While I still maintain that Phantasm possesses one of the creepiest villains of horror, most of what happens in this movie will leave you feeling about like Mike up there.
We start off seeing a couple of kids sexing it up in a cemetary. They seem to be having a great time until she suddenly turns into a balding man and stabs him. WTF?
We then cut to the guy's funeral, where we meet Jody, who was one of the dead guy's friends, and Mike, Jody's younger brother. We also find out that Mike and Jody's parents are dead and Jody has his first run in with The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who manages the cemetary and giant mausoleum / casket showroom / funerary superstore.
The guy stands 6' 7", fits into tiny suits, and glowers menacingly at the distraught family of the deceased, but no one seems to really take notice.
Pretty soon we meet Jody's still-living friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a guy who looks like a cross between David Koechner and the Ice Cream Man, coincidentally (or maybe not) Reggie is actually an ice cream man.
Jody chases girls for a while, and Mike goes around acting weird and having strange nightmares. Eventually Mike goes to explore The Tall Man's place, ends up getting caught by the cemetary caretaker, and then escaping from him just in time for us to be introduced to The Tall Man's signature weapon.
These balls, along with the sinister Tall Man himself, are the two main things that redeem this movie. Not only are they completely unique, they actually pull off a convincing usage of the "pull object away, print film in reverse" trick to make them look like they fly around on their own. The balls fly around under their own power using some sort of rudimentary vision. When they spot their target, they extend two forward-facing spikes, aim at the forehead of the victim, and speed up.
After Mike struggles with the caretaker for a while, he manages to slip away right before the sphere gets to them, so the sphere ends up striking the caretaker instead... bringing us to the second thing these balls do to their victims.
Once the two spikes are embedded in the victim's forehead, a drill extends from between them and drills into the victim's brain.
Mike then faces off with the Tall Man himself. Mike runs away and manages to lock a door between them, although the Tall Man's hand gets caught in the door. Mike does what any logical 13 year old would do in that situation. He cuts all the guy's fingers off, watches them squirt yellow goo and wriggle on the floor, and then sticks one in his pocket to take home with him.
The finger convinces Jody that something's up, and then transforms into one of the most ridiculous things in the movie.
Jody heads back to the Tall Man's mortuary alone, and is immediately attacked by a Jawa straight off of Tattooine. I guess the business of selling stolen droids has dried up for them lately over in the Star Wars universe.
Jody escapes the jawa by apparently shooting himself in the head, and then he runs back out of the mortuary.
Jody runs away, meets up with Mike and his friend Reggie, and they all set off for the mortuary again. They go inside and find a weird room full of barrels containing more jawas in storage and a weird interdimensional gate. Mike pokes his head in and gets sucked through to the Tall Man's world. It's red and boring. No wonder he came to visit our world.
After Mike's quick look, he gets pulled back out by Jody. Somehow Mike ends up with total insight about why the Tall Man gathers corpses to make into jawas. "The dwarves, they're usin' 'em as slaves. And they gotta crush 'em because of the gravity... and because of the heat." WTF movie... Alright, if you say so.
Reggie, being a tuning-fork buff, sees two posts and realizes that he should touch them to destroy the interdimensional gate once and for all. He does, and it does. The house disappears.
As it turns out though, that's not terribly helpful since the Tall Man's on this side of it. Mike runs away, while the Tall Man slowly walks after him looking like a badass. Just as the Tall Man's about to get Mike, he darts away again, leading him into a trap. The Tall Man falls down a mine shaft and Jody, who was apparently at the top of the hill watching the whole time, borrows the Indiana Jones boulder, rolls it down the hill, and seals off the hole.
And... roll credits.Or not quite, there's still time to squeeze in a bad ending for the purpose of adding more confusing nonsense.
Mike wakes up to find that Jody's somehow died in a car accident and he's living with Reggie (who's moved into Mike's house apparently). Mike goes upstairs to his room where he finds that the Tall Man actually does exist although he's had a haircut.
Mike turns and sees him just in time to get pulled through his window by jawa hands. The End.
As I've pointed out, the story of this movie is needlessly complex to the point of just not making much sense at all in a lot of areas, yet somehow most people seem to look back on this as a good movie. There are a few reasons why, and I think they just might be enough to carry the movie entirely back into good movie territory.
First of all, as I mentioned earlier, The Tall Man and his weapon of choice. They're both perfect. If anything I would've liked to have seen more scenes of those silver spheres in action, but those are about the most effects-heavy shots in the movie, and I'm sure they didn't come cheap. So I can understand that there's only really one kill with them.
Next there's the score. It is excellent. I'd venture to say that it's every bit as chilling and iconic as that of Friday the 13th or Halloween.
Lastly, as often as possible, Coscarelli creates some beautiful and iconic shots. Usually they're done for one of two reasons (you can check out examples of both in the trailer below). The first is to make the protagonists looks small, helpless, and insignificant relative to either The Tall Man, or the expansive mortuary itself. The second is to set up shots that make the villain, which is essentially a thin, elderly man, look like a real badass.
While I'm definitely coming away from the movie with some mixed feelings, I still really enjoyed it and can appreciate the areas where it really excelled. And above all, I now remember why The Tall Man creeped me out so much as a kid.
Available on Amazon: Phantasm