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Phantasm (1978)

This low-budget independent horror-comedy, written and directed by Don Coscarelli, concerns shaggy-haired teenager Mike Pearson (Michael Baldwin) who lives with his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) in a small Oregon town after the death of their parents.

Jody is a musician and plays together in a three-piece blues band with friends, part-time ice cream man Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Tommy (Bill Cone). Bad things start to happen though when Tommy is murdered in Morningside cemetery by a strange ‘lady in lavender’ (Kathy Lester) and young Mike surreptitiously tags along to attend the funeral.

He is perturbed by some very odd noises and shocked to secretly spy the director of Morningside cemetery, a sinister and mysterious figure known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), effortlessly lift Tommy’s heavy coffin into a hearse single-handedly as if it weighed nothing at all.

Mike subsequently visits a fortune teller (Mary Ellen Shaw) who only speaks through her granddaughter (Terrie Kalbus). He is fearful of Jody leaving him to go on tour and seeks reassurance and also confesses about the incident at Morningside cemetery.

The fortune-teller produces a mysterious black box and tells Mike that fear is the real killer.

When the fortune teller’s granddaughter disappears after a visit to Morningside cemetery, Mike, Jody and Reggie soon find themselves drawn ever deeper into mystery and danger with increasingly surreal and odd occurrences abounding and the nightmarish Tall Man seemingly everywhere and slowly taking control of the town.

Phantasm combines DIY horror with a berserk plot involving demonic hooded homicidal space midgets, heroic ice-cream men, telepathically-controlled flying spheres which drill into the head and suck out the brain and, of course, the terrifying ‘Tall Man’.

Over the course of three wild sequels, director Don Coscarelli expanded his bizarre universe in a variety of imaginative and deliriously entertaining ways – but the original set the standard.

‘Tall Man’
Angus Scrimm
Mike Pearson
Michael Baldwin
Jody Pearson
Bill Thornbury
Reggie Bannister
Lady in Lavender
Kathy Lester
Fortuneteller’s Granddaughter
Terrie Kalbus
Mary Ellen Shaw
Ken Jones
Susan Harper
Lynn Eastman
David Auntzen
Ralph Richmond
Bill Cone
Debby Lavender
Laura Mann
Myrtle Scotton

Don Coscarelli