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Release Date(s)1979 (December 6, 2016)
Studio(s)AVCO Embassy Pictures (Well Go USA Entertainment)
While Don Coscarelli had directed two films prior, Phantasm (1979), was his real first success. It spoke more strongly to his style, which involves throwing a lot of off-the-wall ideas together with a dark, comedic sensibility, and memorable images. His first foray into horror, Phantasm was a runaway success, spawning a franchise with four sequels and giving the world a new horror icon: the Tall Man, portrayed by the late, great Angus Scrimm.
Because of the way the story is told, much of what takes place in Phantasm is fragmented and dream-like. It never gives the audience a firm foothold on which events are real and which are imagined. The story, in a nutshell, is that Michael and Jody, two brothers who have recently lost their parents, learn that something bizarre is going at their local funeral home and cemetery. Together with their friend Reggie, they discover that sinister activities are being carried out by the Tall Man, a mysterious undertaker whose height is only outmeasured by his creepiness.
Like many people, I first saw Phantasm when Joe Bob Briggs would air it, along with its sequel, on TNT’s MonsterVision on Saturday nights. Even though it was slightly edited for TV, the peculiar and eerie atmosphere of the movie still shined through. Phantasm is a happy accident of sorts. A lot of the footage that was shot didn’t even make it into the final movie, proving that much of its story was created in the editing room. Lapses and mistakes abound, all wrapped up within the movie’s own brand of logic. But a lot of what’s wrong with Phantasm is what’s right about it too. This is technically a nightmare from the very beginning. The Tall Man, the flying silver sphere, the lady in lavender, the little people in brown cloaks... all of it adds up to a very memorable and terrifying film.
Phantasm debuts on Blu-ray via Well Go USA Entertainment and Bad Robot’s new 4K restoration. Long-time fans of the film will be pleased to learn that the opening AVCO Embassy Pictures logo has been restored. A lot of care has been put into this restoration, and it’s definitely the best that the film has ever looked on home video. First of all, because of the thoroughness of the new scan, there’s a lack of obvious grain. This helps uncover an immense amount of fine detail, especially in the shadows, that’s been sorely lacking until now. The scan also features a stronger and more accurate color palette, which wasn’t intended to be overly bold, but still benefits greatly here. Skin tones are much more natural and black levels are extremely deep. Brightness and contrast are excellent as well. It should also be noted that two shots of the silver ball have been replaced with CGI to remove the unfortunate reflections of the camera crew that were visible. These shots last for only about a second of screen time, so it’s not much to get worked up about, especially because of the quality of this new transfer. The good outweighs the bad, in other words.
The audio comes in three separate tracks: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, 2.0 Dolby Digital, and mono Dolby Digital. The 5.1 track is a tad louder, with more speaker-to-speaker movement, and the rear channels give the music and score new life. There’s also strong LFE. The 2.0 track is similar to the 5.1 in terms of spacing and LFE, just with less room in the surrounds. The mono track is just as it’s always been, centered and well-mixed with obvious overdubbing but good music, sound effects, and clear dialogue. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH.
Things get a little tricky when it comes to the extras, which are incomplete, making this Blu-ray far from definitive. Carried over from previous releases is an audio commentary with writer/director Don Coscarelli and actors Michael Baldwin, Angus Scrimm, and Bill Thornbury; a vintage interview from 1979 with Coscarelli and Scrimm; a set of deleted scenes; and the original theatrical trailer. New to this release is an episode of Graveyard Carz, the trailer for Phantasm: Remastered, and a set of previews for other movies (which also open the disc). A DVD copy is included too. Funnily enough, if you select one of the extras, all of them will play back to back, like in the old Laserdisc days. It’s strange that a distributor still does things like this, but never mind.
Speaking of Laserdiscs, an argument can be made that if you own the various versions of Phantasm released over the years, you may want to hang on to all of them, as there is a wealth of material that hasn’t been carried over here. From the MGM Special Edition DVD release, there’s an introduction to the film by Scrimm; behind-the-scenes footage with audio commentary by Coscarelli and Reggie Bannister; 3 TV spots; a set of still galleries (Lobby Cards & Press Materials, Merchandising, International Posters, and Original Props & Fan Art); a set of Audio Extras ( including the Captain Zorro “Phantasm Theme (Disco Version)”, 4 radio spots, and the 1995 recording of “Sittin’ Here at Midnight” by Bill Thornbury); an Australian TV promo for the film under its alternate title The Never Dead; a 1988 Fangoria TV commercial; footage of Scrimm at a 1989 Fangoria Convention; an Easter egg (which is a still of Coscarelli, Thornbury, Baldwin, and Scrimm, likely from the recording of the commentary); and a terrific insert booklet with a note from Coscarelli and facts about the film. Many of these extras were carried over from an MGM VHS release and the Image Entertainment Limited Edition Laserdisc release, which also came with the film’s soundtrack on a gold CD. Also missing from the Anchor Bay Collection DVD release is the shortened version of the Phantasmagoria documentary; Phantasm: Actors Having a Ball, which are more or less outtakes from the Phantasmagoria documentary; and various trailers for other Don Coscarelli-related movies. Missing from the fifth disc in the U.K. Anchor Bay Limited Edition sphere DVD release of the first four films is the full version of the Phantasmagoria documentary; four featurettes (Greg Nicotero: The Gory Days, Phantasm: Genesis, Reggie’s Phantastic Tour, and Phandom); and an Easter egg featuring footage of Scrimm being inducted into the Fangoria Hall of Fame at the 1993 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. It’s also worth noting that several of the film’s deleted moments (that weren’t included as extras) were eventually used in Phantasm IV: Oblivion. Of course, there are also more deleted scenes that still haven’t been released, so count them as M.I.A. on this new Blu-ray as well.
The bottom line is that Phantasm: Remastered is a fine Blu-ray release, albeit with a few caveats. Not to besmirch the good work done by Well Go USA Entertainment here, but if you’re thinking of upgrading to this Blu-ray from older formats, not getting most of the previously released extras is likely a disappointment. That said, the new video presentation is a real must-have if you’re a die-hard fan and want to see this film looking as pristine as possible. Just keep all that in mind when you make your purchase.
- Tim Salmons