Phantasm (1979)

R | 90 mins | Comedy, Horror | 28 March 1979

Director:

Don Coscarelli

Writer:

Don Coscarelli

Producer:

D. A. Coscarelli

Cinematographer:

Don Coscarelli

Editor:

Don Coscarelli

Production Designer:

S. Tyer
Full page view
HISTORY

Phantasm represented the third feature for twenty-five year-old filmmaker Don Coscarelli, who acted as director, writer, cinematographer and editor on the production. Based on his previous efforts, Jim the World’s Greatest (1976, see entry) and Kenny & Co. (1976, see entry), studios offered financing, but Coscarelli preferred to keep the production independent, as explained in a 28 Mar 1979 LAT article. Coscarelli’s father, D. A. Coscarelli, who was an investment consultant, raised the funds for the film and is credited as producer.
       Although the setting was Oregon, shooting took place in California, as noted in the Mar 1979 Science Fiction Review. The 1 Jun 1979 NYT review mentioned that the funeral home was the same Victorian house used for the film Burnt Offerings (1976, see entry).
       Willard Green, who constructed the memorable silver sphere prop, died during filming, according to production notes in AMPAS library files.
       The 28 Mar 1979 LAT article stated that the film initially received an X-rating based on the scene of the lethal sphere drilling blood from a skull. According to Coscarelli, the rating board eventually “‘saw the satire and humor in it and we got an R.’”
       In Australia, the film was retitled Never Dead to avoid confusion with a local pornographic pictured titled Fantasm, as noted in a 11 Jul 1979 Var item.
       An undated HR brief reported that the film grossed an impressive $703,437 during the opening weekend in 101 New York City theaters, representing one of the most profitable box-office weekends there ... More Less

Phantasm represented the third feature for twenty-five year-old filmmaker Don Coscarelli, who acted as director, writer, cinematographer and editor on the production. Based on his previous efforts, Jim the World’s Greatest (1976, see entry) and Kenny & Co. (1976, see entry), studios offered financing, but Coscarelli preferred to keep the production independent, as explained in a 28 Mar 1979 LAT article. Coscarelli’s father, D. A. Coscarelli, who was an investment consultant, raised the funds for the film and is credited as producer.
       Although the setting was Oregon, shooting took place in California, as noted in the Mar 1979 Science Fiction Review. The 1 Jun 1979 NYT review mentioned that the funeral home was the same Victorian house used for the film Burnt Offerings (1976, see entry).
       Willard Green, who constructed the memorable silver sphere prop, died during filming, according to production notes in AMPAS library files.
       The 28 Mar 1979 LAT article stated that the film initially received an X-rating based on the scene of the lethal sphere drilling blood from a skull. According to Coscarelli, the rating board eventually “‘saw the satire and humor in it and we got an R.’”
       In Australia, the film was retitled Never Dead to avoid confusion with a local pornographic pictured titled Fantasm, as noted in a 11 Jul 1979 Var item.
       An undated HR brief reported that the film grossed an impressive $703,437 during the opening weekend in 101 New York City theaters, representing one of the most profitable box-office weekends there for distributor Avco Embassy Pictures.
       According to a 29 Mar 1979 DV item, the distributor rigged select theaters with flying silver sphere replicas as a promotional gimmick. The process, copyrighted by Avco Embassy, was called Visurama.
       Critics appreciated the film’s unique mix of humor and horror. The 1 Jun 1979 NYT critic described it as “thoroughly silly and endearing,” while the 5 Mar 1979 DV wrote that the picture “uses both suspense and gore to frighten,” but “there’s a nice tongue-in-cheek feeling to the whole thing.” The 9 Mar 1979 HR stated that the film was “a welcome addition to that ever-growing midnight-movie market,” and the 16 Apr 1979 Box predicted that Phantasm would become a cult film alongside Halloween (1978, see entry).
       As mentioned in a 31 Jan 1979 DV brief, Phantasm was awarded the special jury prize at the seventh annual Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France.
       Three sequels have been made, Phantasm II (1988, see entry), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) and Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). The final two were direct-to-video releases. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Apr 1979.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1979.
---
Daily Variety
5 Mar 1979
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1979
p. 3, 56.
Los Angeles Times
28 Mar 1979
Section G, p. 1, 12.
New York Times
1 Jun 1979
p. 12.
Science Fiction Review
Mar 1979.
---
Variety
7 Mar 1979
p. 20.
Variety
11 Jul 1979.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit mgr
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Visual consultant/Gaffer
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Best boy
Processing by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Ed asst
SET DECORATORS
Supv, Set const
Set const
Set const
Set const
Architecture
Silver Sphere const by
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus rec
Mus published by
Mus published by
SOUND
Boom op
Sd eff created by
Sd eff created by
Re-rec mixer
Post-prod sd
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff created by
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coord
Scr supv
Scr supv
STAND INS
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
"Sittin' Here At Midnight," by Bill Thornbury, Thornbury Music.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Never Dead
Release Date:
28 March 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 28 March 1979
New York opening: 1 June 1979
Copyright Claimant:
New Breed Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
2 April 1979
Copyright Number:
PA28908
Physical Properties:
Sound
Lenses/Prints
Panaflex camera & lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
90
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25327
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In small-town Oregon, Jody Pearson, a musician, and Reggie, an ice cream vendor, attend the funeral of their friend, Tommy, at Morningside cemetery and mortuary. Although Jody and Reggie are told that Tommy committed suicide, he was actually stabbed in the cemetery by the Lady in Lavender, a supernatural disguise of Morningside’s sinister undertaker, who is also known by the nickname, the Tall Man. Before the funeral, Jody visits the crypt where his parents are interred. Since their death two years ago, Jody has been looking after his younger brother, Mike, who is a clever, but disturbed thirteen-year-old. Worried that Mike might be frightened by the sight of Tommy in a casket, Jody tells him to stay home. However, Mike, fearing that his older brother might abandon him one day, follows Jody everywhere and spies on Tommy’s burial from the nearby grove. After the mourners leave, Mike is shocked when the Tall Man singlehandedly lifts the casket and puts it back in the hearse. Later, Mike confides to a fortune-teller that he overheard his brother’s plans to go on tour and leave Mike with their aunt, but the fortune-teller tells him not to worry. When Mike also shares the strange incident at Morningside, the fortune-teller, speaking through her granddaughter, asks the boy to place his hand in a box. Initially, Mike panics when he cannot remove his hand from the box, but he calms down as the fortune-teller reminds him not to be afraid. At night, Mike follows Jody to a bar and watches him flirt with the seductive Lady in Lavender. As Mike secretly observes ... +


