Friday, March 12, 2010

Film #16: Phantasm (1979)

Life is relentlessly confusing.
As with the final season of Lost, we must ask Life: Will it divulge any secrets before we become planted petunias?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Is the point of this all to work, or to play?
Corn looks the same coming out as it does going in? What’s up with that?!
As perplexing as these life questions may be, they pale in comparison to the conundrum that is the this week's movie: “Phantasm.”

We’d have a better shot answering any of the above questions than describing just what Phantasm is about. But here goes…

Mike Pearson is a hard-ass 13-year-old who likes Mustangs, shotguns and watching his brother have sex. Brothers are all Mikey has after his parents died in a car wreck, and his bad luck continues after the oldest brother mysteriously “kills himself.” Second oldest Pearson brother Jody tells Mike to save his tears and skip the funeral. But this kid doesn’t take no for an answer, and decides instead to spy on the proceedings with his binoculars.

After the mourners leave, Mike sees a gigantor funeral director put his brother’s coffin not in the ground, but back in the hearse. Seems this “Tall Man” has other plans for the body back in the mansion-like, creepy funeral home. Remember, it isn't rape if the person is dead.

Determined to get to the bottom of this weirdness, Mike and soon Jody enter the funeral parlor and discover the Tall Man has a spacey secret, as well as an alien arsenal of weapons to protect his outfit.
The Tall Man has been taking bodies, like Mike’s brother and parents, and turning them into murderous miniature midgets that like to use teeth!

Soon the brothers' creepy ice cream man friend gets involved in the Tall Man takedown, and the men struggle to ensure no more townsfolk will be turned into murderous shrunken alien slaves (?). Things degrade into a battle between late 70s feathered hair, ball shaped head drills and ooze filled aliens in the 1979 weirdness “Phantasm.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews:

C-Rating: 1.3
Chris Dimick reveals:
“Weird movies usually enthrall me. There is nothing better than a film ending and going “What was that!? What happened?!” But Phantasm is no Stanley Kubrick picture. Its weirdness comes not from the brain, but from another body cavity located a few feet below.

This movie makes absolutely no sense. The incoherent plot is never fully realized, and the audience never really understands what is going on right up until the ambiguous and unfeeling ending. Random characters appear throughout the movie without back-story. The characters behavior in certain situations is completely unrealistic. One minute a guy is dead, then he is alive with flimsy explanation. Is this a movie about magic, alien invasion, psychopathic murder, or all of the above? The movie never really lands on one topic, but just kind of throws everything at the screen and hope something sticks with the viewer.

Everything was just so random. One minute a topless hoochie is stabbing a fella in a cemetery. The next an alien man is sending metallic death orbs flying around a mausoleum. Then there are the shotgun laden action scenes on the country road. Don’t even get me started about the abandoned well at the end. RANDOM!

This film is a great example of why filmmakers should employ the opinions of those around them when making a movie. One man, Don Coscarelli, did practically everything on Phantasm. He was the director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor on the film. When you do it all yourself, you have no one to tell you how much it sucks. And this sucks, bad. It was an original idea, just poorly executed.

Sadly, I think we are alone in our view on this one though. Not only did this movie -- made for $300,000 -- pull in nearly $12 million at the box office in 1979, but it spawned four sequels. Am I missing something here? Really, four sequels. All those sequels must have been used to explain what happened in the original movie.

Even though I bash, I am glad I saw this one. It was just so crazy, I couldn’t stop watching. I just couldn’t wait to see what inane plot twist would come next. And now that I think about it, leaving the audience with no rhyme or reason as to who the Tall Man was or why he was doing what he was doing is actually an interesting attribute of Phantasm.

The characters had no idea what was going on, exactly, in that funeral home, even by the end. They just lumbered through the drama, doing the best they could. Such is life, really. We don’t always have the answers to things that are profoundly affecting our lives.
Maybe Phantasm got it right, and made a social commentary on our very existence. Maybe? Maybe!”

N-Rating: 1.6
Nick Rich reveals:
"My rating system in this instance is much like this movie - there's no rhyme or reason to it. As I wandered through the thick San Diegan night in the subsequent hours after this film (with psychedelic organ music blaring in my head), I thought to myself "What am I going to rate this one?" and for some reason from the depths of my mind "1.6" emerged. I knew I had to rate it poorly as it was so incoherent... but to be honest, given the caliber of films we've watched here at the RDHP, I felt a bit out of my depth when faced with the daunting prospect of doling out such a low rating.

I mean, this film will be the benchmark of what a bad film must measure up to for the duration of the RDHP - high standards indeed! Speaking of bad... 1970's, what's your deal, man?!? First you give us Let's Scare Jessica To Death, now THIS?!?! I'm beginning to lose my horror faith in the era of feathered-hair-tight-pants-wearing-cocaine-sniffing-gold-chain-a-dangling-hairy-chest-a-shaking-boogie-oogie-oogie-ness! Apparently, the 70's left its horror heart in its LSD-laced silk boxer briefs...

Back to why I gave this film a 1.6 - sorry if my review seems disjointed, I'm just trying to give you a feel for what it was like to - as bad as this film was, I did derive some enjoyment from precisely how bad it was. Within the first five minutes I apologized to Chris for already starting to berate the film ala MST3K (to which Chris promptly replied "let's give it a chance"), but it just lent itself to mockery so easily. The acting was bad, the music cheesily pervasive, the situations non-nonsensical (seriously, what was with the psychic grandmother and the hand-eating box?), the outfits groovy, and the plot was, well, nonexistent... all of which makes a film best viewed with a healthy dose of heckling.

The Skinny: Watch this film if you need to discern whether or not you are schizophrenic - if it makes perfect sense to you I would highly suggest setting aside some time this weekend to look for a good head doctor!

