Rated | Alphabetical
Don Coscarelli, USA, 1979
Posted: February 05, 2003
A "Tall Man" and his flying balls. No, it's not the title of a Mapplethorpe
exhibit: we're talking here about a low-budget horror classic. Angus Scrimm is
the Tall Man, a creepy figure who commands an army of pint-sized zombies and
flying spheres, which all but steal the show as they whiz about with a low,
pulsating hum, producing blades and drill bits to slice and dice anyone
unfortunate enough to be caught in their path. The Tall Man, you see, is
meddling with the realm between this life and the afterlife, transforming
corpses into his army of the undead (come on now, we've all thought about trying
that at one time or another). As luck would have it, he works at a mortuary;
he's far too creepy for the 2-7am shift at Circle K, which wouldn't yield nearly
as much raw source material for his unholy legions.
Okay, you might be saying. Sounds good so far. But what happens? Glad you asked.
Basically, tales of mysterious goings-on at their local cemetery bring a trio of
curious idiots -- brothers Mike and Jody and their ice-cream vendor pal Reggie
-- into contact with our bizarre mortician. What is it with kids these days? Has
too much Scooby Doo warped our senses? When's the last time you
decided to go creeping around a spooky old mortuary run by a grotesque madman?
Anyway, the usual mayhem ensues, as our ragtag trio of foolhardy meddlers
attempts to disrupt the Tall Man's otherworldly schemes. Just when you think
he's done for, The Tall Man returns with his army of little dudes for a final
showdown at the brothers' home. One gas explosion later The Tall Man and his
minion are history -- or are they?
Let's recap. A disturbingly tall sideshow attraction, flying spheres with
razor-sharp sticky thingies, midget zombies in mysterious hooded cloaks, two
brothers and an ice cream vendor -- how could this not be a classic? Quite
honestly, I'm baffled as to why Angus Scrimm never got the respect he deserved
for this role. The Tall Man is a great villain, more refined than Freddy Krueger
and more ominous than Jason Vorhees. In one scene, Reggie opens the back of his
ice cream truck to peddle some goodies, and our Tall Man reaches his hands out
to embrace the icy cold of the truck's freezer. Did I tell you this dude is
creepy? I don't know about you, but the thought of a villain so focused on his
evil, other-dimensional plans that he can't take the time to enjoy an Eskimo
Pie...well, it chills me, readers, chills me to the bone. Although the film did
spawn three sequels, The Tall Man never became the franchise monster he could
have been, and we are the lesser for this cruel twist of fate. Phantasm
avoids the tired tropes of the teen slasher genre (all the rage at the time) and
delves head first into a pool of supernatural creepiness, topped off with a
healthy dose of relevant gore, and thus keeps it real for the horror genre while
avoiding excessive campy humor (and, sadly, sufficient gratuitous nudity). But
forget all that high-falutin' critic talk. Grab some popcorn, turn off the
lights, and prepare to be scared silly by The Tall Man's flyin' balls!
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