The thing about “Phantasm” is, most people only remember little bits and pieces of it.
There’s the ball, of course. And The Tall Man. And that’s about it.
Most people, including myself, remember it as being dreamlike, and somewhat confusing. And that there wasn’t a whole lot of plot, and what was there doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
These things are all lies, at least as far as the first “Phantasm” goes. Unlike, say, most Asian Horror, which just keeps throwing crazy stuff at you until the writer runs out of ideas and the movie comes to an abrupt end, “Phantasm,” more often than not, presents you with explanations of what you’ve been watching.
It’s just that the explanations are kind of goofy. More of an “Ooookaaay,” than an “Oh!”
So let’s go back to the beginning. Erase everything you think you know about Phantasm from your mind. So, yeah, the ball, and The Tall Man.
The Tall Man isn’t in the opening seconds of the movie. No, no. First, we’ve got the word “Phantasm” in big red letters, so that all the people who show up know what they were watching. Which makes sense, because the opening scene is two people having some adult time in a graveyard.
Moments later, they’re done, and the man says, “That was great, baby.” Only I guess it wasn’t so much that way for her, because she stabs him in the heart.
Then we get a few shots where you see the face of the woman doing the stabbing, and then suddenly her face is replaced by The Tall Man. Which I imagine is the last thing you would want to see before you die.
Anyway, the man with the knife through his heart was named Tommy, which is important. So remember that. Think of the rock opera if you have to. Just remember that the pinball wizard got it in the heart.
Tommy’s funeral. We meet Jody and Reggie. Who are both dudes. Who also have names that end in an e sound. Not quite sure what to make of that.
There’s some dialogue, wherein we learn that Tommy’s friends think he killed himself. And also, Jody’s parents are dead, and his brother Michael is really broken up about it, even after two years, which is why he’s not at Tommy’s funeral.
Only he is, because he totally road to the graveyard on his… motorcycle? Dirt bike? I dunno. It’s smaller than a motorcycle, but it has an engine. I’m just going to say bike from now on.
Anyway, both Michael and Jody hear funny noises in the graveyard and mausoleum respectively.
Eventually, the funeral comes to an end, and everyone except Michael leaves. So he’s the lucky boy who gets to see The Tall Man pick up Tommy’s casket and shove it into the back of the hearse.
So Michael goes to visit a psychic. Really. With a sign hanging up outside that has a red palm on it. This is the part I’m talking about that no one remembers.
Michael goes in, and talks with the psychic and her granddaughter. By which I mean he talks out loud, and the granddaughter answers his questions. We get a flashback to Jody saying he was planning on taking off and leaving Michael, and then we get a flashback to The Tall Man picking up the coffin and stuffing it in the back of the hearse. Because it’s been nearly three minutes since we’ve seen that.
Then a box appears on the table and Michael is told to put his hand into it. He goes, and he notes that it hurts, and we get a whole thing about how the fear is in Michael’s mind, and he must not fear. What he’s not supposed to fear is up for grabs, but I’m guessing it’s the box.
So Michael stops being afraid of magically appearing boxes, and the box lets him go free, and we all learn a valuable lesson about not trusting psychics. And that the guy who wrote “Dune” must not be all that litigious.
Elsewhere, Jody and Reggie jam on some guitars.
Come to think of it, they’re remarkably chipper for a couple of guys who lost a good friend recently.
Later that evening, the psychic’s granddaughter heads on over to the funeral home. She wanders through the mausoleum for a bit, and then opens a door, sees a light, and screams.
And we never see that character ever again.
Or her grandma. So I hope you weren’t too attached.
Jody heads out to a bar, with Michael following along behind him. This is a running theme. We’re kind of given explanations about how Michael follows Jody around, but interestingly we never get a direct statement about why he’s doing it. I suppose it could be he’s afraid of losing Jody, or that Jody is just going to take off and leave him in the care of child protection services, but really… what is Jody’s deal?
I mean, his friend just died, right? Why isn’t he more upset? For that matter, why is he taking the line that it was a suicide?
“Oh yeah, we found your friend in the graveyard with his pants around his ankles, and a hole in his chest, but we couldn’t find a knife. We’re ruling it a suicide.”
“He always said he wanted to go out that way…”
Maybe that’s a deleted scene.
Jody meets a blonde at the bar, they share a beer, and then she leads him towards the graveyard to drown his troubles in… um… you know.
Michael continues to watch from behind a tree. Icky.
This lasts right up until Michael hears a noise in the bushes behind him, and a dwarf wearing a brown hooded robe appears and chases Michael.
Michael runs away, in the process zipping past Jody, who has the girl’s underwear in his mouth. Jody apologizes and goes to chase after Michael, leaving the girl only slightly more disappointed than she would have been had things continued.