In small-town Oregon, Jody Pearson, a musician, and Reggie, an ice cream vendor, attend the funeral of their friend, Tommy, at Morningside cemetery and mortuary. Although Jody and Reggie are told that Tommy committed suicide, he was actually stabbed in the cemetery by the Lady in Lavender, a supernatural disguise of Morningside’s sinister undertaker, who is also known by the nickname, the Tall Man. Before the funeral, Jody visits the crypt where his parents are interred. Since their death two years ago, Jody has been looking after his younger brother, Mike, who is a clever, but disturbed thirteen-year-old. Worried that Mike might be frightened by the sight of Tommy in a casket, Jody tells him to stay home. However, Mike, fearing that his older brother might abandon him one day, follows Jody everywhere and spies on Tommy’s burial from the nearby grove. After the mourners leave, Mike is shocked when the Tall Man singlehandedly lifts the casket and puts it back in the hearse. Later, Mike confides to a fortune-teller that he overheard his brother’s plans to go on tour and leave Mike with their aunt, but the fortune-teller tells him not to worry. When Mike also shares the strange incident at Morningside, the fortune-teller, speaking through her granddaughter, asks the boy to place his hand in a box. Initially, Mike panics when he cannot remove his hand from the box, but he calms down as the fortune-teller reminds him not to be afraid. At night, Mike follows Jody to a bar and watches him flirt with the seductive Lady in Lavender. As Mike secretly observes the couple making love in the Morningside cemetery, he hears strange growls in the shrubbery. When a dwarf figure in a monk’s robe charges at him, Mike runs from the cemetery screaming, and Jody leaves the Lady in Lavender to help his brother. Mike attempts to explain what he saw, but Jody dismisses the story as an overactive imagination. Unable to convince Jody, Mike takes his knife and investigates the mortuary on his own. After breaking into the basement, he enters the mausoleum room. There, he hears the same growling behind a closed door, then dodges a flying spiked sphere. When the Tall Man chases him, Mike rushes back to the basement and bars the entrance. However, the Tall Man’s hand is caught in the doorframe. As Mike chops off the undertaker’s fingers, a yellow liquid pours out. Mike picks up one of the still moving amputated fingers and flees. Back at home, Mike places the finger in a box and shows the alien digit to Jody, who finally realizes that his brother is telling the truth about the weird events at Morningside and decides to contact the sheriff. However, the brothers are forced to destroy the evidence when the amputated finger transforms into a mosquito-like creature that tries to attack them. While retracing Mike’s steps at Morningside, Jody is pursued by the Tall Man’s hearse, which appears to have no driver. During a car chase, the brothers cause the hearse to crash into a tree. Inside, they discover a lifeless dwarf, impaled on a tree limb, behind the wheel. But, as they look closely at the face, they see that the figure is actually Tommy’s corpse, transformed into a dwarf. Jody asks Reggie to store the body in his ice cream truck, but later Mike discovers the truck overturned and Reggie missing. Back at the house, the brothers fear that the corpses of their parents have also been robbed from the grave and transformed into hostile dwarfs. To keep his brother safe, Jody locks Mike in his bedroom and drives back to Morningside. However, Mike uses his ingenuity to open the bedroom door, but as he leaves, the Tall Man kidnaps him. Once again, Mike employs his wits and escapes. Meanwhile, at Morningside, Jody opens his father’s crypt, but is unable to look inside the casket and walks away. When Mike arrives and discovers the casket exposed, he lifts the lid and screams when he does not see a corpse. As the spiked flying sphere attempts to gore Mike, Jody appears in time to shoot it down. Next, Mike leads his brother to the closed door where he heard the growls, and Reggie, who they thought had been killed, unexpectedly joins them. Together, they open the door and enter a white room stacked with containers inhabited by dwarfs. In the middle of the room, Mike investigates two steel posts. After placing his hand between the posts, he briefly falls into another dimension and catches a glimpse of dwarfs being used as slaves on an alien planet. Suddenly, the lights go out and the threesome are separated. While Jody and Mike find each other in the cemetery, the Lady in Lavender stabs Reggie. After discovering their friend dead, the brothers are determined to defeat the Tall Man, whom they realize has been robbing the Morningside graves and reanimating the corpses into an obedient army of zombie-like dwarfs. As Mike reminds himself to overcome fear, he eventually leads the Tall Man to an old mineshaft where Jody buries him underneath rocks. Sometime later, Mike wakes at home and is told by Reggie that the story of the evil undertaker was a nightmare. Reggie reminds him that he has been under a great deal of stress since Jody’s fatal car accident. After Reggie suggests the two of them take a road trip, Mike goes upstairs to pack. However, in his bedroom mirror, Mike sees the Tall Man and screams as the undertaker’s dwarfs yank the boy through the mirror. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.