Phantasm 1-5: Limited Edition Collection Review
Horror for some reason always seems to lend itself to large DVD/Blu-Ray box sets. Maybe it's because of the sheer amount of sequels that each franchise has, maybe it's the fans, who will happily and passionately support a movie series that they love, or maybe it's the fact that you can package an iconic image with a series of discs. Though perhaps not as well-known as Friday the Thirteenth or Nightmare on Elm Street, Don Coscarelli's Phantasm is an iconic series, and now thanks to J.J. Abrams and Arrow Video, this surreal nightmare finally comes to Blu Ray.
There are 5 films in the franchise so I am not going to be able to discuss every little detail like I usually do; I will briefly skim over themes that carry over all five films.
The Phantasm series follows Mike and Reggie, two ordinary people struggling against the seemingly omnipotent Tall Man; a towering sinister undertaker who digs up corpses for his own unknowable ends.
The premise makes this film series seem like a classic struggle of good versus evil where good always triumphs in a standard Hollywood way. However, Phantasm isn't that simple. It's a genre-hopping fever dream of surreal images and weird science fiction, that never answers any of the questions it brings up. But despite this it never feels disjointed or cheap, rather there is a tone that is created through these techniques that are highly unique to Phantasm.
What I think has propelled the franchise further than any other is the cast of occurring characters. Angus Scrimm's Tall Man is menacing and unknowable and a gateway to an almost Lovecraftian mythos of body and cosmic horror. It is he and the spheres that he controls that have become the icons of the series. If you say "Booooooy!" to a die-hard Phantasm-fanatic, shivers of joy and terror will run down their backs. A Michael Baldwin's Michael is an ordinary kid with a destiny that he never knew about, his development from scared kid to freedom fighter provides some of the films best moments. However what makes the franchise stand out the most is the middle-aged ice cream man Reggie, played by Reggie Bannister. In Reggie, Phantasm has found the ideal everyman struggling against the strange powers of the tall man with his wits and a quadruple-barrelled shotgun. He doesn't have the physique of a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone, but he is us, the everyday person.
These are low budget films, so do not expect high end, The Thing level of special effects, but for what Phantasm tries to do it succeeds, and it does so with charm. Don Coscarelli is a master at using his low budgets in such a way that it doesn't detract from the vision. His use of never before seen footage from previous films fits seamlessly with the stories of the new entries. It always seems to end up as a cohesive story and a mythos, ripe for theorising and questioning.
Phantasm is a series that deserved bigger things, it is a unique exploration of deeper themes, and it is constructed in such a way that it will stay with you forever. Despite its lower budgets, getting lower by each instalment, it still reaches for heights that I am not sure any other horror franchise I have seen has.
Arrow Video are distributing this collection, with the restoration of the original footage by J.J.Abrams (yes that J.J.Abrams). Each film has two audio choices, Mono or 5.1 surround sound. Both the vision and the sound are wonderfully presented, there are no digital or analogue errors on either. The image and soundtrack are crystal clear, and if Don Coscarelli is to be believed, obsessively restored and digitally corrected.
The menus are easily navigable and user-friendly. It is a mechanically sound Blu-Ray set. Each menu does what it says on the tin, and the use of footage and music helps create the sort of atmosphere you want when watching a horror film. All in all a solid set of discs.
There are far too many extras on these 6 disc’s to cover here in this review it all individually. Just know that aside from the movies themselves, complete with audio commentary, you have documentaries exploring the special effects, cast interviews, Q&A's at conventions and screenings, behind the scenes footage, making ofs, bloopers, deleted scenes, location tours, trailers, tributes, and other extras. All of which go along way to form a connection between filmmakers and fans. In fact I hope that more cult films get releases with recorded audio from screenings, like the original Phantasm does, as this strangely enhanced the viewing experience for me.
Each extra allows a peek into the head of Coscarelli, and behind the veil to see how the films were made, but it is clear that they are a passion project. Each documentary and interview imparted some of the passion the crew and cast have for movies and might inspire future filmmakers to create more great stories like Coscarelli did.
This collection is a Phantasm fan’s dream. It is a collection that carefully and lovingly presents the original four films in the series plus the recent fifth entry in HD. This series not only cements in my mind the love that the cast and crew have for the franchise but that J.J.Abrams can be a force for good in the movie industry, providing high-quality versions of cult horror films for the fans. Each disc is packed with bonus features detailing everything from cast stories to the intricate mechanics of the now-iconic silver spheres. It speaks to the care that went into these films; it shows a connection and awareness to its fans as well as the ability to inspire other filmmakers to achieve what Coscarelli and his team have over 37 years. It may seem pricey, but I assure you that the amount of fantastic content you get makes it well worth the investment.