Jody sends Michael home, where Michael dreams that his bed has been transplanted to the graveyard, The Tall Man is standing over him, and hands are reaching up from the ground to grab him. I’m sure it’s a metaphor of some kind, but you know how dreams are.
After dealing with Michael, Jody heads back to the graveyard, where he finds that the girl is no longer there. Which prevents him from being ruled a suicide who had his pants around his ankles, underpants in his mouth, and a hole in his sternum.
The next day, Michael goes for a talk downtown, where he sees The Tall Man walking along. The Tall Man stops by Reggie’s ice cream truck and sniffs the air. Creepy? Sure! But I have no idea if he was smelling Reggie, Michael, or fifteen pounds of frostbitten vanilla.
Later, Michael lying under his brother’s car, doing… some sort of maintenance thing. He sees dwarf legs go scampering by, and the car is dropped off of its supports, trapping Michael.
Until the next scene, wherein Jody frees Michael.
Michael tells Jody how he ended up stuck under a car, but Jody doesn’t buy it.
So Michael, who can fix cars but is not smart enough to keep away from places you could easily be killed, heads back to the cemetery. Which is called Morningside, by the way.
Michael breaks a window and sneaks into the funeral home, and then goes on a sneaking around tour of the building. He’s almost caught by a minion of The Tall Man, only he escapes by hiding in a casket.
A smarter kid would take this as a clue to run to safety, but not our Michael. Instead, he goes for a walk in the mausoleum, which is going great right up until a shiny silver ball comes flying through the air.
Michael makes a run for it, only he’s caught by the minion. So Michael bites him, escapes from his grasp, and the audience gets to see what happens when a shining metal object with spikes on the front of it plunges right into a minion’s head.
Did I mention that a drill comes out of the ball once it’s stuck on the minion’s head? And that it bores right into his skull? At which point blood comes flowing out of a hole in the back of the ball? No?
I’ll remember to mention that next time.
The minion becomes dead. Or more dead. Or possibly a different kind of dead. Who knows? Death is kind of a fast and loose thing in the “Phantasm” universe.
The Tall Man appears in the hallway and Michael leads him on a merry chase. That is, until Michael runs through a door, slams the door on The Tall Man’s fingers, hacks off those fingers with a hunting knife, and then takes one of the yellow-blood-bleeding, still-moving fingers and runs off with it.
Michael escapes through the window he broke earlier, but loses a shoe to an angry dwarf in a robe. As far as I can tell, the lost shoe is not important.
The next morning, Jody finds Michael sleeping on the stairs with a loaded shotgun. His sole reaction is to carefully take the shotgun away and unload it. He is probably the worst brother ever.
Michael shows Jody his brand new “box-o-finger,” which contains the still-moving finger and some yellow blood. This finally convinces Jody that something strange is going on. Michael tells him the whole story, including the bit about the fact that The Tall Man can lift an entire not-empty coffin all on his own.
Finally, someone in the movie makes a smart decision, and Jody tells Michael to get the severed finger – they’re going to take it to the cops.
Michael goes to his room to get the “box-o-finger,” only it’s stopped moving. So he opens the box, not realizing that this is a very bad idea.
A giant bug leaps out.
There is running and screaming and Jody and Michael stuff the bug down the garbage disposal.
Then Reggie shows up, the bug pops out of the disposal, and there’s some more running and screaming and the bug is stuffed down the disposal again.
Reggie demands an explanation.
Then I guess he figures, you know, whatever, and leaves. Because the next scene is Jody loading a shotgun and handing it to Michael, with the advice: “Don’t shoot a man unless you intend to kill him.”
I was going to make a snide remark here about how maybe he should give his brother some more generally practical advice. Maybe about how to properly treat women. But then I thought better of it. This is clearly all Jody has to give.
Then Jody heads to the funeral home alone. He sneaks into the still-broken window, and is pretty much immediately attacked by a dwarf. He shoots the dwarf four times and makes a run for it.
As he escapes the front gate of the cemetery, The Tall Man’s hearse races up behind him. He gets out of the way, and the hearse goes screaming past him.
Then another set of headlights appears, and comes towards him. It’s Michael, who is driving Jody’s car.
They race off, with the hearse in hot pursuit. There is some gunfire, and the hearse rides off the road and crashes into a tree.
The boys walk over to check out who was driving the hearse, and they discover it was a dwarf. In a hooded robe. Like all the other dwarves. Only this time, they pull the hood back and reveal that the hooded dwarf is Tommy!
You remember Tommy, right? Stabbed in the heart at the start of the movie? Yeah. Him. Only he’s about three feet tall now. And he bleeds yellow.
Reggie shows up. I guess they called him on their 1979-era cell phone. No matter. They stick Tommy’s body into the ice cream truck. Because Tommy loved ice cream. He would have wanted it that way.
