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Phantasm: Remastered (Blu-ray Review)

Phantasm-RemasteredIf you’ve been an avid reader of my stuff here on this site (And let’s be honest, why wouldn’t you be?), its been pretty consistent that one of the most massive movies on my Blu-ray bucket list has been Phantasm.  The whole series, really, but mainly this first movie.  I honestly didn’t realize how much of a cult film with a smaller following it really was.  Growing up, it (and its sequels) were at really every video store I went to.  The Tall Man was a common figure to hold up among the 80s slasher/monster icons.  Years, pass, no further entries and nobody involved with the series is of any massive stature (To hold in a “look where such and such superstar got their start” fashion).  But one certain director/producer with clout was a big fan.  And in 2016, Phantasm came back in a big way, with a 4K restoration and theatrical rerelease headed up by JJ Abrams.  Also in tow was a brand new sequel serving as the closing chapter in this unique horror series.  But, what about Blu-ray?  Everyone was tossing their guess as to who would have it.  Scream Factory?  Arrow? NOPE!  Well Go USA?!?!?!?!  I say , Well, go give them a chance.  And now we can see what they’ve done and what they haven’t done.

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Film 

At a funeral, Mike, watches as a tall mortician clad in black tosses the unburied coffin into a waiting hearse as if it were nothing. Seeking the truth behind this unusual sight, Mike breaks into the mortuary, where he comes face-to-face with the sinister Tall Man. After barely managing to escape with his life, Mike enlists the help of his brother, Jody, and their friend Reggie. Together they set out to uncover the secrets of the Tall Man and those who dwell in his hellish world.

Phantasm manages to hold up quite well after 38 years.  I think that’s due to the film’s weird structure, ambiguity and abstract nature.  Its a film that presents questions to make of them what you will, to piece together answers in your mind.  And no, that’s not due to laziness in the story structure or anything (Maybe an exaggeration, but I think there’s somewhere upwards of 3-4 hour cut of this movie with all the footage Coscarelli shot), the film rather works just fine on a surface level kind of viewing.  It crafts a unique, strange world, mystery and creatures that really has not been matched and we don’t quite get any more.

Most known from this film are the Tall Man and his chrome balls that kill people and splatter blood all over the place when they do.  Angus Scrimm is an icon of horror forever thanks to this role.  The man is just plain intimidate and scary.  While he hams it up whenever he has dialogue, its part of the fun.  But, damn, when this man takes a stroll, its absolutely terrifying.  Its a presence, an image, a moment(s) in horror history that lock into your brain and you’ll never forget.  Also, I must mention the vicious little jawa-like guys that are used for attacks and jump scares throughout.  Trust me, you can’t see them and not think jawa.

Speaking of those balls, the sort of secret behind Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens.  Her name is a tribute to the film as well as her chrome finish.  While working on The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams and company were also restoring Phantasm in their free time.  Not only was JJ creating a new adventure in the world George Lucas created, he was also continuing in his footsteps with “Special Editioning” an older film.  In what may be seen as controversial, not only have some clean ups been done, but some new effects have been added.  Most notably is the famous chrome ball has been replaced in some shots by a new digital one.  Honestly, not a big deal, and its really not even noticeable that its a digital image added later.  Yes, comparing the old footage and new you can seriously tell, but by itself its just fine.  As a matter of fact, it may actually be more effective looking than if they kept the original footage intact.

One place Phantasm has always had an advantage and stands out from the other horror film series is in the settings of terror.  First, the mausoleums, ESPECIALLY in this first one, are incredibly lonely and haunting.  The white marble just paints a wholly unique kind of horror that I still think holds up and beats a lot of things we see still today.  This series also has these white rooms with the parallel tuning beams that transport to a crazy looking hell dimension that we never get a full glimpse or understanding of, making it that much more haunting.

One of my favorite aspects of Phantasm, and what I feel ropes one in right from the start is the score.  This prog-rock sounding music has a catchy theme and just runs with it.  I’ll talk more the Italian influence in just a second, but this is very much in league with the music in Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci films that would take the late 70s and early 80s by storm.  I hold the theme (at least, if not the whole score) in high regard as one of the most memorable, iconic, and best in the entire history of horror.  While the films may not be so well, known, once seen by the uninitiated, they’ll not forget the theme from the movie.

Don Coscarelli’s film feels like a landmark or cue that Italian supernatural horror films would line themselves up with.  Maybe Coscarelli was original influenced by something Argento, but what he does here would be either intentionally or unintentionally by Italian horror directors for most of the 1980s.  We mentioned the score, but a lot of the films narrative, structure, characters and overall look and feel is akin to those supernatural, ghost or zombie-esque Italian schlock horror films.  This movie is constantly hanging around one haunted place and has characters returning to places of terror throughout.  You’d see stuff like this in House By the Cemetery and the like.  The mood, the aesthetic, the characters…they all feel like the prototype for the Italian paranormal horror film.

