Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm was released almost 37 years ago and, for almost as long, genre fans have suffered with the subpar treatment of this cult classic in terms of the film’s appearance and inadequate sound mix. Thankfully, that is no longer the case due to J. J. Abrams and the awesome folks at Bad Robot taking on the 4K restoration of Phantasm as a passion project, and the results are beyond stunning. The film has never looked or sounded better than it does in this iteration and, for those of us who have fondly followed the series, it’s a beautiful tribute to both the fans and the work of those involved with Phantasm, including the late, great Angus Scrimm.
Considering the climate of the genre when it was released in the late ’70s, Phantasm has always stood out to me as one of the more uniquely terrifying horror movies of its (or any) time. The surrealistic nature of Coscarelli’s story has opened the film up to much discussion over the years and I still love that I get something new out of Phantasm each and every time I watch it. Seeing Phantasm as a kid terrified me mostly due to Scrimm’s dominating presence, including the way he would just appear out of nowhere, his booming voice, and the deliberate nature in which he carried himself (the scene when he walks down the street and stops by Reggie’s ice cream truck with the frosty air billowing around him is still so badass).
When I first realized years ago as a kid what a “force of nature” performance was, there were always two images that came to mind—The Tall Man and The Ultimate Warrior (yes, I had a weird childhood)—because those two “roles” completely defined that idea to me as a youngster growing up in the ’80s.
As an adult, I’ve come to really appreciate A. Michael Baldwin’s performance in Phantasm as well as the genuinely infectious affection he shares with Bill Thornbury’s and Reggie Bannister’s characters. It’s up to Baldwin to carry most of Phantasm, and the actor delivers one of the more underappreciated performances in horror—a beautiful mix of pathos and childlike humor.
As far as the remastered elements are concerned, this version of Phantasm is unequalled by anything we’ve seen before. The images and colors all feel crisp and focused, and even the nighttime scenes have a certain vibrancy that gives them new life, especially during the Lady in Lavender sequences and the finale.
I also picked up on a ton of little things during my viewing of Phantasm: Remastered that I never noticed before: the copy of Roger Zelazny’s My Name is Legion on Mike’s nightstand, The Starry Night artwork in the fortune teller’s house, and how it’s raining in the scene when Scrimm picks up a coffin akin to how many of us would handle a bag of groceries. There’s been hubbub online about Coscarelli’s decision to do wire removal with some of Phantasm’s low-budget, high-charm practical effects, but honestly, nothing about that decision impacts the quality of the film at any point and there is no truth to the statement that Coscarelli “George Lucas’d” Phantasm at all (ridiculous claims, I know, but I felt they were worth addressing).
The amount of visual details enhanced by Phantasm: Remastered is certainly a huge component of why this version is a success, but the new audio mix adds so much to the experience, too, as the movie’s booming and haunting score has never sounded as good as it does here. I’ve always enjoyed Phantasm’s music, but this new mix elevates it to an entirely new level. I hope we see a release of its iconic theme on vinyl (a popular trend these days) soon, because it’s a masterful piece of sonic art that needs to be celebrated in every possible way.
Whether you've always loved Phantasm, never saw it, or never even had the affection for Coscarelli’s nightmarish tale, I cannot think of a better way to experience this film now than with the remastered version. If you get a chance to see it on a big screen this year, I would heartily recommend you take advantage of any such opportunity, because it is a stunning and wonderfully surreal experience. If you don’t see it in theaters, adding Phantasm: Remastered to your home media collection down the road (after release details are announced) is also something I’d recommend for anyone who loves classic horror.
Movie Score: 4/5