Thursday, December 17, 2009

DVD Spotlight: Phantasm (Special Edition).

Phantasm (Special Edition) (1979)
DVD Release Year: 1999.
Released by: MGM Home Entertainment.
Region: Region 1.
Starring: A. Michael Baldwin; Bill Thornbury; Reggie Bannister; Kathty Lester; Angus Scrimm.
Directed by: Don Coscarelli.
Colour/88 Minutes/R

Being one of the more original low budget horror films to come out of the late '70s-early '80s era, Phantasm became a cult classic over the years and spawned three sequels, two good, and one not so good. The movie involves two brothers whose parents died a short time before the film takes place. There is a funeral for one of the older brother's friends and after it's over the younger brother (Michael Baldwin) witnesses the body being taken away buy a creepy old undertaker with superhuman strength. The younger brother decides to investigate and discovers that the undertaker (known as the "Tall Man", played by Angus Scrimm) is actually an alien being who is shrinking dead bodies into cloaked midgets, who are then reanimated and used as slaves on his home world, which he gains access to via some sort of dimensional gateway. He tires to convince his older brother (Bill Thornbury) and his brother's best friend, the local ice cream man, Reggie (Reggie Bannister, who would play a more important role in the sequels), of the Tall Man's evil doings while trying to survive the Tall Man and his monsters, himself!

I won't spoil too much of the plot or the ending because, quite frankly, it would be hard to do. Much of the plot is explained in the sequels, thus some people might get confused watching this movie. Also, some of the acting is a bit spotty at times, but that's a minor complaint. However, it's still a highly original horror/sci-fi film with good special effects (the famous metal spheres the Tall Man uses to kill people with are still great) and a really creepy villain, who has gone on to become a horror Icon. Also of note is the awesome main theme and the soundtrack throughout the film, that's right up there with Halloween. The movie well deserves the cult status it has gained.

Um, holyfuckingshit! This DVD is filled to the brim with pretty much everything you could hope for. This is saying a lot considering that MGM often shuns their horror and similar genre releases with bare bones editions. All the various goodies are neat and interesting to look through. The audio commentary is generally quite interesting. However, at times, it seemed like Angus Scrimm's commentary was dubbed in later, but I think that had more to do with the recording. Scrimm comes off as a bit of a cheesy cornball B-actor, which I suppose he is, and he obviously has a blast playing the Tall Man and talking about him. The audio and visual aspects are fine. The film has never looked or sounded better up to the point of this release. The animated menus fucking rock. The surround sound is rarely used here, but when it is it sounds like something is creeping outside your door, down the hall. There is also a small easter egg I found in the second extras menu, which is a (at the time) recent picture of the cast and director, that you can get by scrolling up the menu selections.

I should note that the packaging has an error on it, listing Reggie Bannister as doing commentary in place of Angus Scrimm. This is the only fault I could find. If you are a fan of this film, dump your VHS and laserdisc copies and pick this mother up right away. It's no doubt in the cheap bin by now, if you can find it. There is also another DVD version that was released in 2007, from Anchor Bay, which has some different specs and extras, that I've not had the chance to review, which may also be a good choice. Apparently the audio and video are better than on this release.

DVD Information:

Video: 1.85:1.
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 1.0.
Subtitles: English; French.
--Scene selections.
--Audio commentary by director Don Coscarelli and stars Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Angus Scrimm.
--10 minutes of deleted scenes not shown theatrically.
--1979 interview with Angus Scrimm and Don Coscarelli.
--Original theatrical trailer.
--TV spots.
--Behind-the-scenes footage.
--Still gallery of original posters, lobby cards, and international promotional materials.
--Audio extras featuring a disco version of the main Phantasm theme, Radio Spots, and Sittin' Here at Midnight, a song written and performed by star Bill Thornbury.
--Australian TV promo.
--Fangoria magazine commercial featuring Angus Scrimm.
--Fangoria convention footage.