They all drive back to Jody and Michael’s house, and Reggie is startled by Myrtle the housekeeper. Who either works really late nights or really early in the morning. Regardless, I’d be suspicious of her, even if her existence does explain how two teenage boys can keep such a clean household. In real life, there would probably be a bucket in the living room so they could poop there if they felt the urge to go during a particularly exciting TV program.
The three guys discuss the dwarves, and wonder aloud if Michael and Jody’s parents are dwarves now. This culminates in the two older guys taking Michael to visit their friend Sally, who runs an antiques place.
At the antiques place, Michael finds an old photo of Morningside. A photo with The Tall Man in it. A photo with The Tall Man in it where the picture moves, and also he’s driving a horse and buggy, so you know how old the picture is.
Michael demands to be taken back to his brother.
Jody, meanwhile, falls asleep and dreams he’s in the mausoleum being attacked by dwarves. This dream is, of course, about his inability to commit to a relationship.
Reggie, also meanwhile, is driving his ice cream truck along when he hears thumping in the back that is likely his dead dwarf friend coming back to life and preparing to lay the smack down on someone.
Michael, Sally, and another girl, also also meanwhile, are driving along the road, when they see Reggie’s overturned ice cream truck. Michael investigates, and the girls don’t stop him, because they figure if he wants to approach an overturned ice cream truck, well, that’s his problem.
Michael gets back in the car, and the dwarves attack. After much fighting, Michael is shoved out the back window, and he runs home. He tells Jody that the two girls and Reggie are missing, and Jody decides to lock Michael in his room.
Then Jody heads out to Morningside. Again. Because things went so well the last time he tried that alone.
Michael escapes from his room using a hammer, a tack, some tape, and a shotgun shell, and runs downstairs. Upon throwing open the front door, he discovers The Tall Man, who says, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Then he grabs Michael and throws him in the back of the hearse.
They go to Morningside. As they pull into the gate, Michael pulls a loaded gun out of his pocket, shoots out the back window, and then shoots out the hearse’s back tire.
He jumps out the window and the hearse explodes.
Jody, who is down in the mausoleum, pulls his dad’s coffin out of the wall. Then we get a shot of the room with a red filter, which can only mean one thing: Ball Cam.
Michael also enters the mausoleum, and also finds his dad’s casket, and he opens it up and discovers that his dad is missing. This will have no repercussions later in the movie.
Jody shows up and shoots a ball out of the air.
Reggie shows up and says he found their female friends and a bunch of other girls and led them to safety.
They all head down the hall to the door where the gypsy woman’s granddaughter (Remember her? Doesn’t that seems like two movies ago?) was last seen.
They go in, and they find a bunch of barrels with dwarves in them, and also two metal poles in the middle of the floor. The metal poles make a whining sound, and if you’re like Michael (curious, and not real bright) you’ll discover that if you walk between them you can enter another dimension, where a bunch of dwarves are wandering the desert.
And this is where the exposition comes in, as Michael explains that he dwarves are slaves, and that the reason they’re short is they’ve been crushed down to handle the gravity on the other planet he just got a peek-see of.
Michael also mentions “the heat,” because as we all know, shorter people have a special cooling mechanism that isn’t found in the DNA of tall folks.
At this point, the lights go out.
Jody ends up outside.
Michael also ends up outside, but out of eye and earshot of Jody.
Reggie is still in the room. He decides to play with the two metal poles, and he discovers that by pressing on the top of them, the noise they make stops. At which point the room becomes a wind tunnel which attempts to suck you between the bars and into another dimension.
Reggie escapes and gets outside, where he is stabbed through the heart by the girl who killed Tommy. Sadly, he doesn’t get to underwhelm her with his bedside manner first.
Jody locates Michael, and they both locate Reggie, figure he’s dead, and make a run for it.
Back at the house, Jody talks about an old mine shaft, and figures that perhaps they can lure The Tall Man into it. Despite the fact that the last time he left Michael alone in the house, Michael was captured by The Tall Man, Jody opts to leave Michael in the house again so that Jody can go disguise the old mine shaft.
As a lemonade stand, perhaps?
No matter. The minute Jody is out of the house, The Tall Man appears and starts chasing Michael. There’s a bunch of running, and a lot of Michael talking about not fearing, but the long and short of it is that Michael tricks The Tall Man into falling down a mineshaft. At which point Jody drops a bunch of rocks on top of it, so The Tall Man can’t get out.
Then Michael wakes up, and we find out that Jody died in a car wreck, and Reggie is taking care of him. Man, I would hate to be Michael’s social worker.
Or maybe it wouldn’t bother me that much, because in the next scene Michael walks into his room, and we see The Tall Man reflected in his mirror. Or rather, we see The Tall Man’s reflection for about a second, and then a pair of hands break through the mirror and pull Michael into the dark.
Which officially makes Reggie the worst babysitter/guardian ever.