A review of “Phantasm” (1979)

I don’t enjoy panning films that others revere.  There’s no percentage in it.  I’m not the guy who tries to be edgy or cool by telling you he dislikes something that everyone else loves.

But I do need to tell you that I think that “Phantasm” (1979) is a bad movie.  I’d rate it a 3 out of 10, based on some interesting ingredients, but I suspect that even that is a bit generous.  I finally managed to make it through its entire running time tonight, and it feels amateurish on every level.

It’s poorly scripted, directed and edited, with performances that are nearly all quite bad.  The first exception here is A. Michael Baldwin, who was a decent child actor when this movie was made, and who was quite likable as the story’s adolescent protagonist.  The second exception, I suppose, is “The Tall Man” himself, Angus Scrimm, the deep-voiced and admittedly unsettling big-bad.

There’s really only one other positive thing I can say about the movie — it has a damned good set design for its mausoleum.  (Somewhat confusingly, the film suggests this is located … inside the funeral home itself?  Is that a thing in some places?  I honestly don’t know.)  The set is simultaneously beautiful and frightening, with symmetrical hallways of contrasting white and red — the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick film.  I can’t escape the suspicion that it was somehow pilfered from a far better film.

And I do understand the unconscious appeal of “Phantasm’s” story.  We see an adolescent boy who has lost his parents team up with his likable older brother to fight mysterious monsters at their local funeral home.  They enlist the aid of the brother’s guitar-playing, everyman best friend, they use everyday weapons like guns and knives, and they bond over the shared experience.  It’s a tailor-made, understandable power fantasy for any adolescent boy first grasping adult concepts of death and mortality.

But … those things aren’t enough to redeem the film.  In my opinion, it’s bad enough to be a candidate for the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment.

Hey — what do I know?  Your mileage may vary.  “Phantasm” has a cult following in the horror community, and spawned no fewer than four sequels.  (The latest, “Phantasm: Ravager,” was released just three years ago.)  You might enjoy it, or you might need to watch it out of curiosity, as I did.

 

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Paul Anka is coming to Mary Washington College.

That means the ladies and gentleman of 90’s-era New Hall need to return to Dodd Auditorium for at least one of his performances and discreetly riff him afterward — in the same manner as the MST3K episode, “Girls Town.”   It’s a moral imperative.

I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned “Girls Town” here at the blog before.  It’s one of the show’s best.

“I did it my way.”

 

Throwback Thursday: “Mystery Science Theater 3000” at Mary Washington College!

As I’ve shared here at the blog before, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was a pretty big part of my college experience.  MST3K parties were indescribably fun.  I honestly believe that I have literally never laughed so hard in my life.

I’ve previously linked to the priceless episode where Joel and the ‘Bots skewer Joe Don Baker and 1975’s “Mitchell.”  Below are three more that were the unofficial required viewing for the second floor of Mary Washington College’s New Hall during the 1993-1994 school year.

What was maddening about MST3K was how difficult it was to explain to the uninitiated.  (Bear in mind, this was before the days of Youtube, with which you could just send your friends a clip.)  It was an amazing TV show, but my efforts to explain it to friends made it sound preposterously stupid: There are these three comedians that make fun of old movies — really bad ones — as the movies are playing.  Two of the comedians are portrayed by robot puppets …  There’s an ongoing skit in which they’re stuck in space.  The special effects are really terrible — but that’s okay, because it’s kinda part of the joke …

The first episode below is 1966’s “Manos: the Hands of Fate,” which I understand to be the most popular among fans.  (Even aside from MST3K’s satirical riffing, I’ve read that this is widely regarded as the worst movie of all time — a distinction I’m not sure it truly deserves.)

The second is the episode devoted to 1944’s befuddling and blithely moralizing “I Accuse My Parents.”  (I and the other guys on my floor might have actually liked this one even more than “Manos.”)

The third is my personal favorite — the entry for 1951’s saccharine, preachy “The Painted Hills.”  In a strange coincidence, I think it’s actually the first one I ever saw.  And it’s also one that I’ve never heard named as a favorite by another MST3K fan.  Seeing the Joel and the ‘Bots make fun of a poor defenseless dog (played by the same dog who played Lassie, no less!) was just too irreverently brilliant.  SNAUSAGES!  (And does anyone else think that this was a morbidly strange film when it was first conceived?  It was marketed as a family-oriented “Lassie” movie, but it contains just a bit more murder and bizarre horror than you’d expect from that.)