But, Phantasm is just damn good in its own right.  With its uncertainty, weirdness, score and gore effects that still hold up…if a viewer understands when it was made and takes place, it assuredly could still work as an entertaining horror film with a few good jumps and eerie vibe.  Plus, it introduced us to maybe the most badass ice cream man of all time in Reggie Bannister.  Granted, we wouldn’t see how kick ass he truly was until the sequel, you still have some fun with one of the most odd and strangely cool characters in a horror film.  While very underground and until now almost forgotten, one quick look back and reassessment finds Phantasm to be one of the best horror films of its decade and its villain an iconic one in the pantheon of monsters.

PHANTASM - Jody, Reggie, Mike in Doorway

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail: What a bummer that Well Go USA put this on a BD-25.  While the image looks great, and for fans of the film, astoundingly so at that…who knows if it could have looked even better.  The image retains grain which settles into the image, making a crisp and very clean appearance.  The white marble halls of the mausoleum look even  more hauntingly empty than ever before.  You’ll find some impressive textures, cracks, scratches in stuff like the cemetery dirt, Jody’s jacket, the paneling of the bar and more.  Phantasm looks amazing now, and one just wishes everything could get treatment like this.

Depth:  This remaster features some solid depth work.  Characters are really really free of their environments and it almost gives a very 3D feel.  Movements are smooth and cinematic.  There is a bit of a feel of push back and distance through doorways and even through the steps at Jody and Mike’s house.

Black Levels: Blacks are rich and deep.  You can make out some good detail even in the darkness and stuff that is meant to be kept black and unseen in the nighttime stays that way.  I didn’t catch any instances of crushing during this review.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are quite good in this transfer.  This is the 1970s still and things are poppy and bright.  When you get blood, its quite bold, deep and rich.  Whites impress.  Greens look a little faded, but maybe a bit more natural.  Nothing is overdone or faked because its a new transfer.  The film keeps a natural, sort of autumn-like look to it.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and maintain their color timing throughout the entirety of the film.  Facial details like wrinkles, dried blood, freckles, stubble and such all prove to be very reveal in anywhere from a medium shot to a close up.

Noise/Artifacts: Some grain that fits quite well into the picture.  Pretty much all specs, dirt and such has been clean up.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo, English Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  Phantasm’s 5.1 mix is quite a bit of fun.  This track is quite clean and very fresh sounding.  It sounds like a film made much more recent than its born on date.  I don’t know if they were redone or just merely polished, but effects have a crisp, clean and fully layered sound to them.  Action and events in the film are loud and engaging.  The score of the film also sounds like a nice, nifty new vinyl being played.  Overall, while there may be some disappointment about the stereo and mono tracks being compressed, this 5.1 makes for a new (yes, I know, not true or original) fun experience.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Crashing, gunfire, rumbly spooking moments and nice bass and drum hits in the score all get a boost from your subwoofer.  This isn’t a earth shaking contribution, but a nice complimentary one to the audio mix.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Motion is very fun here, especially scenes with the balls flying across the screen.  A front heavy track, there are some good moments (In the cemetery for one) where the rear channels are given some unique parts to play while maintaining good ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Tall Man’s “Booooyyyy!” gets a good rumble through the speakers.  Audio in this new mix is clean, crisp and carries no hisses, pops or distortions.  Its quite immaculate for a cheapie film of its kind from the late 70s.

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Extras 

Phantasm: Remastered comes with the DVD edition.  Features play in sort of Play All function, after you play one, the next sequential feature will automatically begin.

Audio Commentary

  • With Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm and Bill Thornbury

Graveyard Carz Episode (HD, 11:24) – This is an auto shop show where these guys build a new version of the car from the movie. Don Coscarelli and A. Michael Baldwin come in to check it out and autograph the car.

Interviews From 1979 w/ Don Coscarelli & Angus Scrimm (SD, 27:58) – An old local (?) television talk show that has Coscarelli and Scrimm on as guests.  Its neat to watch Scrimm ham it up for the show.  He truly has loved this role since the beginning.

Deleted Scenes 

  • Bank Scene (SD, 1:14)
  • Casket Room (SD, 1:45) 
  • Ice Cream Scene (SD, 4:28) 
  • Jody Visits Mike (SD, :59) 
  • Tall Man Fire Extinguisher (SD, 1:39) 
  • Tall Man Smile (SD, :17) 

1979 Phantasm Trailer (SD, 2:13)

Remastered Trailer (HD, 1:56)

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Summary 

Phantasm is a horror favorite of mine and I’m ecstatic its here on Blu-ray and received an outstanding remaster.  I”ll hold full judgement on Well Go USA’s treatment of it until the full box set is released.  I wish they would have realized its 2016 (When this was released) and used a BD-50 on it.  The extras are nice, but still leave much to be desired as I know there is a lot more out there to be included.  Maybe there will be a bonus disc in the box set covering this.  For now, they’ve got it at a solid price and it looks really awesome, so you could pick this up for not too much then double dip when the box set eventually comes.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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