Tonight was supposed to be Pumpkinhead, but Netflix failed me, and Phantasm arrived instead. However, the big bad Monster theme of this week will not be defeated, because when you're talking about boogeymen, stalker types, The Tall Man shall suffice. Know what I'm sayin'? You probably don't.
"This guy's not going to leak all over my ice cream, is he?"
Phantasm is weird.
I don't think I can really prime you for this one any better than that. It's just very, very weird.
I drew a finger. With orange and yellow pussy stuff around it. That really does make sense once you've seen this.
Let's talk a little first about Don Coscarelli. And to talk about Don Coscarelli, we should really talk a bit about Herschel Gordon Lewis. And also George Romero. Because they are all relevant, and they will help you get yourself in B-Movie Horror mode, which is necessary to give a film like Phantasm the viewing it deserves.
If you've never ventured into B-territory, then you'll turn this on and you'll probably think - "Geez, this is awful." And by traditional Hollywood standards we've become to be accustomed to, yeah, I guess it is. BUT, please remember that mainstream Hollywood produces some very serious, high production value DRECK (I should make a list!). And though what makes them "bad" may be different, it is so important that you let the B-Movie brilliance wash over you a bit - because true horror fans are made here, in the gooey, gorey, orange and yellow colored puss.
So, Herschel Gordon Lewis: In the '60s and '70s, he creates a little subgenre called Splatter films (for obvious gorey reasons). He does this, not from inside a mainstream Hollywood studio, but from an ad agency in Chicago. The movies have no budget to speak of. They are full of naked women. Their blood is the brightest red you've ever seen, and the acting is unintentionally comical. They screen these flicks at drive-ins as double features and openers to bigger fare. When you watch Blood Feast or Wizard of Gore, you are indulging in pulpy nostalgia. It's like eating junk food. And if you have a taste for it, well, it's hard to stop watching.
Hallmarks of the B-Movie
(in case you like a clean little list):
- A particular genre (horror, western, science fiction etc.)
- Low-budget and independently financed
- Often inspire many, many sequels
- Use unknown or untrained actors
- Are absolutely fucking crazy (I mean, sometimes)
I say they're absolutely fucking crazy, especially in the horror genre because, well, they are. And they are because, outside of the Hollywood system, you can get away with, well... dare I say, anything?
Let's look at George Romero. He made his zombie movies in Pittsburgh, with a background in commercial and industrial filmmaking. Night of the Living Dead, if you are not familiar, is some really raw shit. People vomited at screenings of this film. It is iconic. And it spawned Dead sequels (not to be confused with the Living Dead sequels - though no less B-quality), and it addressed social issues (as horror as a genre is so excellent at doing), and the zombies became beloved. So beloved, that Millennials can't stop making ten-thousand television shows, and books, and comics, and crocheted pot holders out of them.
I want you to think of Don Coscarelli like you think of Romero. Because that's how his fans think of him. As the Godfather of an entire world. And the Phantasm series is his Dead.
It's still incredibly difficult for me to tell what Phantasm is actually about. But its psychotic dream logic basically defeats that purpose, anyway, so I suggest just sitting back and enjoying what it throws at you.
There are dwarves. There are little black spidery creatures with red eyes and sharp teeth (this really does scare the crap out of me, be forewarned). There's a silver ball that flies around a mortuary killing people and reflecting things?
I know, I'm losing you (or really pulling you in, if you're a weirdo like me). But wait for The Tall Man. Because he's GREAT.
The Tall Man isn't actually all that tall. But he is tall enough to be slightly off-putting, and that's very effective. He stalks these boys from funeral to funeral (people keep dying!), and it's never clear if he's really a mortician, or a ghost, or maybe even a woman in a lavender dress. It's a mystery. It's a pretty good one.
I said it once, and I'll say it again - when this little black spidery thing with teeth comes out of the box and the guys try to push it down the garbage disposal, I cringe. I don't know why. It doesn't look real. It doesn't matter.
If you enjoy David Lynch (I know there are a few of you), you can surely appreciate what Coscarelli is trying to do here. I implore all those who love the dream logic of Eraserhead to put in some time with the first couple Phantasms - they're of a similar mindset, but with a sense of humor. And again, yellow/orange puss.
My advice to you? Just go with it. You'll be confused, and you'll have fun.
*If you're looking to watch Phantasm, just know that it's not so easy to purchase a copy at the moment. However, if you've got a Netflix DVD account you can get it - and DO NOT MISS the entire Don Coscarelli film archive in the previews!
If You Like It (WEIRDO!), Watch:
Hellraiser - If you like your splatter-gore with a lot more sex and BDSM, this is for you. And as far as monsters go, Pinhead is THE GREATEST. I honestly believe that. *Currently streaming on Netflix Instant
Show the Kids:
Little Monsters - You probably didn't expect a kiddo suggestion with this one, but this is a B-movie experience for the littles in your life. It is rated PG for some language and a LOT of fart jokes, but it's fun and creepy, and I think you'll enjoy it right along with them.
Next week we leave behind the monsters and venture into my personal favorite, Haunted House territory. In the spirit of my current New England home, let's watch...