Quote of the Viewing:
[As the end credits roll, a list of five “grips” appears in the scroll]
Nick: That sure is a lot of grips.
Chris: They must have been there to try and hold onto the plot. But it just kept slipping away.

Things We Learned from Watching Phantasm:
-Never have sex in a cemetery. It always ends badly.
-Jody Pearson doesn’t “get off on funerals”
-Really good guitar jam sessions can be “as hot as love.”
-Severed fingers make great souvenirs of an alien attack
-Watching your brother have casual sex is fine if you are bored
-“That retarded kid Timmy up the street” can easily be confused with a murderous alien
-Don’t aim a gun at someone unless you are going to shoot them. And don’t shoot someone unless you are going to kill him. No warning shots!
-You can MacGyver a shotgun cartridge, scotch tape and a thumb tack to explode open a jammed door

Chris Explains “The Wife Factor”:

It never fails. Every time Nick and I are watching a horror movie that unbeknownst to us contains some sort of nudity or strange sexual situation, one or both of our wives will walk into the room and look at the screen. This magical little F-U from the gods is something I like to call, “The Wife Factor.”

Horror movies are graphic. Many of them – especially post-1965 films – have gratuitous nudity and sex interlaced throughout the picture. Not all horror movies we watch have X-rated action, but when it does, you can bet one of our wives will walk in at that specific moment.

This was the case with Phantasm. Now, we are all adults here. The human body is a beautiful thing, and personally I have no objection to some nudity and sex sprinkled throughout my horror movies. Let’s face it… everyone likes sex. Even your mom likes sex. If she didn’t, you wouldn’t be sitting in front of your computer screen.

Bottom line, I’m not offended when a horror movie delivers a glance of some gazongas or sexy-time during the regular course of its story. But dammit if it never fails that one of our wives will walk in the room at the exact moment of that sex act or nudity. The timing it outright bizarre.

A majority of the time our wives don’t notice the “action” on screen. But sometimes we might get a disapproving look or a conspicuous “What are you watching?” Really, they don’t have to say anything at all, because just their walking in the room at that moment and looking at the screen makes us feel uncomfortable and even a little guilty.
“Bare breasts that aren’t my wife’s! I should be ashamed! I’m such a pervert!” is a thought that courses through the brain at that instant.

I know I’m a grown man and can damn well watch a movie that has sex and knockers in it if I please. Also, I don’t know for sure, but I’m prone to think my wife really doesn’t care if a horror movie I’m watching has buxom sluts going wild on screen. She’s cool like that.
But that doesn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable when the wife walks in and two electronic jugs are bouncing in my face.

It is the same feeling you get when watching a movie with your parents, and suddenly the seemingly PG- rated movie takes an R-rated turn down T-and-A Alley. Nothing is worse than watching your mom squirm in her seat next to you as two starlets do the horizontal mambo.
You think, “Should I watch this in silence?” “Should I make a comment?” “How long is this scene going to last!” “Oh dear lord I hope there is a razor blade under this chair cushion.” “Make it stop!”
What should have been a silly, erotic mental adventure suddenly turns into a federal prison mind rape.

If your mate was watching the movie the whole time, and saw the naughty scene in context of the film, there would be no problem. It’d be an opportunity for a laugh. But just their walking in at that one moment, out of context… one feels like they are being caught watching something they shouldn’t.

For the record, I’m not mad at our wives’ reactions when they walk in and some horror movie vixen is ripping off her chest-baskets. Can you blame them? Every time they witness the RDHP it is during the usually ONE scene in the movie where naked people are getting busy.

From their point of view, all Nick and I watch is sex filled scream fests. “Maybe they should change the name to the Rich-Dimick Porno Project,” they might as well think.
This should set things straight, once and for all. Molly and Melissa, I promise you Nick and I do not purposefully select sex-filled horror movies for the RDHP. Nor are we watching porno via the Internet every Tuesday night.

We do THAT on Thursdays.

Nick Explains Chris Explaining “The Wife Factor”:

Did Chris just say "gazongas?"

RDHP Celebrates Randomness:
Phantasm was one of the most random movies the RDHP has ever seen. To celebrate, we offer some of our unconnected random thoughts… just like Phantasm’s plot!

Why doesn’t this word start with a Z?

The Doors – Love Me Two Times
By Chris Dimick
I heard this song on the radio this morning, and it just really hit the spot. Sure, I’d heard it a 100 times before, but this morning that little ditty bounced around my head like I was hearing for the first time. You ever have that happen to you? You just hear the right song, at the right moment, and you realize just how great it is. Something connected, and it felt beautiful. Not only that, hearing Love Me Two Times this morning reminded me why we have music in our lives.

Who came up with this practice and why does it make things taste so good? In principle pickling predominately pertains purposefully towards saturating things that aren't so good (i.e. cucumbers) so they become awesome (i.e. pickles); but what would happen if you ate something that was awesome before it was pickled???

Just looking at this makes us hungry. Garfield had it right, there is no better food on the planet.

Ed Wood
If you have never seen this Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration from the mid-90s, drop everything right now and go rent it. Seriously… put down that knitting set or sex whip or whatever freaky thing you are into these days. Get out there and see it. The best docu-drama you will ever see about a film maker. Plus, with Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray and others in the line up you can't go wrong. I’ll give you a dollar if you don’t laugh or cry once during the movie.

Rolling Stops
Seriously, is there any other kind?

Spring B.O. Haiku!
by Chris Dimick
I had my first hot weather induced face-full of armpit BO
this evening on a Chicago Bus.
Ahhhh, the smells of spring are in the air!

(We were scared. Scared the run time was longer than listed.)

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