*****

“Manos: the Hands of Fate.”

 

“I Accuse My Parents.”

 

“The Painted Hills.”

Throwback Thursday: More of the WOR-9 Thanksgiving Monster Movie Marathon!!!

As I explained last year, monster movies were simply a part of Thanksgiving if you lived in the Tri-State region around New York City between 1976 and 1985.  This was due to WOR-9’s “Holiday Film Festival” broadcast, which actually also extended to the day following the holiday after the lineup’s first year.  (People just called it the “Monster Movie Marathon.”)

As a kid, I was a hell of a lot more thrilled with the monster movies than anything being served for dinner.  (Remember, video stores only began arriving the early 1980’s.  Before that, you usually had to catch a movie on television if you wanted to see it at all.  It’s why every house had a “TV Guide.”)

“King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962) was one gem in the marathon.  (Or, at least, it seemed like an amazing film to a gradeschool boy.)  I was raised with the enduring myth that this Japanese film had two endings — an American version where King Kong prevailed, and a Japanese version where its native Godzilla was the victor.)  My Dad told me that, and I remember being fascinated that a movie could have two different endings.  I actually only learned just now, writing this blog entry, that it was a particularly widespread urban legend — stemming from an erroneous report in “Spacemen” magazine.  The American version of the film had tons of alterations, but the outcome was essentially the same — King Kong won.

There were always a few more Godzilla movies on the day after Thanksgiving, too.  “Son of Godzilla” (1967) was one of them; that was always hit with the kids.  (I could swear at some point there was a cartoon adaptation in the early 80’s.)  It was weird how 80’s kids apparently loved that ostensibly “cute” character; the adult in me today swears that “Son of Godzilla” looks like an upright, reptile-shaped poop.  (Seriously, check out the second clip below.)

“Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973) was another one I seem to remember being pretty thrilled with.  I was even occasionally scared of the giant monsters in flicks like these.  (Hey, I was a little kid.)  Even as a first- or second-grader, though, I was smart enough to question why these movies were weirdly inconsistent.  (Why was Godzilla a bad guy who destroyed Tokyo in one movie, but the “good monster” that the Japanese rooted for in another?)

I’m learning now that “Godzilla vs. Megalon” was the target of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode.  I’m going to have to hunt that one down.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: “Manimal” (1983)!

“Manimal” (1983) was an infamously bad TV show.  It was so bad that it became a routine punchline on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” about a decade later.

I dunno.  I remember being pretty keen as a kid to watch this dude turn into a panther.  (Panthers, by the way, were kind of a thing for a while in the 1980’s — on posters, stickers, notebooks, etc.  The girls had their unicorns and the boys had their panthers.)

 

A very short review of the pilot for “Iron Fist” (2017)

They said that Netflix’ “Iron Fist” (2017) was bad.  They were … mostly right, at least as far as I can tell from the pilot.  I’d rate the first episode a 4 out of 10.

This episode was a thinly scripted collection of common tropes, cluttered with clunky exposition and weird, improbable plot points.  (A friendly homeless man helps the hero by googling key information for him on a stolen iPhone?)  The show even managed to be briefly boring in parts.

“Iron Fist” has the depth and hastily concocted story of an 80’s primetime action show.  But I don’t mean that in a fun, nostalgic way, I mean it in a bizarre, awkward way.  I was actually reminded of Mystery Science Theater 3000 lampooning 1984’s ninja groaner, “The Master.”  In fact … don’t “Iron Fist” and “The Master” have a similar story setup?  There are some weird parallels, if you think about it.

Look … it wasn’t all bad.  The fight choreography was actually damned good.  I don’t know if that was actor Finn Jones performing the Kung-Fu, or a stunt double.  But it was believable and a lot of fun to watch.  It was nicely shot, too — the vibrant visuals had an appropriate comic-book feel, and were better than those that I would expect from this show’s companion series, “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” (2015).

I also submit that Jones is great in the role of the titular hero.  He’s a decent actor, he’s well cast in the part, and I find Danny Rand to be a surprisingly likable protagonist.  I just hope that “The Defenders'” new team-up places him in the hands of a better set of writers.

 

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