.
  • Body Horror: The Liz Creature that The Tall man has left as a grisly "calling card" to Mike and Reggie in one of the towns that he has entirely emptied of bodies.
  • Call Back: When Liz is about to check a mysterious coffin in her hometown funeral parlor, The Tall Man grabs her shoulder and tells her that "gravesite service's about to begin", which is a similar to a scene from the previous film where he grabs Jody who is investigating strange noises.
  • Chainsaw Good: Our heroes pick up a chainsaw when they raid a hardware store for their battle against The Tall Man. Later on, Reggie has a chainsaw duel with a graver.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The death of one of the assistant morticians. 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.
  • Dangerous Windows: The Tall Man kidnaps Liz by grabbing her through a window.
  • Ear Ache: A silver sphere flies past Father Meyers, removing his left ear before lodging itself on his forehead and draining him of his blood.
  • Fake Shemp: Mike's face isn't shown in the first part of the film, as he was clearly played by a different child actor.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Mike creates a makeshift flamethrower by putting three bottles of together.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The gravers, who are in charge of exhuming graves and delivering their inhabitants to The Tall Man.
  • Groin Attack: Reggie finishes his chainsaw duel with a graver by raising his saw to the guy's groin.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Subverted 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.
  • I'm Melting: After being stabbed with a embalming needle, The Tall Man starts melting since Reggie added hydrochloric acid into the embalming fluid earlier.
  • Immediate Sequel: The film opens on Liz telling the audience about her visions of the future, and one of these visions is shown to be the ending of the previous film, and what happened immediately afterwards.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Reggie's family, including his young daughter, are killed after the Tall Man blows up their house.
  • Life or Limb Decision: A mortician mook gets his hand Pinned to the Wall by a silver sphere which was aiming for Mike and Liz. When he sees a golden one headed his way as well, he resorts to cutting the pinned hand off with an axe to avoid an even worse fate.
  • Murder by Cremation: Liz escapes from being cremated alive, and hands that fate for one of The Tall Man's mortician mooks instead.
  • Numbered Sequels
  • Sequel Escalation: More of The Tall Man's spheres are featured, including a golden one, which is more dangerous than the regular silver ones since it is the one that resides inside his body.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A mortician mook 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.
    • There's a grave marked Alex Murphy. An obvious reference to RoboCop.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Reggie's unseen family gets blown up so that he'll be motivated to go after The Tall Man together with Mike.
  • Super Window Jump: After saving young Mike from the lurkers, Reggie grabs him and jumps out of a second story window just before the entire house explodes.
  • This Is a Drill: Reggie has a power drill among his arsenal, which he uses against a graver who has lifted him against a wall to get free.
  • Unflinching Walk: At the beginning of the film, 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.

    Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) 

  • Action Girl: Rocky and Tanesha. Mostly Rocky, since Tanesha dies soon after she is introduced.
  • Asshole Victim: The looter trio, who solely exist to act like dicks and get killed. Even after death.
  • Badass Adorable: Tim. A cute boy who's absolutely deadly.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Tanesha, Rocky's friend, is the first to die of the main group.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The gore throughout the film is mostly played for laughs.
  • Credits Gag: The end credits have a warning that states how "unauthorized duplication, distribution, or exhibition may result in civil liability, criminal prosecutions, and the wrath of The Tall Man."
  • Designated Girl Fight: Rocky vs the female zombie Edna.
  • 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.
  • Immediate Sequel: After the events of the previous films are recounted, it is shown what happened immediately after the second film ended.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. The film ends with Tim being taken taken and killed by one of The Tall Man's lurkers, if his absence in the next film is anything to go by.
  • Kill It with Ice: Our protagonists attempt to defeat The Tall Man by stabbing him with a cryogenics-dipped spear and the locking him up in a freezer. This incarnation of The Tall man then retaliates by unleashing the golden sentinel within his body.
  • Neck Snap: Not shown onscreen, but when Tim finds his mother's corpse, its head is clearly twisted around.
  • Nocturnal Mooks: According to Tim, the lurkers, The Tall Man's dwarfish minions, only come out at night.
  • Numbered Sequels: With an instance of Title of the Dead as a subtitle.
  • Off with His Head!: Jody-sphere latches itself onto Rufus's head, and starts spinning around, removing it.
  • Portal Cut: 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.
  • Slashed Throat: Tim kills Rufus of the looters by throwing a frisbee adorned with razors, which then proceeds to cut his throat.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Liz is show dying from a car crash after the film starts proper.
  • Super Window Jump: After finding out that his mother is dead, Tim crashes out of the back-window of the hearse he's on.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Done by Jody when his spirit interrupts Reggie amidst an erotic dream of his.
    Jody: Yeah Reg, I kinda need you to get behind me— I-I mean I need you get behind what I'm saying.
  • Wham Line: As usual, one comes from The Tall Man at the end of the film:
    Reggie: (to Tim) Run kid, get out of here! It's over!
    The Tall Man: It's never over.

    Phantasm: Oblivion (1998) 

  • Blatant Lies: In a dream, the Tall Man is caught by a noose and he begs the young Mike to cut him down.
    The Tall Man: Cut me down!
    Michael: No!
    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.
  • Body Horror: The living, twisted body in the trunk.
  • Bond One-Liner: Reggie, after witnessing the definitive demise of the zombie cop: "Wow, some cops can be real assholes!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: With his new powers, Mike contructs a sentinel sphere of his own, which is powered by his car's engine. This turns up in the climax where he uses it to lure The Tall Man into an exploding trap, which fails to kill him since another version of him appears right afterwards.
  • Credits Gag: Like the previous film, the end credits have a warning that states how "unauthorized duplication, distribution, or exhibition may result in civil liability, criminal prosecutions, and the wrath of The Tall Man."
  • "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. Doubles as an Image Song as well.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Mike dying and Reggie going off into parts unknown to follow the Tall Man.
  • Drop the Hammer: Reggie has a sldge hammer with him, which he uses to kill Jennifer after she turns out to be one of The Tall Man's minions.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: It is even lampshaded, 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.
  • Immediate Sequel: The film starts with Mike driving away from Boulton after learning the truth about himself, and The Tall Man sparing Reggie's life from what seemed like his certain doom.
  • 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.
  • Numbered Sequels: Played with with the subtitle, which has the "iv" part in Oblivion highlighted.
  • Pinned to the Wall: Reggie manages to stop a sentinel sphere with his hand, but it then proceeds to pin him to a wall. He has to use his tuning fork to stop it.
  • Staggered Zoom: When Mike attempts to hang himself, a zoom like this shows The Tall man watching him in the distance.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Liz and Tim.
  • Wham Line: Delivered after the sweet old man Jebediah Morningside walks into his prototype dimensional gate.
    Mike: *as Jebediah Morningside steps through the prototype dimensional gate* When's he coming back?
    Jody: Jebediah Morningside never does come back.
    *The Tall Man steps back through the gate, Sentinel in hand.*

    Phantasm: Ravager 

  • Sequel Escalation: A giant version of a sentinel sphere figures into the plot.
  • Numbered Sequels: Played with with the subtitle, which has the "v" in Ravager highlighted.

Alternative Title(s):

Phantasm II, Phantasm III Lord Of The Dead, Phantasm IV Oblivion, Phantasm V Ravager